Helpful Tips for Laundry Virgins

Ah, adulthood: a time for independence and a time for laundry. Whether you’re an incoming college freshman or a recent grad living on your own in a big city, perhaps the most challenging task ahead of you is learning to operate a washer/dryer without staining, wrinkling, or shrinking your favorite sundress. If you’re anything like myself, you’ll have to remind yourself of the pneumonic “C” is for colors and cold water while “W” is for whites and warm water each and every time you deposit a load into the machine and you’ll have stocked up on nearly a month’s worth of underwear so as to avoid using that machine for as long as possible.

Having the advantage of a washer and dryer inside my apartment this summer rather than in a different building entirely, I’ve devoted myself to learning and mastering the art of doing laundry. Thanks to some friendly advice from my roommate and far too many Google searches than I’d care to admit to, I’ve been able to compile a list of the best little-known laundry tips that are guaranteed to clean and protect that sundress of yours.


You’ve probably always been told to separate lights and darks before loading the washer, but what’s more important than dividing colors is sorting out the clothing that requires special treatment—this includes delicates and items that should be hand-washed. Unsure whether or not to throw something into the machine? Check the tag! On most women’s blouses and dresses, the laundry instructions can be found on a tag on the left hand inside seam.


Once you’ve set aside your delicate clothing, you can wash everything else on a normal setting at the appropriate temperature. To save time, it’s OK to wash lights and darks together in cold water and throw in a color catcher so as to prevent bleeding. For new colored items that are prone to the most bleeding—bath towels, socks, sweaters—wash alone and use a color catcher as well.

For delicate items that are washing-machine safe (bras, panties, and other lacy fabrics), put them in a delicate garment bag before loading them into the machine. These garment bags will contain your delicate clothing and protect their shape during the wash cycle. Use cold water for these items as warm water may damage or shrink them. If possible, use the delicate setting on the washing machine, otherwise a normal cycle will be just fine.

If an item’s tag says to hand-wash it, hand-wash it. Don’t believe me? Just ask my new LBD that’s about two sizes littler than when I bought it. Even the most delicate washing machine cycles can wreak havoc on your clothing if you’re not careful, so I’ll remind you—read the tags! I’ve found that Woolite Extra Delicates Care is the best product to use for hand-washing items and it’s sold in just about every grocery store. To hand wash, fill your sink about halfway with lukewarm water and add about half a cap’s worth of Woolite or whatever gentle detergent you’ve got. Swirl your clothing in the soapy mixture, rubbing gently at any stains on the fabric. When the entire garment has been soaked and soaped, rinse the suds out and lay the item flat to dry.


Most clothing that can tolerate the washing machine is dryer-safe, however, to prevent dresses, skirts, shorts, and nice blouses from shrinking, your best bet is to use a drying rack on which to hang your wet clothes—especially if your dryer is known to get really hot.

Depending on the temperature of the dryer, the permanent press or normal settings should be just fine to dry T-shirts, socks, sweatshirts, sheets and other items that don’t require special care. For these items, throw in a dryer sheet with the wet clothing to prevent static from forming when you remove them from the dryer as well as to keep the fabric soft and smelling fresh and clean. Remove clothing from dryer as soon as possible. Leaving clothes in for too long after they’ve dried causes wrinkling!

Delicates and hand-washed items should never be placed in the dryer. If an item was washed in a garment bag in the machine, remove it from the bag and either lay it flat on a table or on the top of your drying rack to dry. Do the same with hand-washed items, but avoid hanging bras or tanktops by their straps on the rack so as to prevent any stretching. If laid out in the morning, these items should be dry by the late afternoon or early evening. Of course air-drying clothing takes quite a bit longer than using the machine, but it’s much much safer for your clothes and taking the extra time will pay off in the long run!


Stained items follow the same rules as regular items of the same fabric; however, be sure to spray or mark the stain before washing the clothing. Tide-to-Go is usually pretty successful, but Shout Stain Remover is a bit stronger and should work better on bigger stains.

If the stain remains after washing, spray it and wash it again—do not place it in the dryer! Drying stained items in the machine will set the stain and can even make it permanent. If after the second spray and wash the stain still hasn’t disappeared, take that item to the dry cleaners where they have the best products to gently remove those tough stains.


I tend to base whether or not I wash an item on whether or not I’ve sweat in it. Workout clothes go immediately into the laundry hamper, while shorts and tops can be worn a few more times before cleaning unless they’ve been stained. Sheets, towels, and bras on the other hand, should be washed roughly every other week regardless of how dirty they are. Creating a regular laundry schedule is crucial to avoiding a huge buildup of laundry and getting into the habit of washing these items every two weeks can keep you on track.

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Have any tips of your own, Darlings? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet @LitDarling!

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