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Laundry tips: How to do laundry

Is your weekly whites load more like 50 shades of grey? Then take inspiration from Mumsnet users with these top tips on how to do laundry - from how best to sort dirty clothes to stain removal hacks.

By Laura Westerman | Last updated Jul 15, 2021

Woman doing laundry

Laundry and parenting unfortunately go hand in hand, unless you're one of those people who relish it (who are you? Get out! No, actually, stay. We need you).

So to help laundry feel a little less never-ending, we scoured the forums, including the Housekeeping Talk board, for top tips from Mumsnet users.

Laundry sorting tips

Sometimes seen as an unnecessary step by those of the 'bung it all in at 30°C' school of thought, many Mumsnet users believe in the power of sorting laundry properly.

The evidence suggests it's worth it too – or you may find yourself avoiding wearing certain types of clothes, and what kind of way is that to live? Here's some advice on how to do it.

1. Use different laundry baskets for different colours/types

Clothes in basket

Whether you go the whole hog and split washes into darks, brights, pastels, lights and whites, or simply stick to darks and whites, using different laundry baskets to sort your laundry properly and, crucially, getting members of your household to comply can prevent many an accident and keep your clothes looking great. It also just makes the whole task seem more manageable.

“We have four laundry baskets. I normally split the washes into dark trousers and socks, dark tops and scants, brights, pastels, lights, whites, bedding, towels and woolies. I announce which wash is going on that day and everyone has to appear with their clothes in the appropriate category.”

“We have three laundry baskets: lights, colours and darks, and everyone is responsible for putting their own laundry into the right basket. To bulk out light washes, we only buy cream fitted sheets.”

Best laundry baskets

Make your life easier with one of these laundry baskets:

  • Best laundry sorter: esonmus Collapsable 3-Section Laundry Bag – “A triple laundry sorter changed my life.” Buy now from Amazon
  • Best laundry basket on wheels: AmazonBasics 3-Bag Laundry Sorter. If you fancy something moveable (as long as you're not the one wheeling), this one has sections in it too. Buy now from Amazon
  • Best rattan laundry basket: BRANÄS Laundry Basket. After a sturdy laundry basket with a lid to keep any unpleasant odours under wraps? This is for you. Buy now from IKEA

2. Use appropriately-sized boxes

Ikea boxes

One Mumsnet user has discovered this nifty hack for seamless laundry-to-washing-machine transfer: get baskets or boxes that are the same size as your washing machine drum. Genius.

“I'm not sure if this is widely known, but the IKEA DRÖNA fabric boxes are just the right size for a load of laundry. I have two DRÖNA boxes in a bathroom cupboard – one for colours and one for whites. No more guessing whether the dirty laundry basket is equivalent to a half load or a full load of washing. When the box is full I know that that's a full load for the washing machine. I think it's a 7kg drum.”

Buy DRÖNA fabric boxes, from £3 from IKEA

3. Don't mix towels and clothes

Woman holding towels

Whether you comply with any of the above advice, whatever you do just try and keep towels separate. In particular, don't wash them with anything lycra-y, such as gymwear, or with sheets (trust us on this one).

“I never wash clothes alongside towels as it makes them bobbly.”

Stain-removal tips for clothes

4. Put washing-up liquid on stains

Hand washing clothes

Not just for dishes, it turns out that a bit of Fairy (or your chosen brand) is magic on stains – especially grass and grease. Grrreat.

“Washing-up liquid is great on grass stains – rub it into the stain, leave for a bit and then wash as usual.”

“I've recently discovered how good washing-up liquid is on grease marks. You just rub it in neat as soon as possible after dropping food all over your clothes and wash as normal.”

5. Use vinegar on stains

One of the classic laundry tips and tricks: vinegar (the distilled white kind) and baking soda. One Mumsnet user even uses a cocktail of washing-up liquid, vinegar and stain remover. Delicious.

“I find baking soda and white vinegar are amazing on really tough stains and pre-soaking always helps.”

“A mixture of washing-up liquid, white vinegar, stain remover shaken into a foamy froth and dabbed onto the stain before a wash gets a good result.”

Washing laundry tips

6. Take extra care with new clothes

Woman trying dress

Cold wash – or, to be safe, hand wash – new clothes. This ensures that any loose dye does not come off on your other clothes. Arguably you should do this before actually wearing them so that the dye also doesn't come off on skin which could cause an allergic reaction, especially for sensitive skin.

“Cold wash new clothes before they go in the general wash to rinse out extra dye. Add a colour catcher to your next wash if you're in any doubt.”

“If I buy something new, I’ll usually hand wash it the first time just to be sure that the colour won't run. After that, I never seem to have any problems.”

7. Use the right laundry detergent (for you)

Laundry detergent

Getting your laundry tools right, and probably most importantly your detergent, is key to laundry success. While it's mostly down to personal preference, it's also useful to look into the kind of water you have in your area, as those in particularly hard water areas (hello, Milton Keynes and Bath) may need to choose their detergent more carefully. Here are some of the most recommended on Mumsnet:

Best laundry detergents

  • Best for whites: Ariel Washing Powder Original – “My kids have the whitest polos in the schoolyard. You know how? Ariel Original Powder.” Buy now from Waitrose
  • Best for colours: Ecozone Non-Bio Liquid Laundry Detergent – “Good as it contains no bleach or optical brighteners, so colours don't fade as much." Buy now from Amazon
  • Best for fragrance: Surf Tropical Lily and Ylang-Ylang Biological Liquid Detergent – “Currently enjoying Surf Tropical as I love the smell and it's often on offer." Buy now from Amazon
  • Best for delicates/woollens: Woolite Laundry Detergent Liquid for Delicates – “The bottle lasts for ages if you only use it occasionally.” Buy now from Amazon

8. Use the right amount of detergent

Do your clothes come out looking dull and your whites, well, not particularly white? You could be using too much detergent. While free pouring in some events may be the answer (eg the bartender making your Margarita), it's not the case with laundry.

Confident as you might be that you know how much to put it, always read the detergent label and measure it out using the cap or a standard measure. It's also kinder on your ole washing machine to do so.

9. Use wash bags for delicates

Delicate bag

Protect your delicate clothing and prevent any bra-strap-snagging scenarios by putting them in separate little wash bags – such as this set of three from Amazon.

“Invest in some little wash bags to keep delicate clothing, such as beaded or lacy items, protected when in the washing machine.”

“Bras and tights always go in separate lingerie bags.”

10. Check the washing machine

It may seem obvious, but in order to avoid doing a Rachel in Friends, check, check and check the machine.

“Check and double-check the washing machine drum before you put in a new load. I have been caught out several times by a colourful sock lurking in the shadows and merrily going around with white work shirts.”

11. Don't overfill the machine

Crammed laundry

As much as you may want to get rid of all your laundry as quickly as possible, putting too many clothes in your machine can be counter-productive. If you're finding this particularly difficult, perhaps now's the time to think about investing in a washing machine with a larger drum.

“I try to avoid filling the washing machine drum to its full capacity – things come out cleaner, it's easier on the clothes and they come out of the dryer less creased.”

“Huge one for me is that, however tempting (I have four kids and a mountain of washing), don't overfill the machine.”

Drying and ironing tips

12. Dry clothes outside (if you can)

Washing line

Mumsnet users wax lyrical about the benefits of sunshine on clothes – or simply outside drying (living in the UK, you can't be picky). This works especially well with tough stains and whites. It can also be good to get rid of damp/mildew on clothes that have been discovered in a deliberately accidentally forgotten gym bag somewhere.

It's worth noting that if it's particularly sunny (we can only live in hope), the UV rays of the sun can cause fading in darker clothes – so best to reserve the space for your white bedsheets.

If you don't have outside space, cracking open a window by your drying clothes is also good and can help prevent damp in your house.

“Best tip (especially useful if you have an extremely pooey newborn): sunlight bleaches baby poo stains out of clothing. Wash as normal, hang out to dry in sunlight and they disappear, never to return.”

“UV works for mildew too. I once found some kids' lifesaving stuff that had been in a bag for literally weeks – I left it on the line after washing for more literally weeks, and the mildew did go.”

“Nothing beats line drying but, if you haven’t got outdoor space, putting the airer beside an open window on a breezy day makes the world of difference."

13. Hang shirts in the shower room

Shower room

CBA to iron/can't remember where said iron lives it's been so long? Try this nifty trick: take the shirt or other offending item straight out of the machine, whack it on a hanger, shake it out and leave inside the bathroom door when you're having a shower. Creases, be gone!

“Anything likely to need ironing gets put straight on a hanger while wet, creases brushed off or shaken out quickly (five seconds), collars and fabric around buttons smoothed briefly, and then it's hung up on the shower curtain rail to dry. Works for pretty much everything.

“Hang it in your bathroom when you have a shower and the steam drops some of the creases out. Admittedly it's worked for me for some tops, but not others.”

Laundry FAQs

How do you clean baby clothes?

Like any new clothes, it's recommended you wash them before your baby wears them, especially as young skin can be more sensitive. In terms of what you use, it really is up to you (see 'bio vs non-bio below) – bio will probably shift stains better, but non-bio is potentially better for sensitive skin.

Using ecoballs, such as these from Ecozone (Amazon), is also seen as a good method. Indeed, if you know your baby has sensitive skin, it might even be worth using a baby-specific detergent such as the well-reviewed Fysio 100% Natural Olive Oil variety.

Newborn essentials

It's fine to wash baby clothes in your washing machine (along with other clothes, unless you are using a different detergent), but do of course check the label. And when buying newborn clothes, it's worth checking the washing instructions. As lovely as a delicate new outfit might be, you really won't want to spend your maternity leave in an endless handwashing cycle.

Another question that gets asked during pregnancy is “When should you start washing baby clothes?”. It's definitely a personal choice on this, but some expectant mums say they did it earlier rather than later, as once the baby comes you certainly won't feel like it.

“I use ecoballs on mine. No detergents in them to irritate skin. But we've all got sensitive skin here.”

“My DD1 has sensitive skin, so I use non-bio (whatever's on offer). That's it. No softeners, either.”

“I got quite a lot of our stuff secondhand so just washed everything. I did it in batches from about 34 weeks when I wanted to get the hospital bag packed and ready. It was really lovely seeing all the tiny vests and hats, and made it all seem very real!”

Bio vs non-bio detergent?

Bio detergents contain a 'biological enzyme' which actively works to break down stains on fabric. Good for the more (ahem) sullied of clothes, it's harsher than non-bio and can potentially damage delicate clothing/irritate sensitive skin (this has been disputed).

Non-bio detergents don't have this biological enzyme (hence the name), making it supposedly a bit gentler on your clothes and skin – but potentially not as good for tough stains.

The answer? To be honest, it's best to try different types and see what works for you and your family.

What do the laundry symbols all mean?

Do you find deciphering laundry symbols a bit like trying to read Webdings? Laundrapp has an easy guide to all clothing care labels, and also a PDF that you can print out and stick on top of the washing machine.

Download the PDF

Information correct at the time of writing. Mumsnet carries some affiliate marketing links, so if you buy something through our posts, we may get a small share of the sale (see more details).