Grandma and grandbaby in laundry room

You’re Doing Laundry Wrong! (And It’s Costing You Money)

Molly Grace10-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 31, 2023

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Spin a couple knobs, press a couple buttons, add in detergent and you’re good to go, right? Wrong. Somewhere between an art and a science, doing laundry the right way is a little more complex than most people realize.It may be tempting – especially if you’re busy – to just throw in a load on “normal” and then toss it in a dryer without thinking too much about things like fabric type, load size or the state of your machines. By doing this, however, you could be speeding up the process of wearing down your wardrobe, meaning you’ll have to buy new clothes more often. That can get expensive.Are your bad or lazy laundry habits costing you money? Here are some common mistakes you might be making.

Keep your washer and dryer in top shape.

Have your washer and dryer serviced regularly so they work like new.

You Don’t Know How To Use Your Machines

While doing a basic, no-frills load of laundry may seem fairly intuitive, you could be sabotaging yourself in small but significant ways by punching in the same type of wash for every load. Taking some time to learn what all the different settings do, as well as the specifics of your particular machines, will go a long way in making sure you get the ideal wash, every single time.

Take a brief look at the instruction manuals for your washer and dryer. While they all generally function similarly, it can be useful to know exactly what specific settings on your washer and dryer do. Plus, the manual will often have its own list of laundry tips, including things that are specific to your machine.

Your Sorting Methods Are Old-Fashioned

If you’re still sorting your clothes exclusively by color, you’re doing it wrong. While it’s probably a good idea to wash your whites separately and put any dark, bleed-prone items in their own load, it can be just as important to separate your clothes by fabric type.

The reason why separating by color isn’t as crucial as it used to be is that more and more fabrics are made to be colorfast, meaning the dye is stable and won’t bleed in the wash. If you’re unsure, check the label. Observe any label that advises you to wash separately or “with like colors.”

Additionally, newly bought items in a dark color should be laundered alone the first time. Blue jeans are also prone to bleeding, especially when they’re new, so make sure you don’t throw them in with your white T-shirts.

Washing in cold water can also prevent bleeding, as hot water opens up the fibers in clothes and could release dye.

How To Sort By Fabric Type

Good Housekeeping advises against putting heavier materials in the same wash as lighter ones, as heavy or coarse fabrics can wear down delicate ones over time. They’ll also take longer to dry, which means you may end up overdrying your lighter fabrics.

Fabrics that are particularly linty should be kept by themselves, as should athletic wear.

Undergarments should be washed separately, and delicates should be put in a mesh laundry bag to prevent wear in the wash. Make sure to fasten any clasps before washing. Any items you spent a lot of money on or are unsure about should probably be hand-washed, but refer to the garment’s care instructions to be sure.

When sorting, make sure to zip any zippers and unbutton any buttons. Zippers can catch on fabrics and tear them, and leaving buttons fastened can cause loosening of the threads as they get tugged on in the wash.

You’re Choosing The Wrong Settings

When selecting settings for a particular load, keep in mind that the less stress you put on your clothes, the better. That means choosing the shortest cycle with the lowest temperature needed to do the job. This goes for both the washer and the dryer.

Washing Machine Settings

While newer washing machines might use a sensor to determine load size, if you’re using an older machine you may have to input this yourself. Check the manual, but as a rule of thumb, a small load will fill up the drum about a quarter of the way, medium will fill half, and large will fill three-quarters. Don’t pack your washer completely full; make sure the clothes have room to tumble freely.

When in doubt, use cold water. It’s more cost-effective and is generally safer for your fabrics, as hot water will cause fading over time. Most liquid detergents can effectively be used in water of any temperature.

If you need to sanitize something or have an item that is especially dirty, using hot water might be more beneficial. In general, however, cold water will do just as good a job cleaning your clothes.

Choosing your cycle will be a little more specific to your machine, as they all display these settings a little differently, so check the manual.

If you have a permanent press setting, this will be a good go-to for most of your laundry. This option may also be represented as “fast/slow” on your machine. Choose delicate (slow/slow) for more fragile fabrics. Only use regular (fast/fast) for heavier items, such as towels.

Dryer Settings

Drying your clothes properly has a little more to it than most people realize. The washing machine requires a lot of input to get your load washed how you like it. With a dryer, you can easily set it to high heat (or whatever your machine’s equivalent setting is), press start and walk away knowing that when you return, your clothes will be completely dry and toasty warm.

As nice as it may be to drape yourself in a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer, drying your items on high heat can cause fading, shrinking and general wearing down of the fabric.

A medium-heat setting will be the ideal choice for the average person’s daily wardrobe. For anything delicate, choose a low-heat setting, and use high heat for bulky stuff like towels.

For bedding, stick with low heat. This will prevent your sheets from shrinking and cut down on wrinkles.

Don’t Be Afraid To Air Dry

If you’re like the average laundry-doer and use your dryer indiscriminately, you’re probably overdrying a lot of your wardrobe. You may want to scale back on your use of the high-heat settings, or even consider air-drying some of your clothes, especially if you have stuff that’s prone to shrinking or you wear a lot of athleisure.

Fabrics that hold smell, especially gym clothes or yoga pants, should either be air-dried or put on the lowest heat setting. Bras should always be air-dried, as the dryer can wear down the elastic. Air-drying jeans will prevent them from fading over time.

You Don’t Know How To Work A Proper Wash Cycle

Knowing how to properly execute a wash cycle is crucial, because it’s the only thing that stands between you and having to wear dirty or stained clothes. Aside from settings and sorting, there are a few more things you’ll have to contend with if you want to ensure the longevity of your clothing.


A common laundry mistake is using too much detergent. With unclear labels and hard-to-read measuring caps, it can be easier to overpour just to be on the safe side. But when it comes to laundry detergent, using too much can be just as bad as using too little.

According to, excess detergent can actually hold onto the dirt from your clothes and get caught in areas that don’t rinse as easily, like under your shirt collar.

Try using half the amount you’re used to and adjust based on how your clothes come out. You may find that you need fewer suds than you thought, saving you money on detergent. However, if you have hard water, you may need to use more soap to get your clothes clean.

Make sure you’re buying the right type of detergent for your washer, a not as high-efficiency soap in a high-efficiency machine can create too many suds for the machine to operate properly.

Fabric Softener

If you’re someone who is a devout user of fabric softener, make sure you’re aware of when you should and shouldn’t use it. Using fabric softener with towels actually reduces their absorbency. It also does a good job of trapping odor in your athletic wear.

For a natural fabric softener and odor reducer, try adding a half cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle.

Treating Stains

Most stains need to be dealt with as soon as possible to give you the best chance of removing them.

Treat the stain right away. If you’re not near your laundry room when it happens, dab the spot with water to remove any excess stain.

When you’re ready to launder the stained item, first pour a little bit of detergent directly on the spot and gently rub it in. Then wash in cold water.

There are plenty of guides on how to remove different types of stains, so make sure to take a look if you’re dealing with something specific like wine or cooking oil.

If something comes out of the wash and it’s still stained, don’t put it in the dryer. The heat will set the stain and you’ll likely be stuck with a permanent ink splotch on your favorite pair of jeans.

Keep your washer and dryer in top shape.

Have your washer and dryer serviced regularly so they work like new.

You’re Not Treating Your Clothes Right

Most of the fabrics that make up your daily wardrobe are relatively delicate and will start to show damage over time if you don’t take proper care of them, so be aware of how you treat your clothes in and out of the washing machine.

Washing Too Often

There’s a spectrum as to how people approach laundry, with most people falling somewhere in between two polar opposites: people who wash every single item of clothing after each use, and people who do the “sniff test” on any previously worn pieces they have draped on various pieces of furniture in their bedroom.

While the obsessive washers may find their more relaxed counterparts to be lazy and unhygienic, the sniff testers may be on to something.

Every time you put clothes in the wash, you’re putting stress on the fabric. To minimize this, most items of clothing can actually be worn a few times before they need to be washed. Not only will this save your clothes, but you’ll spend less on detergent as well.

Obviously, if something gets stained, you’re going to want to treat it and get it in the wash right away, regardless of how many times you’ve worn it. Same goes for stuff that soaked up a lot of sweat or other smells, like gym clothes or the sweater you wore to a bonfire.

Don’t wash jeans too much, as they can become worn out and faded. Try for once every four or five wears.

Typically, lighter pieces like cotton T-shirts should be washed once every one or two wears, depending on how much you sweat. More substantial materials like dress shirts can be worn a day or two more than that.

Underwear needs to be washed after every single wear, without exception, as do socks.

As long as you hang your bath towels, you can generally get three to five uses out of them. Bed sheets need to be washed every two weeks.

Bathing Suit Care

Ever wonder why your swimsuit starts to look faded after only a couple trips to the beach? Sunscreen may be the culprit, as it contains ingredients that can, over time, break down the fabric of your suit. Spending a lot of time in pools doesn’t help either, as chlorine is harsh on fabric and can cause fading.

Because of this, swimsuits need to be washed after every use. However, you generally shouldn’t put your swimsuit in the washing machine or dyer, so you’ll have to hand wash. The exception to this is swim trunks, which should be ok to machine wash.

Before washing the suit, you’ll want to rinse it off as soon as possible. Then, fill a sink with cold water and a tablespoon of liquid detergent and swish the suit in the water. Rinse and press the fabric gently to get out excess water (don’t wring it) and lay it to dry.

You’re Too Rough

Don’t squeeze or wring out wet clothes, as this stretches the fibers and can ruin the shape of your garment. Instead, lay the garment down and press on it to remove excess water.

When you’re trying to remove a stain, don’t scrub the spot too hard.

Take care when hanging items to be air-dried. Putting a heavy, wet sweater on a hanger to dry can cause it to sag in the shoulders.

Bra straps can be similarly stretched in this way. If you have the room, laying out your air-dry items can be a better alternative.

You Don’t Take Care Of Your Machines

Even the machine that does the washing needs to be washed every once in a while.

Failing to maintain your washer and dryer can end up costing you money, as a dirty washing machine can leave your clothes smelling mildewy and gunk in your dryer can lengthen dry time, wreaking havoc on your electric bill.

To avoid a mildewy smell, leave the door of your washing machine ajar when you aren’t using it. Every six months or so, run an empty load in your washing machine with hot water and white vinegar instead of detergent. If you have a front-loading machine, you may want to occasionally wipe down the seal around the opening with white vinegar, as mildew can accumulate there.

To keep your dryer in tip-top shape, make sure you remove lint from the filter after every use. At least once a year, clean the exhaust vent; do this more if you do a lot of laundry. This step is crucial, as lint is highly flammable, and buildup can cause a dryer fire.

You’re Being Energy Inefficient

Extending the life of your clothes isn’t the only way to save yourself money on laundry. Dryers especially use a lot of electricity, so finding ways to make laundry day more energy efficient can help cut down on your electric bill.

Using cold water will save you money and will generally get your clothes just as clean as warm or hot water. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, even using warm water instead of hot can cut a load’s energy use in half.

Make the most of each cycle by washing full loads.

Instead of dryer sheets, use dryer balls. Not only do they reduce static, but they separate your clothes, so more air permeates them, shortening dry time. Plus, film from dryer sheets can form a buildup on your filter that reduces air circulation, meaning it can take longer for your clothes to dry. If you insist on using dryer sheets, make sure you scrub the filter once a month to remove buildup.

Keep your washer and dryer in top shape.

Have your washer and dryer serviced regularly so they work like new.

Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.