15 Laundry Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Learn what you're doing wrong in the laundry room so you don't end up with any shrunken sweaters or stained sheets.

Be Better at Laundry

Be Better at Laundry

When it comes to doing the laundry, you probably already know to separate the darks from the lights, and you figure there isn’t much more to it. But while it’s true that doing laundry isn’t rocket science, it does have quite a few rights and wrongs. Here are 15 surprisingly common mistakes that can damage your clothes or leave them less than fresh.


Using Fabric Softener on Everything

Fabric Softener on Towels

While you may think fabric softener is a great way to keep your towels soft and fluffy, over time it actually causes them to stiffen. Plus, fabric softener reduces your towels' effectiveness by decreasing terry cloth’s ability to absorb water. Instead of dumping in a cupful of softener, add a cup of white vinegar along with your laundry detergent—about every other load—to keep your towels feeling and smelling good.

Related: 8 "Zero Dollar" Laundry Room Hacks


Setting Stains in the Dryer

Stain Sets In Dryer

You spilled spaghetti sauce on your favorite shirt, but after washing and drying it, you find the orange stain remains. Unfortunately, you’ll be hard-pressed to remove a stain once the heat of the dryer sets it in the fabric. Pretreat stains—especially if oily, colored, or heavy—before washing the item, and check that the stain is gone at the end of the wash cycle. If the stain still shows, treat it with stain remover and wash the item again. Stains that stick around through two treatments are most likely permanent.

Related: 13 Unusual Household Uses for Ice Cubes


Creating Mysterious Oil Blotches

Dryer Sheet Stains

Have you ever pulled your clothing out of the dryer and wondered how those small oil blotches got on your darks when you’re sure you didn’t spill anything on them? The answer probably lies in your use of fabric-softening sheets. These sheets can sometimes create oily stains on clothing, particularly if you use off-brand products. To remove the oily spots, rub the stains with a bit of soap, and rewash the clothing without detergent or fabric softener.

Related: 9 Things You Didn't Know Dryer Sheets Can Do


Not Doing Due Diligence

Check Pockets Before Washing

It’s not only children who forget to remove food, tissues, pens, money, or other objects from their pockets before tossing their pants into the laundry hamper. Adults are just as often the guilty parties. Avoid the disaster of ink-stained clothing or the nuisance of Kleenex bits all over your garments by taking a moment to check pockets before putting the load into the washer.

Related: The 10 Best Things You Can Buy for Your Laundry Room (for Under $50)


Using the Wrong Detergent

Types Of Laundry Detergent

You may think you can save a few pennies by using regular detergent in a high-efficiency washing machine, but you’re risking trouble by scrimping. High-efficiency laundry detergent is low sudsing and specially formulated to work in high-efficiency washers, which use less water and a different tumbling action than traditional washing machines. Using regular detergent in these high-efficiency machines can cause an overflow of suds that could leave your clothes soapy and could even stop the machine from working. Conversely, there's no danger in using high-efficiency detergent in a traditional machine.

Related: 9 Energy-Saving Home Upgrades That Pay for Themselves


Leaving Dirt Behind

How To Clean Dirty Clothes

Washing something extra dirty, such as pet bedding, mud-encrusted pants, sandy beachwear, or clothes covered in campground dust? Help release all that hair and dirt by adding an extra rinse cycle, using less detergent than usual, and adding a cup of white vinegar to the rinse water. Then, once the load is finished, run a cycle with the machine empty to remove any debris that's left behind.

Related: 9 Products You'll Love—Even If You Hate Cleaning


Leaving Zippers Unzipped

Washing Clothes With Zipper

Before tossing pants or jackets into the hamper, take a moment to zip up the zipper. If you don't, the metal teeth can damage other clothing as the laundry swirls and tumbles through the wash cycle and dryer. You should, however, leave buttons undone to prevent the back-and-forth motion of the washer from loosening their threads.

Related: 8 Low-Cost Upgrades for a Hassle-Free Laundry Room


Overpacking the Wash

Overloading Washing Machine

Stuffing in as much clothing as the machine can hold may seem like a good way to save time, but it's not an effective way to get your clothes clean. For the best results, laundry shouldn’t reach higher than the agitator in a top loader, or past the row of holes closest to the door in a front loader. By filling a washer to the appropriate level, you allow water and detergent to circulate through the entire load and also minimize wear and tear on fabric.

Related: 8 (Nearly) Invisible Laundry Rooms


Using the Wrong Settings

Washing Machine Settings

Your dryer’s “regular” setting is typically the hottest, which is good for heavy items like towels and blankets, but much too intense for lighter fabrics. For clothing, use the permanent press setting for best results. This medium-heat setting has a cool-down period at the end, which not only reduces fading and wear, but also cuts down on wrinkles. And as with your washer, don’t overload the dryer.

Related: 8 Cleaning Mistakes Everyone Makes


Using Too Much Detergent

Too Much Laundry Detergent

If you figure adding twice the detergent means twice the cleaning power, you’re making a common laundry mistake. Actually, extra detergent tends to create excess suds that float at the top of the water and then deposit dirt back down onto your clothes. This effect can also create bacteria buildup in tough-to-rinse spots like underneath collars or between buttons. Always follow the measuring guidelines on the detergent bottle or carton, but if you think you're using too much, switch to laundry pods, or measure out just half to two-thirds of your usual amount of detergent.

Related: 10 Household Products You've Been Using All Wrong


Adding Detergent Last

When To Add Detergent In Washing Machine

Dumping detergent on top of your laundry—especially powder detergent—is a double mistake. First, adding the detergent at the wrong stage means it might not dissolve fully. Second, you’re more likely to end up with streaks or powder on your clothing. Instead, start the washer, add the detergent so it can start dissolving, and then layer in your laundry.

Related: Here's What Your Appliances Looked Like 100 Years Ago


Skipping Cleaning Duties

Clean Washing Machine

You would think that a washing machine would stay clean just through regular use, but actually, washing machines need to be cleaned periodically. If you don't give the machine an occasional rinse, odors can develop and your clothes might come out smelling musty, or stained with white streaks. Once or twice a year, run the washer on the hottest water setting and add a quart of chlorine bleach to kill bacteria, mold, and mildew. When the cycle finishes, run the machine once more on the hottest setting, but this time, add one quart of white vinegar to the wash water, and also fill any fabric softener or detergent dispensers with vinegar.

Related: The Top 10 Grimiest Spots in Your Home, According to Science


Forgetting About the Dryer Vent

cleaning dryer

Like the washing machine, the dryer needs regular maintenance. Beyond cleaning the lint trap after every use, you should clean the dryer vent at least once a year. A clogged vent not only forces the machine to work harder, but it could start a fire. To clean the vent, detach the dryer vent hose from the wall and vacuum the hose. Then go outside and clean the exterior vent. 


Ignoring the Labels

Ignoring the Labels

The tiny symbols on clothing tags might be difficult to decipher, but that doesn't mean you should ignore them. Learn how to decode the laundry tags, so you know what items can go into the washer and dryer, and which need to be set aside for the dry cleaner or hand washing. 


Leaving Your Clothes in the Machine

Leaving Your Clothes in the Machine

With so much going on throughout the day, it's easy to throw a load of laundry in and then forget about it. Letting the clothes sit in the washer or dryer might not seem like a big deal, but it's actually negating the work that was just done. Damp clothing that isn't moved along to the dryer will smell and can even get moldy. While leaving clothes in the dryer does not have as nasty consequences, the clothes will wrinkle if not folded promptly. 


Laundry Day Tips

Laundry Day Tips

There's more to doing laundry than separating lights from darks.


Don't Miss


If you must do laundry (and you must), you might as well make the chore as easy as possible. We've rounded up the best buys to make your laundry room safer, cleaner, and more productive. Even better? They can all be had for a bargain. Go now!