How to Do Laundry: Tips to Master Everyone’s Least Favorite Chore

For many students, going to college provides the first opportunity they have to live on their own. Whether you go to college in a different state or choose a school close to home and live on campus or in an apartment, you need to know a few life skills as you start the “adult” phase of your life. College students get made fun of a lot for not knowing how to do laundry (I’ve known my fair share of people who bring their laundry home with them whenever they visit so mom can do it), but it’s one of the easiest things to learn, and you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life. Here are a few tips to help you out.

A basket full of laundry.

Paul Michael Hughes /

  • Laundry is typically done in two loads: one full of whites and pastels and another full of colors. It seems like a pain (sometimes it is, especially if you’re fighting everyone else in the dorm for machines), but if you wash colored clothes for the first time with your light load, you may turn everything in your light load pink or gray. After the first time that your colors have been washed, it’s not such a big deal to mix them with your whites, provided you wash everything together on the cold water setting.
  • As a rule of thumb, the temperature of the water should match the soil level of your dirty items. The dirtier your items, the hotter the water you should use to sanitize them. However, water temperature also varies between clothing color: hot is best for whites (it’ll keep them whiter) and cold is best for darks (it’ll keep the color from running). Anything in the middle that’s decently dirty should do fine in warm water.
  • Cold water is the most eco-friendly, but you’ll need to use more soap. Ever tried to dissolve sugar into iced tea? It doesn’t work very well. But if you dissolve sugar into hot tea, it only takes seconds. It’s the same idea with your detergent, especially if you’re using an older model of washing machine. Detergent won’t mix well with cold water, so you have to use a little bit extra to get the same level of clean as you would with less soap in hot water. On the other hand, be sure not to use too much soap! Check the instructions on your detergent (or if you want to make your life easy, use pods) and then go from there.
  • Stains are tricky, but Dawn dish soap does the trick. Dawn works especially well if you have an oil-based stain (there’s a reason that Dawn is used to help birds who’ve been the victims of oil spills). If you’ve spilled something clumpy, like spaghetti sauce, first try to gently brush it off with a napkin. Then, dab a dot of Dawn onto the stain and run it through the washer (cold water is best for stains). Before drying your stained item, check to see if the stain is gone. If it’s not, you can try Dawn again. Once you dry the item, though, the stain isn’t going to go anywhere.
  • If you’re washing anything with a zipper, make sure that the zipper is done up so that it doesn’t snag or tear other items in the load. The same goes for bras (clip them in the back or invest in a lingerie bag). If you have button-down shirts, however, the buttons should be undone; otherwise, the agitation from the washer may tear out your buttons and you’ll be left not only buttonless, but also with small holes in the front of your shirt.
  • If you have anything fancy (think ball gowns, suits, anything made of leather, wool, or cashmere, etc.) you should not try to wash it yourself. These things are better off being taken to the dry cleaner, though you will have to shell out a bit of cash. If you’re unsure whether you can wash something yourself, check the tags on the inside of the clothing item. Generally it will give you instructions like “machine wash cold,” “hang dry,” or “dry clean only.” If something specifies that it’s “dry clean only,” it’s really in your best interest to pay attention. Delicate fibers and items with lots of embellishment are easily damaged when you try to DIY.
  • It’s a pain, but washing your towels and bedsheets more frequently than not is going to be better for you and your linens in the long run. Towels often get a musty smell if they’re not allowed to dry completely, not to mention that they come in contact with every inch of your body on a regular basis. Sheets are also subject to sweat, drool, and a lot of skin-on-sheet contact, sometimes from more than one person. Sheets and towels should be washed in hot water every one to two weeks to remove germs and become sanitized.
  • Check pockets before loading the washer. Nothing is worse than finishing a load of laundry to find that a pen has burst in the load and now everything is stained with blue ink. I went through a phase in which I left Chapstick in my pockets and ruined clothes for everyone in the family after the load went through the dryer and the oil-based lip balm melted (my mother was quite unhappy). Plus, if you check your pockets you may be lucky enough to find some loose change or a few dollars!
  • As far as drying goes, the most important thing is to make sure that you don’t overload the dryer. It will take forever to get everything dry if there isn’t enough room for your clothes to tumble. If you have things that you’re worried might shrink or lose their shape (like bras, sweaters, and intimates), hang dry them instead. If you want to reduce static and have your clothes smell extra nice at the end of a load, you can opt to add a dryer sheet. It’s not necessary, though, especially if you use a liquid fabric softener during the wash cycle.
  • If you wash anything puffy, like a jacket or comforter, you should put a couple of tennis balls in the dryer with it. It will be obnoxiously loud, but your feathers (or whatever your item is stuffed with) will remain evenly distributed instead of clumping up. If you are washing something with down feathers in it, be sure to check the label so that you dry it at the appropriate temperature; trying to dry these items on a setting that’s too hot may remove natural oils from the feathers and cause them to become flat.
  • If you’re in a dorm or apartment building and are sharing the washers and dryers with other people, be sure that you are prompt to remove your clothes from both the washer and dryer as soon as your load is done. Other individuals will not hesitate to remove your clothes from the machine and leave you a soggy or not-quite-dry pile on top. (This is how socks go missing!) Plus, the quicker you take things out of the dryer and get them hung or folded, the fewer wrinkles you’re going to have to deal with in the future. You also should check the lint trap (in the dryer) and clear out all of your lint; if it continues to accumulate it can become a fire hazard.

Laundry doesn’t have to be your favorite chore (who really has a favorite chore?) but it also doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence. These tips may not make you Martha Stewart, but they’ll sure put you on the right path.

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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