How to Wash Clothes

With all the color sorting and temperature settings, doing a load of laundry may seem like rocket science, but it’s not. Following a few simple steps, you’ll be a master in no time.

Tools of the Trade

  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener
  • Bleach (optional)

Familiarize yourself with your washing machine. Most have three dials, one for temperature settings, one for load size, and one for wash type (i.e. regular, delicates and permanent press). Each washing machine is different and you should read the instructions for your machine before doing any laundry. Most machines have the instructions pasted on the inside of the lid for easy access.

Sort your Clothes into ‘Loads’

  1. Set aside any clothing that has “hand wash” or “dry clean only” on the tag; these don’t go in the washer.
  2. Sort through your pile and any clothing that needs to be washed on delicate cycle (according to the tags) should be placed in a separate pile.
  3. All non-delicate (durable) white clothing (socks, plain underwear, etc.) go in a separate pile. Do not include blouses, skirts, dress shirts, or anything that is of a more delicate nature, those should go into the delicate pile.
  4. Sort the remaining clothes according to shades of color, placing all dark colored clothing (i.e dark blue, black, dark grey, dark green, maroon) in one pile, and all lighter colored clothing (yellow, tan, light blue, etc.) in a separate pile . If you have a large volume of clothes, you may even make a third pile of medium shades (i.e. reds, oranges, greens, etc.).

Prepare the Washing Machine

  1. Determine the size of your load, and place the dial on the selected size. Be careful not to overfill the washer with clothes; the clothes should be loosely placed (not packed) and should not be piled higher than the agitator (the pole inside the center of your washer).
  2. Set your washer dial on the appropriate temperature settings. Use the following as a guideline, but always check the tags of your clothing before selecting a setting:
    • Durable white clothes should go on hot wash, cold rinse
    • Durable colors generally go on warm wash and cold or warm rinse
    • Permanent press generally goes on cold wash and cold rinse
    • Delicates should go on cold wash and cold rinse.
    • When in doubt, always check the tags!
  3. Set your washer dial to the appropriate type of wash. Use the following as a general guideline, but always check your tags:
    • Durable whites should be set for regular cycle.
    • Durable colors should be set for regular cycle
    • Permanent press should be set for the permanent press cycle
    • Delicate fabrics should be set for delicate (shortest) cycle.
    • Again, when in doubt, check the tags on your clothes!
  4. Some washers have pre-soak cycles. These cycles can be used for heavily soiled clothing. The wash tub will fill and the clothes will soak for a period of time before the wash cycle begins. AGAIN, refer to your particular machine’s instructions.

Fill the Washing Machine

  1. Check the instructions on your detergent, and pour the indicated amount for the size load you are washing directly into the washing machine tub. The detergent should be added first, before any water or clothes.
  2. Start the wash cycle (usually by pulling out the knob used to set the wash cycle).
  3. When water has begun to fill and the detergent appears to be dissolved, add the clothes.
  4. Close the lid and allow the washer to run.
  5. If you are using fabric softener, do not add until the washer reaches the rinse cycle (the dial should indicate when the rinse cycle has started). Open the lid and pour the fabric softener into the dispenser on your machine (usually the center of the agitator pole), using the amount indicated on the fabric softener label.

Tips for Using Bleach

  • Bleach should not be used with colored clothes or white clothes with any kind of design, lettering or patterns.
  • Bleach is generally safe to use with durable whites.
  • If you are doing a load for which it is safe to use bleach, check the label for the proper amount and add that amount to the bleach dispenser in your washer after the water has begun to fill.
  • If your washer does not have a bleach dispenser, pour the designated amount of bleach directly into the water after it has begun to fill.
  • NEVER add bleach after clothes have been added as it may cause spotting.
  • AVOID using bleach with detergents containing color safe bleach alternative as the combination may cause discoloration.
  • ALWAYS REMEMBER that bleach is a hazardous chemical and should be handled with care. For more information, see the Ashland Material Safety Data Sheet (PDF).

Additional Tips and Advice

  • When using bleach through a bleach dispenser, always pour a few capfuls of plain water through the dispenser after you have added the bleach to flush out any residue that may get on a subsequent load of laundry.
  • With regard to fabric softener, do not add it before the rinse cycle (it will lose its effectiveness) and do not add it directly to wash water (it may stain or discolor clothes).
  • Avoid using more than the indicated amount of detergent as it may leave residue on your clothes—plus, it’s not environmentally responsible.
  • If the lid on your washer pops up while you are doing a load of laundry, it might mean that the washer is out of balance or overloaded. Take some clothes out, or redistribute to even out the load. Close the lid and the washer should pick up where it left off.


  1. M Neill says:

    I need to wash a quilt that is homemade and has some deep purple flannellette and some printed on white squares. The directions for the quilt said not to wash before as it is a raggedy quilt but I feel scared and it has to be washed for the fraying effect.

    I took one of the purple ends and it does color the water, but when I lay it soaking on a piece of white flannel, it doesn’t come off, but when I do the whole quilt, it could.

    What can I add to the water? (What can I wash it with so it doesn’t run?)

  2. Rhonda says:

    I have new microfiber sheets that say, “wash in hot water, permanent press cycle”. My washing machine is a front loader with many different options, however does not have a “permanent press cycle”. What cycle should I use instead, or can I “customize”?

  3. Super Girl says:

    This really helped me a lot! Thank you so much. I like how it took me step by step until I was done. If only everything did that well! I’m loving it! :)

  4. Angry Washer says:

    Every time I wash dark colored clothing, they come out with white marks on them. I use liquid detergent. I half fill the washing machine before adding the clothes and I try not to put too much in a load. It’s driving me crazy.

  5. Barbara says:

    I have a GE top load that I just returned to. I am 60, so have had experience with washers. Never buy another HE. Anyway, have whites w/ cycles, perm press w/ cycles and colors w/ cycles. I use light perm press cold for delicates in a laundry bag. What is your answer for any delicates? I know cold. I have never had a washer without a delicate cycle?

  6. Angela says:

    This info is really great; I had no idea that I’ve been washing clothes all these years and there’s some things I have been doing wrong.

  7. Ashley says:

    I think you should add a “Read instructions thoroughly before beginning” thing at the top, because I started the water and put the clothes in before the detergent, not knowing that there was going to be a step that says to put the detergent in first. Other than that, I now know how to wash my clothes! Thank you!

  8. Georgina says:

    I’ve got a T-shirt; half of it is black and the other half is grey. What colours do I wash it with?

  9. Melanie says:

    In general, whenever a shirt has a lot of black on it, you wash it with the colored clothes. However, if you wash the shirt by itself several times and the color doesn’t bleed, then you can usually wash it safely with lighter colors of clothes to protect the grey from picking up any bleeding dyes from the other clothes in a colored wash (jeans, etc.).

Leave a Comment