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15 Ways You're Washing Your Clothes Wrong 

This essential chore has more rules than you'd imagine.

Everyone knows that washing clothes is a dreadfully time-consuming chore. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends more than two-and-a-half hours each week doing laundry. But despite the hours we spend waiting for the wash to finish, many still make major mistakes in the laundry room—and that can cost serious time and money in the long run.

While some of these mistakes will ruin clothes, others can affect your home and health. So before you ruin another beloved item of clothing, make sure you know all the ways you might be washing your clothes wrong. And when you want to want to make your whole home shine from top to bottom, check out these 20 Genius House-Cleaning Tricks That Will Blow Your Mind.

You put new clothes in a hot cycle.


It's not always necessary to separate your darks and your lights every time you wash your clothing—especially if you use cold water—but throwing brand new clothes into your laundry willy-nilly can have some devastating effects.

New clothes—particularly brightly-colored ones washed in hot water—have a tendency to bleed color onto other fabric, meaning that beloved white shirt could be on its way to becoming a pink one before you have the chance to say "tumble dry." If you have colorful new clothes to wash, put them in with your dark laundry or run them separately at first, so they don't stain your lighter clothes. And when you want to make every load of laundry come out cleaner, This Is the Best Way to Load a Washing Machine.

You overload your machines.

man putting clothes in washing machine relationship

Just because you can fit all of your laundry into one load doesn't mean you should. Overloading your washer not only means your cleaning supplies won't get evenly distributed, but it also means that the agitator in your machine is more likely to break. If you regularly overload a front-loading machine, it may also mean a costly drum repair is in your future.

You put clothes that should be hung in the dryer.

Cashmere cleaning freezer clothing hacks

Is tossing everything into the dryer convenient? Yes. Is it a mistake? Yes. If your clothing labels specifically recommend against tumble drying, not hanging them or drying them flat means you're potentially misshaping them with every cycle. Worse yet, you can also easily shrink your clothing into unwearable shape by doing so. And when you want to keep your wardrobe in tip-top shape, discover these 20 Easy Tips for Keeping Your Closet Organized.

You leave wet clothing in the washer.

laundry basket

Forgetting a load of laundry in the washing machine is more than just an inconvenience. In a warm, wet environment like your washing machine, it doesn't take long for mildew to start growing—in fact, in just 24 hours, your clothes can develop hard-to-remove mildew that can eventually eat away at fabrics. To keep your clothes looking and smelling fresh, move them to the dryer or a rack as soon as the wash cycle has ended.

You let stains sit.

shirt with coffee stain

Letting a stain sit on your clothing might just mean it's there for good. If you don't treat a stain in an expeditious manner, it has time to set, meaning it will take more than your average wash cycle to get it out. If you stain an item of clothing, make sure to treat it with a stain remover immediately, even if you're not going to throw it in the wash right away.

You don't measure out your detergent.

Bleach and detergent

Think you can just eyeball it when it comes to your detergent? Think again. Using too much detergent in your wash cycle may mean that your clothes aren't actually getting as clean as you think. If your detergent to water ratio is off, detergent residue can linger in your washing machine and on your clothes, making them feel hard or sticky and potentially staining them, too.

You wash clothing every time you wear it.

a line dress

Washing your clothes every time you wear them only shortens their lifespan. While certain sweat-gland-adjacent items—like underwear, gym clothes, tights, or socks—certainly deserve a wash after a single wear, if you're throwing a cardigan you just wore to dinner in the wash, you're likely to see it lose its color and shape quickly. And when you want to stop wasting money on new clothes, check out the 30 Best Ways to Save Money on Clothes.

You use too much fabric softener.

washing machine

If you're using too much fabric softener, your clothes will wind up anything but soft. Much like with detergent, adding too much fabric softener to your loads of laundry will leave your clothes sticky and stiff.

You don't clean your dryer filter.

dryer filter

Every time you leave lint on your dryer filter after doing a load of laundry, you're putting everyone in your home at risk. In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, 2,900 dryer fires—the bulk of which stem from uncleaned dryers—occur in the United States each year, causing more than $35 million in damage.

You add detergent at the wrong moment.

woman putting laundry in a washing machine

If you have a top-loading machine, there's a science to when you should pour the detergent in. For the best results, fill the washing machine with water first, then add your detergent, then put your clothes in. If you pour your detergent on top of your clothes, you may risk staining them or not having other items get adequately clean.

You rub stains.

stained clothing

Despite what you may believe, rubbing a stain isn't actually a surefire way to get it out faster. What it is likely to do, however, is cause hard-to-remove pills (an irritatingly tiny ball of cloth) on your garment, or potentially wear down the fabric over time.

You don't separate out delicates.

delicate clothing

If you want to preserve those delicate garments, it's time to invest in a mesh bag for your laundry. Lacy items, tights, or gauzy material can easily snag on zippers or buttons in the wash, or may even get wrapped around your machine's agitator. To better preserve your delicates, place them in a mesh bag first before adding them to your laundry load.

You use too much bleach.

woman doing laundry

Using more bleach than the bottle recommends won't actually get those whites whiter. Since most bleach is concentrated, it's not necessary to use much of it in a laundry load. In fact, if you're using too much bleach, not only can this cause your fabrics to lose softness over time, it may also make those bright whites yellow as the fabric breaks down.

You're using the wrong wash cycle.

laundry cycle

All wash cycles are not created equal. The cycle that's perfect for your dirty sneakers might just leave your delicates misshapen, while a hand-wash cycle is unlikely to tackle seriously grimy clothes. Whenever possible, separate your clothes according to the wash cycle they need and you'll end up with cleaner laundry every time.

You don't clean your washing machine.

laundry cleaning

Your washing machine isn't exactly a self-cleaning machine. In fact, research suggests that there is a wealth of bacteria living in your washing machine that you're inadvertently re-depositing on your clothes if you're not cleaning the machine properly. If you want to limit the number of bacteria lounging on your wardrobe, make sure to run the washing machine with nothing but bleach and hot water in it on a regular basis and wipe down the interior whenever possible. And when you want to keep the whole family healthier, make sure you know these 20 Items in Your Home Making You Sick.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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