12 Things You Should Do Before Tossing Your Laundry in the Washing Machine

california home laundry
Photo: Kimber Collective

Sick of shrunken, faded, ripped clothing? Remember this: Not all laundry is created equal. Before you blindly toss your laundry into the washing machine, read these 12 simple pre-washing must-dos from "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook".

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california home laundry
Kimber Collective

No matter how many loads you do each week, laundry can still feel like a daunting chore. Properly laundering your clothing requires much more than just a push of a button, after all. If you're tired of unearthing shrunken, faded, or ripped clothing from the dryer after a long wash cycle, there could be a few steps you're forgetting to take beforehand. To help ensure each load comes out perfect, we're turning to Martha herself.

According to her no-fail laundry checklists, it all starts with how you sort your items. Are you separating colors and keeping an eye out for delicates? Believe it or not, sorting your laundry is one of the most basic steps to ensuring a good washing, and yet many people skip it. Mixing, say, dark colors with whites could have a damaging effect on your precious clothing, especially if you're aiming to achieve a deep clean with the help of bleach and other stringent cleansers.

Or perhaps you experienced a particularly troublesome spill? According to Martha, you should be doing some pre-washing before you actually throw these items into the machine. Read on for five essential steps to effectively pretreat stains, from condiments to fragrant sauces and even stubborn red wine. Plus, we're highlighting a simple procedure for how water can turn garment-ruining stains into treatable spots.

Stick these and other tips from Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook

in your back pocket. They're certain to come in handy even before you set foot in your laundry room.

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Read the Labels

closet organization

Manufacturers often put the dry-clean label on garments made of wool (and related fibers, including cashmere), silk, and rayon. But unless it actually says "dry-clean only," you will likely be able to wash them successfully at home. A garment suitable for machine- or hand-washing must be: Colorfast, which you can test by dampening the fabric in a discreet spot (such as an inside seam) before blotting with a white cloth to see if color appears; made of a single material, meaning no lining, beading, or trim; and constructed simply, so it won't collapse when wet.

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Sort, Sort, Sort!

Lucy Schaeffer

Each time you wash your clothing, some dye is released into the water. Dyes such as indigo, for example, which colors your favorite blue jeans, are actually intended to fade and will do so throughout the life of the garment.

Unless you take care to wash like colors together, your laundry will become dingy in short order. Besides the obvious—separating light-colored clothes from dark and brightly colored ones—you should sort by soil level, fabric type, and lint properties.

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Select the Right Detergent

woven laundry basket with detergent and towels
Jamie Grill/ Getty Images

For general washes, liquid and powder detergents are acceptable—they work great on oils, spots, and stains, and as ultra-concentrated varieties, they're very strong. You only need a small amount for a bigger load. Powder detergents can help irrigate dirt and clay, whereas light duty detergents are best for cleaning delicates, baby clothes, and other elegant fabrics. If your detergent is marked "high efficiency," its designed to be used with front-loading machines, which use less water overall.

If you're interested in doing laundry while reducing your ecological footprint, consider enivronmentally friendly laundry detergent: Their surfactants come from vegetable oils, often from coconut. Look for labels that say "coconut-oil-based surfactant" instead of "cleaning agents," and "fragrance derived from lavender oil" rather than "fragrance."

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Pretreat Stains


If you act quickly, you can block any long-lasting effects of a serious spill or stain. Martha says to blot liquids with a white cloth and to work from the outside in so you don't spread the stain to other areas of the garment. If you've dropped food or sauce on yourself, scoop up any solids—if it's oil based, sprinkle cornstarch onto the area and wait 15 minutes before removing it.

Be sure to dab stains—don't rub or press with force—with cool water, which can lighten most spots and remove others altogether. Print out Martha's stain removal checklist for quick reference, here.

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Remove Bits and Bops


Be sure to remove pins or buckles from clothing items before placing them in the washer—zip the zippers on your clothing, close snaps and hooks, and secure Velcro to prevent snags and abrasion. Don't fasten buttons, however, which can cause stress on the buttons and buttonholes.

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Empty Pockets

jeans pockets
Getty Images

Empty pockets and turn them inside out, unfurl socks, and unroll cuffs. Just like fastening buttons could lead to stress on the garments, leaving pockets tucked into your jeans or pants could lead to accidental tears and won't effectively clean that area, either.

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Tie Loose Strings


Tie sashes and strings to prevent tangling. In most washers, a loose string (think: jackets, hoodies, necklines, waistlines) can become tangled in the washing mechanism's agitator, which could ruin your garment.

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Prepare Your Delicates


Place delicate items like bras, stockings, and fine knitwear in zippered mesh bags. Containing these items can prevent color transfer and wear and tear in the machine's drum during the spin cycle.

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Turn Clothing Inside Out

woman packing sweater in cardboard box
JGI/Jamie Grill/GettyImages

Delicates, sweaters, and cotton T-shirts should be turned inside out to prevent pilling. Dark, fade-prone clothes should also be turned inside out as abrasion from rubbing against other clothes can cause fibers to fray, making clothes look faded.

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Open Up Button-Downs

Jonny Valiant

Keep the collars open to reduce any wear along folds when the clothes are being washed in the machine. You'll also want to keep your buttons undone when ironing a collared shirt as well.

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Mend Tears

woman mending jeans
Kate Mathis

It is important to fix tears or ripped hems before laundering clothes. The washer's agitating and tumbling action can make them worse. With a few tools and knowledge of basic stitches (along with a little patience), you can tackle snags and rips of all kinds.

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Presoak Heavily Soiled Clothing


Even stains that have had time to set will loosen somewhat while they soak in water. Presoak laundry from the "very dirty" basket or clothing with perspiration odor for an hour in an enzyme detergent dissolved in water before running the regular cycle. You can soak laundry in the washer, a large bucket, or a utility sink.

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