1. Sort

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To start, make two piles. Pull out underpants, towels and sheets—this stuff should be washed in hot water to help kill bacteria. (Chlorine bleach will blast even more germs, but it's safe to use only on whites.) For the rest: Toss it in together and put it through the cold cycle. One common mistake college students make is washing that brand-new school hoodie. If it's bright, wash it seperately, or with darks in cold water, that first time. Ditto with new jeans.


2. Pretreat Stains

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This one is optional. If little spots here and there don't bother you, proceed to #3. Otherwise, give each piece a quick check for stains, and hit any spots with a pretreating spray or gel before dumping it into the machine.


3. Wash

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Make it easier by opting for detergent pods rather than lugging a jug of liquid soap around. Those little packs contain concentrated detergent, so you only need one per load. Now it's time to add bleach, but only if you know what you're doing! Don't overfill the washer: When it's too crammed, clothes could get damaged and won't get as clean. And do check pockets. Lipstick or a pen can wreak havoc in the wash, plus you might find some cash you forgot about. While you're at it, make sure all zippers are zipped (to avoid snags). 

Not sure how to wash something? Those little labels inside your clothes explain what you need to do. 


4. Dry

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Promptness counts. To keep wrinkles to a minimum (and to avoid returning to find your stuff strewn across a folding table), get clothes out of the washer as soon as the cycle is done. Here's a trick: As you take each item out of the washer, give it a good shake—you'll end up with fewer wrinkles.

Next, sort (again!). Yes, it's true: Divide things up a second time. Read those labels for recommended tumble settings (normal, permanent press or gentle), and watch for tags that call for hang-drying. No rack? No problem: plastic hangers hung from a doorknob work just fine. 

When you put clothes in the dryer, aim for half full, or you'll have wrinkles galore and might have to pay to run the dryer twice. And don't forget to empty the lint filter and pop in a dryer sheet before you hit "start."


5. Fold

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Promptness still counts. When the dryer cycle is done, remove everything right away, shaking out each item. (Leave the load crumpled in your laundry basket and you're likely to wind up with a just-rolled-out-of-bed look.) Try to fold clothes while they're warm, flattening hems and straightening collars as you go. 


A Few More Tips...

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Muddy clothes? Wash heavily soiled pieces separately, but don't add extra detergent. Excess suds can actually keep dirt from being removed.

To protect color brightness, turn knits, sweatshirts, and denim inside out.

Most shrinkage happens in the dryer, so don't overdry. Worried about that perfect-fitting tank? Grab it out of the machine while the load is still a bit damp. 

Not to gross you out, but clothes might still harbor germs post-wash. Consider laundering colors in warm water with a bit of Pine-Sol added ti the machine at the start of the cycle. It helps kills nasty bugs when chlorine isn't an option.