How to do laundry like a pro (and avoid disasters along the way)

Your fool-proof 10 step guide to cleaner clothes.

Updated 7 June 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time7 minutes

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Three piles of laundry sorted into darks, colours, and whites, folded on a bed

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Learning how to do laundry is a basic life skill. Whether you’re just starting to wash your own clothes, or you’re looking for some laundry tips after a spate of disasters, our step-by-step guide will set you on the right path.

We’ve also answered some common laundry dilemmas – by the end, the only thing you’ll be missing is a printable certificate to stick on your wall.

Top laundry tips and tricks

  • Sort your washing into lights, darks and mixed

  • Check the care labels on your clothes

  • Use the right amount of the right detergent

  • Choose the best setting for the clothes that you’re washing

  • Empty the machine as soon as possible after the cycle has finished

  • Don’t put washing on when you’re in bed or out of the house (it’s a fire risk)

How to do laundry in 10 easy steps

Laundry divided into piles by colour

1. Sort your laundry

It’s important to separate your laundry into three groups: lights, darks and mixed colours. You may also want to wash delicate clothes separately as they’ll need a low temperature and special detergent. And it’s best to wash really dirty clothes (eg a sports kit) separately to avoid dirt transferring to other clothes.

Checking a laundry care label

2. Check the care labels

Check your clothes’ care labels. They’ll tell you how hot you can wash the clothes at, whether the clothes can be tumble dried and a whole lot more besides.

If the label says dry clean only, keep the garment well away from the washing machine. If it says hand wash only, put it in a separate pile, make yourself a cuppa and check out our guide to hand washing clothes. If you see a laundry symbol with a cross through it, proceed with caution. It means the item crossed out should not be subjected to a specific treatment. Common symbols include irons, tumble dryers and bleach. Most care labels will tell you whether an item can be tumble dried or not, but some also give extra drying instructions, eg when a garment needs to be dried on a flat surface so it doesn’t stretch out of shape. For a deeper dive, read our piece on what washing symbols on garment labels mean.

Pre-treating a stain on an item of clothing

3. Pre-treat stains

Some dirt and spills come out easily in the wash. Others are a bit more stubborn. In most cases, it’s best to tackle a stain as soon as you spot it. Rinse as much of the mess off as possible and then dab it with a stain remover.

Depending on what the packaging says, you might need to leave the stain remover to work for a few minutes, or just put the garment straight in the wash. If you don’t have any stain remover, you could try rubbing in a small amount of liquid detergent, or making a paste with laundry powder and a splash of water. Do check the product label though as not all detergents can be used this way. While most stains respond best to hot water, some need cold water. For help on tackling specific stains, take a look at our stain removal laundry hacks.

4. Prepare your clothes

  • Empty all pockets. Remove coins, pebbles, tissues and any other loose material.

  • Place delicates in a mesh bag. This protects them from the rough-and-tumble of the spinning drum. If you don't have a mesh laundry bag, then you can use an old pillowcase.

  • Turn embellished items inside out. This will help protect the item from damage and also stop any of the embellishments getting caught on other items.

  • Turn jeans and other dark or bright coloured clothes inside out. It’ll help them to keep their colour and stop them transferring dye to your other clothes.

  • Put your laundry in the machine. Don’t be tempted to stuff as much in as you can. Your washing needs room to move around so it can get properly clean. Plus, towels and jeans get rather heavy when wet, so if you try to wash too many at once, they may not spin properly.

5. Add detergent and fabric conditioner

Choosing the right detergent for the type of fabric will help you to get the best results. Biological detergent contains enzymes to tackle protein-based stains. It has great cleaning power, but can be too harsh for more delicate fabrics, and some people find it irritates eczema and other skin complaints.

Non-biological detergent is enzyme-free, so it may be a better choice if you have sensitive skin. For delicates, it’s best to use a specialist detergent.

Laundry detergent comes as a liquid, powder, capsules and tablets. Liquid and powder usually offer better value for money, but there’s no denying that tablets and capsules are handy time-savers. Just keep them well out of the way of children, as they can be deadly if eaten.

Check the packet or bottle for how much detergent to use. Too much and it might not all get rinsed out. Too little and your clothes might not get properly washed.

Fabric conditioner isn’t essential, but it helps to smooth fibres to prevent damage and leave clothes feeling softer. It can also help to cut down on ironing time and keep clothes smelling fresh for longer.

6. Select the right wash setting

Many of us tend to just use the same setting for every load. But delicate clothes need a cooler temperature (30 or below). Heavily stained clothes might need a hotter wash (60 or above) and a longer wash cycle.

Do remember to check the care label of each item, as some clothes can’t withstand a hotter wash. If clothes aren’t dirty, but still need washing, you can probably get away with a shorter cycle and lower temperature.

The higher the spin cycle, the less drying time you need, but the more bashing about your clothes will get. So you might want to select the highest spin cycle for towels, jeans, sheets and so on, but stick to 800 or below for woollen jumpers and delicates.

Trying to save energy? Stick to 30º or 40º degrees. Surprisingly, longer wash cycles often use less energy and water than shorter cycles. Do check your machine’s instruction manual though. Still not 100% sure what setting to use? You can find out more about washing machine settings here.

7. Press start

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Remember, it’s never a good idea to run a washing machine or tumble dryer overnight or when you’re out though, as they do pose a fire risk.

Are you at home but don’t want to take the clothes out of the machine until the evening? Most washing machines allow you to delay the start of the cycle for a few hours.

Laundry drying on a clothes horse

8. Dry your clothes

Clothes left in the washer for a couple of days are going to start smelling pretty rank. Ideally, you want to get them out and drying within an hour of the cycle finishing.

If your clothes were heavily stained before washing, check for any lingering marks and put the clothes back in the wash if necessary. Allowing tough stains to dry will only make them harder to remove.

If you’re tumble drying clothes, don’t overload the dryer. You’ll also want to separate clothes by both colour and weight. This helps to avoid coloured clothes staining lighter ones. It also makes sure they all dry at a similar time (so avoids creasing).

Some garments can be ruined if you tumble dry them, so always check the care label. If in doubt, let them air dry.

Dry woollen items flat and hang most others from the line or airer.

Drying indoors? Try to open a window or dry your clothes near to a heat source, like a radiator. If you dry a lot of clothes indoors, you might want to invest in a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air and reduce the risk of mould. We also recommend reading our guide on removing damp smell on clothes to learn how to fix and avoid this problem.

Laundry and iron

9. Iron clothes

Once your laundry is clean and dry, it's time to get the iron out. Most dresses, shirts and trousers look best once ironed, but do check the care label and the type of fabric first to prevent damage.

Hate ironing? You’ll find some great hacks for less ironing here. If you can’t iron the clothes as soon as they’re dry, try to hang them up or fold them, to minimise creasing.

10. Put your laundry away

Finally, it's time to put your clean clothes away. Hang dresses, shirts and trousers in the wardrobe to prevent wrinkling and fold all other items neatly. Make sure clothes are fully dry before storing them or they could end up smelling musty.

Your top laundry dilemmas solved

The road to learning how to do laundry isn’t always a smooth one. Most of us have the occasional laundry disaster. Below, you’ll find a few laundry tips and tricks to avoid the pitfalls.

Help! My clothes always smells musty after washing

There are four main culprits when it comes to musty clothes:

  1. 1

    You’re leaving them in the machine too long.

  2. 2

    The clothes aren’t drying quickly enough, maybe because the room is cold or there’s not enough air circulating around the fabric.

  3. 3

    You’re putting the clothes away before they’re fully dry.

  4. 4

    Your washing machine needs cleaning. Check the filter and follow this guide to cleaning washing machines.

Why can’t I get stains out?

Certain stains (we’re looking at you tomato ketchup, grass and blood) can be a bit of a nightmare to get rid of.

Our number one top tip is to deal with the stain as quickly as possible, using the technique that’s right for that particular stain. See our guide to stain removal here. Biological detergent is also usually better at getting stains out in the wash than non-bio.

How do I keep my clothes looking new for longer?

Generally speaking, you want to clean them as gently as possible. In most cases, that means a lower temperature and gentler spin cycle. We’ve got a great guide on how to keep clothes looking new right here.

Why do my clothes feel so stiff?

It could be that they’ve been washed with too much detergent or with the wrong type of detergent. It’s also worth using a fabric softener like Comfort Pure.

If that doesn’t help, you might have a problem with limescale. Try running your washing machine on a hot wash (while empty) with an anti-limescale tablet or a tablespoon of citric acid.

What is the correct way to do laundry?

It really depends what you’re washing. Most items can be safely washed in a machine, but some need hand washing and others need dry cleaning.

Check each garment’s care instructions to find out what’s best for your clothes.

What is the fastest way to wash clothes in the washing machine?

Clothes that aren’t too dirty can usually be washed on a quick wash setting. Make sure you don’t overload the machine though.

If you check your machine’s instruction manual, it will probably recommend a maximum weight for quicker settings. This will usually be less than other settings, to give clothes more room to move around.

For a detailed dive, check out our guide to using a washing machine here.

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