Before loading the machine, check the pockets of all clothing (especially those in children's garments). Inspecting the clothing saves the items in question and also protects the garments -- and your washer -- from damage.
Zip up all zippers. Fasten hooks. Tie drawstrings. Unroll cuffs. Turn pockets inside out. To lessen fading, turn dark clothing, such as jeans, inside out. Also, unbutton all buttons. The agitation of the wash cycle can cause buttons to tear buttonholes.
Be sure to read the care labels on clothing items for proper washing instructions. Most clothing will have specific laundry treatments listed on the tags.
Editor's Tip: Electronic car keys are especially susceptible to water damage. If you accidentally send keys or other small electronics through the wash cycle, do not try to use the key or turn on the device. If you push the button while the item is wet, you're likely out of luck. Instead, place the key in a container filled with dry rice. The rice helps absorb moisture. Allow the item to dry out for several days or even a week or more to ensure the circuits are thoroughly dried. Then try to use it. It's not guaranteed to work, but if the circuits aren't activated while wet, they can sometimes be saved.
Load Laundry Correctly
Check the loading instructions on the washing machine's lid before putting in clothes. If instructions are not available, the most common loading order is detergent, laundry items, and water. Start the machine immediately. This loading order prevents excessive sudsing. It also minimizes the risk of fabric damage that can happen when full-strength detergents sit on clothing. If a detergent dispenser is available (as in most front-loading machines), use it; the dispenser is designed to release detergent at the appropriate point in the cycle.
Avoid overloading the washing machine. Clothes should be distributed evenly and loosely inside the machine. Even a large load of laundry should not fill the washer tub more than three-quarters full. For a front-load washing machine, pile clothes up high, but don't cram them past the last row of holes at the front (the row closest to the door). For a conventional top-loader, don't load clothes above the agitator.
Skip Overloading Problems
Garments packed too tightly end up wrinkled and only partially clean. Putting too many items in the machine leaves less room for water, so water circulation decreases -- which limits effective cleaning.
A too-heavy load can damage fabrics as they rub against the agitator. "Walking" washing machines that shift out of position and go noisily off balance during spin cycles are usually caused by overloading. Consistent overloading can bend the washer's frame or damage the motor, which will eventually require repair or replacement.
Add Detergent Precisely
Unless the instructions that come with your washing machine direct otherwise, add detergent before loading your dirty laundry. Do not add more detergent than is recommended. Keep the amount of detergent below the fill line printed on the cup (which may be nowhere near the top). This is particularly important if you have a concentrated detergent or are using a high-efficiency washing machine -- which uses less water than older machines.
Extra detergent creates extra suds during the wash cycle. The suds carry soils, odors, and bacteria higher up inside the tub. This leaves a displeasing residue that can affect your next load of clothes by fading colors, attracting more dirt, and making clothes look dingy. The residue buildup can lead to the growth of bacteria and odors, too. Too much soap also makes it difficult for the rinse cycle to be effective.