Jeans, heavily-soiled garments, and anything that pills should have a separate wash cycle, our experts say.

It only takes washing a microfiber towel with the rest of your laundry once (pilling and lint, galore!) to know that are certain fabrics that should never go through the machine together. It can get worse, however: If you're not careful, certain materials can actually ruin the other items included in a wash cycle. Fortunately, keeping your garments safe in the washer and dryer, for that matter, is easy with a little pre-laundry prep work. Ahead, our experts outline which fabrics and clothing types to avoid washing simultaneously—plus, how to avoid making the mistake in the first place.

woman sorting laundry
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Start by sorting your laundry.

Gwen Whiting, the co-founder of The Laundress, suggests sorting dirty laundry into groups to keep it safe from start to finish. Stick to three main categories, she says: everyday items (think cotton and durable synthetics), colors (which call for cool or warm water), and whites (which need hot water). Linens, towels, and bedding should also be sorted by color and then washed and dried separately to avoid tangling and a damp end result. If you have any delicates, set them aside for hand-washing, says Whiting.

Keep denim, heavily-soiled, and lint-shedding items away from other garments.

If you're short on time—or don't have large enough loads to merit separate washes—and are willing to take your chances, heed this advice. "It's typically best to wash at least your denim separately, especially away from delicate fabrics," explains Jennifer Ahoni, a Senior Scientist of Fabric Care at Procter & Gamble, noting that jeans' zippers can rub up against other fabrics (especially knits!) and damage them. "And if an item sheds lint, wash it separately from microfiber, corduroy, or other fabrics that attract it." And when you have particularly soiled items? No matter what, wash these items alone. "Do this for two key reasons: Dirt and soils transfer, so it's best to store these heavily soiled items in a separate hamper to prevent visible and invisible dirt from transferring to less soiled fabrics," she explains. "Plus, very dirty and stained laundry should be washed in a longer heavy-duty cycle to allow the extra time and agitation to remove deeply-embedded soil."

Take a similar approach during the drying cycle.

Keep these categories in mind when you're moving your laundry into the dryer, as well. "Similar to washing, you want to keep fabrics together that require the same drying cycle," explains Lindsey Boyd, the other half of The Laundress. "Towels, cotton, and linen can handle a normal heat setting (we still suggest drying these alone to avoid tangling), while some fabrics require low heat or low tumble, like down bedding," she says. "Anything made of denim, wool or cashmere, silk, or delicate synthetics should be air dried!" Something else to keep away from the machine, entirely? Your workout gear. "Also, air-dry performance wear like activewear and loungewear," Boyd notes.


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