13 Ways You’re Washing Your Clothes All Wrong

We’re just going to say it: You’re way too old to be calling Mom every time you do laundry. But that doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the art of getting your clothes clean without her. And it turns out, even the most domestic among us make some rookie mistakes. That’s why we asked the experts how to fix some of the most common blunders that could ruin your clothes, wear out your washer, and waste your money. And for more “don’ts” when it comes to washing your clothes,

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1. You fill your washer to the brim

Waiting for bigger loads means you can procrastinate laundry day longer, but overstuffing the machine could work against you in the long run. When dirty clothes are jam-packed against each other, they could come out wrinkly and still dirty, says Lily Cameron, cleaning professional and supervisor at Fantastic Services.

“To have your clothes actually clean, you should lighten your load because that helps the clothes move around freely,” she says. As if leaving clothes dirty weren’t bad enough, an overloaded washer or dryer also needs to work too hard, which could shorten its lifespan, she adds. If you’re looking to lessen your load by throwing out some clothes,

2. You let your clean clothes sit in the washer

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Want to wait until your TV show is over to unload your washing machine? It’s tempting, but clean clothes won’t stay clean if you let them sit. “If your clothes are sitting wet in the washer, bacteria and mold are thriving in them,” says Cameron. Unless you want to walk around in “clean” clothes that smell like mildew, you’d better get them into the dryer or onto the drying rack pronto. If you do realize you’ve left your wet clothes re-stinking themselves up, Cameron recommends putting them through a hot rinse cycle. And this time, dry them immediately after. If you’re looking to stop even more of your bad habits,

3. You add fabric softener at the beginning of the wash

If your washing machine has a specific fabric softener dispenser, feel free to pour the softener in before you start the laundry. But if it doesn’t, adding it at the beginning with the laundry detergent will make the softener useless. That’s because it will wash away with the rest of the dirty water. “A washing machine has two rinse cycles, and softener should be added in the second one,” says Alberto Navarrete, general manager of Emily’s Maids in Dallas.

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4. You buy the wrong detergent for your machine

Don’t you dare ignore those instructions on your high-efficiency (HE) washer that say to only use HE detergents. HE washers are efficient because they use as little water as possible by monitoring the suds levels in the wash, says Mary Johnson, principal scientist for Tide and Downy.

“When a HE machine senses too many suds, it may add an extra rinse, causing 25 minutes to be added to the total cycle time,” she says. “Extra rinses use up to 10 gallons of water and more energy since they are running long. So you’re wasting time, energy, and, ultimately, money.” If you’re unsure, always go with a HE detergent—they work in traditional washers too. And if you’re looking for some alternative ways to wash those clothes,

5. You judge load size by how full the washer is

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Those little marks on the detergent lid that tell you how much to use can be confusing. Seriously, how big is a “big” load anyway? For a bit of guidance, Johnson recommends looking at the size of your laundry pile before you toss it into the machine, as well as paying attention to how soiled it is.

“Drums in the larger [high-efficiency] machines can hold up to 32 pounds of laundry—that’s the equivalent of 30 plush bath towels,” she says. “So a medium to the large load of laundry [as far as your detergent’s recommendations are concerned] can look like a small load when you look into the drum to see how full it is.” If you underestimate and don’t put enough detergent in, even clean-looking clothes could be carrying “invisible” soil like sweat and dead skin, she says.

6. You use too much detergent

Better put an extra capful of detergent in for your extra-dirty clothes, right? Actually, that’ll just do more harm than good. “The washing machine only has a preset amount of time to wash and rinse out the leftover detergent,” says Drew Westervelt, founder of Hex Performance fabric care. “So adding too much detergent can lead to residue on fabrics, excessive soap in the washer, mold, and possibly even damage to your machine. Not to mention you run out of detergent faster!” Do yourself a favor and just stick to the instructions.

8. You throw bras straight in the drum

OK, we’ll forgive you for not wanting to wash your bras by hand (even though it will extend their life, just sayin’!). But when you do toss them in the washer, you’d better use a mesh lingerie bag. “It will protect your delicates from becoming stretched out and will keep hooks from snagging on other clothing,” says Cameron. When they’re ready to dry, don’t hang them by the straps—that’ll stretch them out—but by the piece between the cups, she suggests.

9. You put sweaty clothes straight in the hamper

Ever dig out a gym bag only to realize your sweaty workout clothes have been sitting there for days, getting even smellier? That’s what happens in your hamper, too, if you pile in clothes that are still sweaty or damp. “Always let gym clothes and towels air dry before throwing them into a hamper,” says Johnson. Cleaner clothes from the get-go mean less detergent and less chance of residual stench.

10. You’re not separating your clothes

Mixing colors is the single biggest mistake people make on laundry day, says Navarrete. Hopefully you’re already sorting your darks from your lights, but Navarrete takes things a step further to cut out any risk of bleeding. He recommends sorting by dark (like solid blacks and grays), medium (mixed-color items, like striped shirts), and light (whites and pale clothes). No more pink socks, guaranteed—well, unless you bought them like that. And if you’re looking to better organize your clothes and more,

11. You keep your shirts buttoned

Don’t just pull off your button-down while the buttons are still fastened. “The force produced by the machines can be put directly in the buttons, putting stress on the stitching,” says Navarrete. Keep the shirt open so the holes are safe from stretching.

12. You leave zippers undone

Leave button-downs open, but do the opposite with zip-ups—or risk hurting your machine with the zipper teeth. “Zippers get caught in the drums and cause problems,” says Cameron. “If you have a front-loading washing machine, zippers can scratch the glass and may even contribute to the glass panel exploding.” Redoing them before throwing in the laundry will help keep your machine in tip-top shape. And to learn more about different parts of your clothes.

13. You use harsh products on your delicates

Delicates like lingerie are, well, delicate, so your go-to products might be too tough on them. Don’t use bleach on bras and undies; do invest in a detergent that’s designed for lingerie. “It will protect the delicate fabric and will lengthen its lifespan,” says Cameron. 

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