My mother taught me to do laundry when I was an early teenager, and a big part of her lesson was how to sort clothing. To this day, she has a thorough sorting routine — she separates her loads of laundry into whites, colors, underwear, jeans, even my dad's work clothing, which tends to get really dirty and merits its own cycle. Towels also get their own load, as do sheets and other bedding.
That was how I was taught to do laundry, and for the past 20 years, that was exactly how I did it every two weeks — or however long it took for me to run out of socks. However, this is the part where I tell you that I really don't like doing laundry, in large part due to the aforementioned sorting. So when my partner and I moved into our house together and started sharing a laundry basket, he took over the chore, and I happily let him.
The caveat is that sorting is very much not part of his process. Instead, he simply overturns the entire hamper into the washing machine, pours in some detergent, and starts it up. After much pleading, he finally agreed to pull out towels and sheets to wash separately, but the rest of it goes into the drum together — socks, jeans, underwear, T-shirts, you name it.
And honestly, it works just fine.
We've been living together for more than a year now, and I can't say that my clothing looks or feels any different. My whites haven't turned into wacky colors, as I was warned that they would, nor have the colored items faded. It made me wonder if I've been creating a whole lot of extra work for myself for many years, so I set out to find an answer to the question on my mind: Is laundry sorting actually necessary?
Here's what the experts say . . .
The first person I turned to for answers was Patric Richarson, aka the Laundry Evangelist. He has a whole show about laundry, called "The Laundry Guy," so I figured he could shed some light.
Perhaps not surprisingly, he's firmly on Team Sorting. "You should definitely use some sorting method — your clothes will hold their color better and you will extend their life," he explained to me. "Sorting, at a minimum, into white, color, and black will reduce abrasion on the clothes and make them last longer and look better."
That's not the only benefit, either. "Sorting reduces the color bleed from one color to another and keeps heavy dark colors from abrading and degrading light delicate colors and fabrics," he said, adding, "Sorting out performance fabrics will allow you to treat them with an enzymatic cleaner that will improve their function and wearability." Performance fabrics are commonly used for activewear — think: leggings, sports bras, compression socks, etc. They're generally made from synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and/or spandex or elastane, so it makes sense that they might require different care than everyday cotton garments. Active Wear and Hex are two detergent brands specifically designed for these types of performance fabrics.
But, everyday people disagree
While the experts strongly recommend sorting your laundry, I also wanted to know how everyday people feel about it. On my Instagram, I put up a poll asking whether people sort their laundry, and to my surprise, 75 percent said no! Admittedly, only around 50 people responded, but I was still surprised that the majority can't be bothered to sort whites from colors.
When asked to elaborate on their thoughts about laundry sorting, here's what a few people said:
- "Waste. Of. Time. Just use cold water and wash everything together."
- "I only sort my clothes from sheets and towels. Clothes get washed in cold water. Sheets and towels in hot."
- "We wash everything in cold water, so it doesn't matter."
It's worth mentioning that the majority of people I spoke to are around the same age as me — almost everyone who responded was between the ages of 25 and 40. So maybe it's a generational thing? Are millennials ending laundry sorting?
Let's not go overboard though
As much as I'm a new convert to Team No Sorting, I'll admit that not just everything should be washed together. For instance, we have a separate hamper for our dog's towels, which are typically very smelly and dirty. I also make sure to head the warning labels on new clothing that say the colors may run for the first few washes.
If thorough sorting isn't feasible — for instance, if you use coin-op laundry or a shared laundry room — Richardson recommends at least washing whites separately. If you're going to put them in with colored items, he says to use a color catcher sheet to capture any rogue dye.
Beyond that, I don't think I'll go back to sorting anytime soon. Sorry, mom.
This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by Food52 editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.