We spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not we have the “right” clothes. Maybe you’re guilty of over-ordering from your favorite online boutique so you can try everything on in the privacy of your own home, or maybe you just spend a little more time than you’d like to admit browsing Pinterest for seasonal trends to make sure you’re following them without looking like you’re trying too hard. Even those of us who don’t cop to being “fashionable” have been at fashion’s mercy at least once in a while, and we have a closet full of clothes to show for it. (It may also be time to offload some of that clothing, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Once you go through the effort to collect that wardrobe, though, are you taking good care of it? Somewhat ironically, cleaning your clothes can often damage them. You may have mastered Laundry 101 somewhere around your sophomore year of high school, but the devil is most certainly in the details here, and everyone could use a refresher in the basics. Keep reading for tips on how you can successfully launder all those fab fashions without totally destroying them. You — and your wallet — will thank us!

A woman smiles as she leans against her washing machine
  • Do I have to sort my laundry? To sort or not to sort is one of the most oft-debated questions in the world of laundry. What have we determined? You don’t need to, but doing so will reduce the likelihood of you bleaching out your clothes or damaging the fabric, because it will force you to use different water temperatures and cycles based on color and whether or not the pieces are delicates. But if you’re in a rush and willing to risk a less-than-perfect result, you can probably skip the sort.
  • When should I use different water temperatures? Use hot water for your whites and anything super dirty (you know exactly where those nasty gym clothes belong) and cold water for bright or dark colors that tend to bleed, as well as delicate fabrics. Warm water should be used for most other clothes: jeans, knits, synthetic fibers, and anything that falls somewhere between whites and darks on the color spectrum.
  • How much detergent do I really need? We know it seems like the more soap, the better, but the truth is that excess suds in your clothes can lead to bacteria buildup. Resist the urge to top out on detergent and instead follow the product’s recommendations for a standard load (an average load is between six and seven pounds). If you’re working with more clothes than that or if you have hard water, you can add a little extra detergent to the cap. Otherwise, practice moderation.
  • Is there a certain order I should use to fill my washer? Yes! First clothes, then water, then soap. Older detergent formulas included phosphates, which meant that clothes needed to be added at the end, but no more!
  • How should I use bleach? If your whites are starting to look a little gray and ragged, use approximately 1/2 cup of bleach on top of your normal detergent. Reserve specific loads for bleach, and do not mix these clothes with non-white items while you wash. Feel like your whites are constantly needing a little extra TLC? Studies have shown that bleach doesn’t speed up fabric deterioration, so you can use it regularly on your whites.
A woman loads her washer with clothes
  • What makes something a delicate? Delicates include lingerie, washable silks, lace, cashmere, thin knits, and pieces with sequins. Anything labeled or tagged as “hand-wash only” or “delicate” also falls in this category (duh). 
  • Can I wash all of my delicates together? If you’re ambitious enough to take on the cleaning of your own delicates (most of us just send ’em out!), you should avoid the rookie mistake of throwing them all into the washing machine together. Sort by type or fabric to avoid damage. Combining lace and sequins in the same load, for example, can cause snagging. Generally speaking, the more you sort your items, the more likely they are to wind up in the correct water temperature and cycle.
  • Do I have to take dry-clean-only clothes to the dry cleaner? They say rules are made to be broken, but if you’re going to go wild and handle your dry-clean only clothes at home, you should definitely follow some insider tips. It’s risky, but you can try cleaning wool, silk, cotton, linen, and durable polyester at home. To do it safely, turn the items inside out, put them in a mesh bag, and use a mild detergent. Once you pull them out of the washing machine, do not put them in the dryer. Instead, lay them flat out to dry as soon as the wash cycle is finished. All that being said, though, your best bet with dry-clean-only clothes is still to take them to a trusty professional.
  • What fabrics should I never put in the washing machine? Suede, leather, velvet, taffeta, and rayon don’t belong in your at-home washing machine. You should also avoid washing anything made with fur or down.

Other random tips: Get ready for a lightning round of random laundry suggestions: Zip your zippers all the way to avoid snagging. Wash button-down shirts with the buttons undone. Put socks in the washer first so they don’t get tangled in other garments (say goodbye to hours of sock hunting).

Do you have any other suggestions for successful laundry? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)