Laundry: it can be the bane of our existence. If we could just throw it all in the washer, then, well, maybe it wouldn’t be such a pain. But there’s the sorting. And the spot treating. And the confusion over water temperature. And the question of whether an item can be washed at all.

So while we can’t solve the mystery of where all the spare socks have gone, we do have some laundry hacks to help make your chores a little easier.

1. Does sorting matter?

Sorry, while we’d love to just merrily toss it all in together, your clothes won’t get properly cleaned and could get ruined. So fire up a movie and get sorting, observing these 3 key categories:

  • Color: Yes, that red sweatshirt will turn all your underwear pink.
  • Fabric type: Separating items this way will keep those linty towels from damaging your more delicate items and will help ensure you don’t overdry your lighter items.
  • Soil level: Dirty socks will need to be washed in a longer cycle than that just-worn-once T-shirt.

2. Do I have to worry about the water temperature?

Washing different loads in different temperatures seem like a big waste of energy both yours and the washer’s but it’s actually pretty important and can help your clothes get cleaner and last longer.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Hot: Since hot water helps kill germs, it should be used for socks, underwater, towels, sheets, and other items that are very dirty or need to be disinfected.
  • Warm: This can be your go-to temp for the majority of your clothes that are relatively sturdy and only moderately soiled.
  • Cold: This is great for lightly soiled clothes and more delicate items, like lingerie, and to keep bright clothes from fading. Since cold water uses about 1/3 less energy per load, you can do your rinse cycle on cold, no matter which temperature you used for the regular washing.
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3. What do those signs on the laundry labels mean?

Talk about hieroglyphics! All those symbols couldn’t be more confusing. The washer icon is one thing, but then some have 1, 2, or 3 dots on it … what’s up with that? While our fave manufacturers add some words to the icons, there are often tags covered in strange symbols. And that’s when we recommend you consult this handy guide developed by Textile Industry Affairs. (You’re welcome!)

4. Do I really have to dry clean this?

Here’s a sneaky tip to help you decide: if the label says “Dry clean only,” then you better heed it. But if it says “Dry clean,” that just means it’s recommended by the manufacturer. If you want to give it a try in your home washer, turn the garment inside out. You can also consider handwashing it and then laying the clean item flat on a white towel rather than tossing it in the dryer.

5. Why do my gym clothes smell even after I wash them?

(Or if you have a teen, it could possibly be all the clothes.) But if you’re a workout fiend, you know that gym clothes can be persistently tough to clean. First, make sure you wash them right away the funky smells can multiply if you keep them wrapped up in a bag. You’ll want to use the hottest water possible and an enzyme-formulated detergent that will help break down protein-based stains, like perspiration. You might want to avoid drying them, though, as today’s high-tech fabrics will dry super fast on the line and can shrink in the dryer.

Ready to fold it up and put it all away? Before you do, see how to get your linen closet organized with these 4 epic tips. 

DIY hacks | Home and garden

about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.