The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Doing Laundry

Experts share common laundry missteps and how to get it right.
Laundry day errors are common but mostly avoidable.
PeopleImages via Getty Images
Laundry day errors are common but mostly avoidable.

Ah, laundry. You either love doing it or dread the day you officially run out of socks and can’t delay the chore any longer.

And while many of us learned how to do a load in our elementary or teen years, the reality is that most people aren’t experts. In fact, there are lots of ways to get it wrong, which can result in wardrobes not lasting as long as they should or straight-up ruining certain items.

From mixing scents to washing the wrong materials together, here are 13 mistakes people often make while doing laundry ― and some advice for avoiding these errors on laundry day.

Using Too Much Detergent

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but using too much detergent can actually backfire and make your clothes dirtier than what they were before you put them in the wash,” Jamie Adams, the “cleanfluencer” behind Jamie’s Journey, told HuffPost. “Excess detergent can create too many suds that can cause dirt and grime to get caught on your clothes and inside the machine.”

Newer washing machines generally use less water than older models for environmental reasons, so it’s especially important to get the ratio right.

“When the machine doesn’t have enough water to rinse out the laundry detergent, it sticks to the fibers of your clothes,” explained Michelle Hansen of Practical Perfection. “Over time, this makes our clothes stiff and uncomfortable to wear.”

In addition to residue buildup, the excess detergent might also make it harder for stains to come out in the wash. So rather than eyeball the amount of detergent you’re using, make sure to follow the guidelines for the brand and for your machine and use the smallest recommended amount for the load.

Adding Cleaning Agents After Clothes

“Don’t add detergent, scent boosters or laundry boosters after adding the clothes,” Hansen said. “Because modern washers are designed to use much less water, oftentimes detergents and scent beads don’t have the adequate amount of water they need to dissolve properly to clean your clothes.”

She noted that some people wind up pulling their clothes out of the wash only to see clumps of powdered detergent or half-melted scent beads.

“The trick is to put all of the cleaning agents into the washer before you put in the clothes,” Hansen explained. “That way you can be sure that the water will be able to dissolve all of the detergents.”

Not Pretreating

If you’re trying to deal with a pesky spot or odor, don’t simply toss the garment into the washing machine. The key is to treat it before the wash.

“Five seconds worth of pretreating can make everything so much simpler,” explained “The Laundry Evangelist” Patric Richardson. “Spraying on a pre-treatment on a stain before you throw it in the washer ― it’s such a big thing.”

Mixing Laundry Scents

When it comes to laundry scents, it’s best to keep things consistent.

“Some people are really particular about how their laundry smells,” Hansen said. “And while this isn’t a detrimental mistake, using products that have all the same scent will really help all of the laundry scents to work together instead of against each other.”

Overstuffing The Machine

“Don’t overstuff the washing machine. This leads to laundry not getting clean and rubbing against other fabrics, which can wear fibers down more quickly,” said cleaning expert and author Becky Rapinchuk, aka Clean Mama.

Similarly, you shouldn’t overstuff your dryer.

“I know it’s tempting to get all of your clothes done in one load, but if you overstuff your washer and your dryer, it will end up taking twice as long to complete the cycle,” Adams said. “When it comes to drying your clothes, try filling your dryer half full and throw in a dry bath towel with your wet clothes. The dry towel will absorb some of the moisture from the clothes, making your items dry faster.”

Not Washing Like Materials Together

We’re used to dividing items by color tone, but if you’re doing multiple loads, try to put similar textures together as well.

“Wash towels together, jeans together, workout clothes together, sheets and bedding together,” Rapinchuk said. “Keeping like items together will ensure that they get adequately cleaned, they don’t have friction against other fabrics, and bonus, it’s easier to put them away because you’ve batched your laundry together.”

Steph Giesbrecht, aka The Secret Slob, specifically advised against mixing delicate fabrics with towels and rags.

“The pickier you can be about fabric separation, the better, but at the least separate towels, sheets and rags from clothing and make sure to run your delicates on the delicate cycle,” she said.

Over-Washing And Over-Drying

Richardson advised against using the extra-long cycles in your washing machine.

“One mistake is using a really long cycle in the machine. You just don’t need a really long cycle,” he said. “It wears out your clothes faster. Less is more.”

He applied that “less is more” advice to drying times as well.

“It’s a big problem because once your clothes are done, they need to be out of the dryer,” Richardson said. “You’re just wearing them out letting them tumble in there.”

Not Cleaning Your Washing Machine

“I know we have to think about cleaning a million things in our home, but oftentimes, people forget to clean their home appliances,” Adams said. “We don’t want something that is cleaning our clothes to be dirty. It’s very important that we clean our washers and dryers, along with other home appliances.”

She recommended filling your completely empty washing machine with as hot of water as you can and 1 cup of bleach. Let it sit for an hour and then run a long, hot cycle.

“After that cycle is done, fill the washer with hot water again and add 1 quart of white distilled vinegar,” Adams advised, noting that it’s important to separate the vinegar and bleach steps so the two don’t mix. “Let it soak for another hour and then run another hot cycle. Don’t forget to wipe down all of the nooks and crannies inside with vinegar and water as well.”

If you have a front-loading washer, she also recommended cleaning the rubber seal to break up the buildup caused by soap residue and minerals. Mix 1 cup of chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water and use a cleaning toothbrush or other cleaning brush to get deep into the area.

Washing Things Unnecessarily

Richardson advised against washing something just because it’s been worn for a short time and got a little wrinkled.

“I’ll wear a shirt and it’s clean and spotless, just wrinkled,” he said. “Just address a few sections with some steam, and it’s good to go. I don’t need to wash it, dry it and iron it again.”

Giesbrecht noted that wash cycles are hard on fabrics, so washing less is the key to making clothes last longer and maintain their color and shape.

“Spot wash small stains or wear undergarments that protect outer layers,” she said. “The Levi’s website specifically states to only wash your jeans every 10-30 wears! Plus, washing less is less work for you and less water and energy used.”

Mixing Whites And Colors

It may be the cliché laundry mishap (who hasn’t seen a sitcom character dye their whites pink because they accidentally washed them with something red?), but it bears repeating. Be mindful of mixing whites and colors.

“While it might take a while to notice, to make sure your whites stay really white, keep them away from darker colored items, especially new ones whose dyes will run,” Giesbrecht said.

Adding Extra Water

The newer high-efficiency washing machines on the market today tend to use less water than traditional models. For some people, it may feel tempting to add more, but this would be a mistake.

“A lot of people want to add extra water,” Richardson said. “Don’t do that. The machine knows what it’s doing and is built for a specific amount. Putting extra water in doesn’t let the water force through your clothes and makes the process worse.”

Not Putting Things Away Promptly.

“Put your stuff away right when you’re done,” Richardson advised. “If you do that, then the task is really not that big of a deal, but once they sit there in the machine, in the basket, or on the chair, bedroom, it just becomes worse and worse.”

Giesbrecht recommended not starting a new load of laundry until you have finished putting the first one away.

“It’s all too easy to throw some clothes in the wash and start a cycle,” she said. “But letting it sit in the wash too long can cause stinking stale odors, letting them sit in the dryer too long can create un-smoothable wrinkles, and we have all had that basket of clean laundry sit in our room for so long that it just starts mixing in with the dirty stuff and ends up needing a wash again ― more work for you!”

Lacking A Routine

Giesbrecht emphasized the importance of having a laundry routine to make the process more seamless.

“Whether you are a ‘one small load a day’ or a ‘10 loads on Sunday’ kind of person, having a regular routine will help keep a fresh supply of clothing in your closet and save the search for your favorite tee through piles and piles of dirty or clean laundry,” she said.

Richardson similarly advised making laundry a more positive ritual to remove the sense of dread many people experience.

“If you go in with this attitude of ‘ugh, i have to do the laundry,’ then it’s going to be the drudgery you imagine,” he said. “Instead, come in with an attitude that it’s fun. Play some tunes you love. Have a beverage, maybe a snack. You don’t have to do your laundry. You get to do your laundry.”

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