Skip to main content
If you own a bedazzled lace cashmere bra, wow, I wanna know you!

How the Hell Does One Laundry? Asking for a Friend.

Our sweet, sainted Patreon supporters have demanded a follow-up to our smash hit, How the Hell Does One Wash Dishes? Turns out, people really love embarrassing anecdotes from my childhood (kittenhood?).

Today, we’ll be tackling the second most annoying chore: doing the laundry. I understand that some parents still expect their children to do their own laundry, but they are rare. This is understandable given the surprisingly high stakes. Getting the laundry wrong can be a pretty bad situation, as we shall discuss below in moar embarrassing chores-gone-awry stories!

The result is a whole lot of young adults who don’t necessarily know what they’re doing in the laundry room. It’s okay, no judgements here. This article will give you the extremely zen vibe you need to succeed.


Step One: Don’t buy pain-in-the-ass clothes

I’m not precious about my clothing. Some people are, and there is nothing wrong with that, because clothing can be a large investment and an important expression of personal identity. If you really love your clothing and want to nurture them right, follow a more detailed guide like this one instead. Luxey knows her craft and everyone should listen to her.

My personal philosophy, which many of you probably relate to, is that high-maintaince clothing is not worth it. No matter how much I love something, I won’t buy it if it must be washed by vestal virgins and rinsed in the tears of a mermaid by the light of a gibbous quarter-moon. If I wear it frequently, it has to be easy to care for.

Bottom line, your clothing should suit your lifestyle, not the other way around. I can’t be the only person who owned a few dry-clean only things, and never chose to wear them because it meant adding an extra chore to my schedule. Which is very busy. With important things. Like pretending to be a space marine in my video games. Plus dry cleaners charge women more for no reason. So now I just don’t get those things, and we all live happily ever after.

I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my least favorite Pink Tax on the Citadel!

Step Two: Sorting (optional)

I currently sort my laundry into four piles: whites, colors, darks, and delicates.

Compare this to college, when I sorted my laundry into two piles: socially-acceptably-dirty and socially-unacceptably dirty. The former was for pillaging in times of desperation; the latter, for procrastinating until all other options ran dry.

So much laundry...

There are two real reasons to sort things. First: some colors bleed in the wash. Meaning they leak some of their excess dye out to be soaked up by other garments. Reds and dark wash jeans are the most likely culprits, because of how those dyes are made. You’d be surprised what one red sock can do to six white towels. Not that I speak from personal experience. Ahem. Who don’t like pink?!

The second reason is that lighter fabrics take more oomph to get clean, and need more time in the washer.

If you’ve owned all of your clothing for a long time, you can safely skip this and just throw things together. Most fabrics come pre-washed, so they won’t bleed. Even among the things that do bleed, they almost always stop entirely by the second or third wash, because all of their excess dye has been flushed out. So I go through phases of sorting and not-sorting based on how recently Mr. Kitty and I have added new clothing to our wardrobes. All the rewards of laziness with none of the risks.

The one separating step you shouldn’t skip is delicates. If it’s made of lace, or it’s cashmere, or it’s bedazzled, or it’s a bra, don’t put it in the washer. And if you own a bedazzled lace cashmere bra, wow, I wanna know you!

Step Three: Washing

Every washer and dryer has different capabilities. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a nice matching set that’s only a few years old. Or maybe you’re hauling ass to a laundromat two blocks away, where all the machines remember the Nixon administration. I’ve lived on both ends of the spectrum. Here are some universal truisms:

  • Cold water is bold water. (That’s my attempt at a memorable catchphrase. How’d I do?) Cold water is cheaper, more energy-efficient, and gentlest on your clothing.
  • Don’t clean it—I mean it. (Okay now all of these have to rhyme. Crap.) Every wash brings your garment one step closer to its ultimate demise. If it isn’t dirty, don’t wash it.
  • Short cycles have no rivals. (This slant rhyme was approved by the ghost of Emily Dickinson, who really should’ve stopped and waited for Death.) Unless you’re cleaning something remarkably vile, a short cycle or quick wash setting is probably enough. One of my hobbies is gardening. I get incredibly sweaty and covered in mud when I do it. And even that level of (literal) soil is easily lifted out on a quick wash cycle. Excess cycling just wears your clothes out.
  • Boiling hot? I think not! (Better.) I run hot cycles on only two occasions: when my white sheets are looking really dingy, and when I’m washing something that needs to be sanitized because an animal pooped/threw up/bled all over it. Don’t forget that I am a low-key farmer!
  • Hand wash? Hog wash! (Somebody give me a Pulitzer.) Gentle cycle technology has come very far in the last ten years. Unless you’re working on a pretty ancient machine, a hand wash or delicate wash cycle is fine. You may even be safe to ignore the dry clean only tag. It works especially well if you protect your clothes by putting them inside a mesh bag. Just make sure you hook your bras first. Those little hooks have a search-and-destroy function for other delicates.

Do I need to add stuff to the wash?

The only thing you need to add to the wash is laundry detergent, either liquid or powered. I prefer powdered; it’s more compact, thus better for the environment. I’ve also heard that it cleans better, though I don’t know if there’s real evidence for that.

This is the dullest moment I've ever experienced.

What about bleach? Fabric softener? Dryer sheets? Fabric conditioners? All that other crap on the laundry aisle you’ve felt vaguely guilty for not buying?

Good news: the rest is all bullshit, and you don’t need any of it! Some offer short-term benefits, but at the risk of staining or deteriorating your clothes, or imbuing them with fake-fresh chemical smells that will plant the seeds of migraines wherever you go. Again, my philosophy is that clothing shouldn’t require the same maintenance as a prized thoroughbred.

If you have white sheets or towels, a product like Oxyclean can be used on a hot cycle to remove dinginess. That’s the only “extra” thing I personally own, and I use it rarely, and sorta feel like any results I see might be a placebo effect. When this tub runs out, I can’t say if I’ll replace it.

Step Five: Forgetting you had something in the wash, and leaving it there overnight, making it smell like musty ass

Add a splash of white vinegar to the load and run it again. Possibly a second time, depending on how bad it was. Learn from your mistakes and set a reminder alarm in your phone.

Piggy here! I add white vinegar to the wash with my bath towels if they’re smelling moldy. A gallon of it is heckin’ cheap and you can use it to clean other stuff and make pickles too. And who don’t love pickled stuff? People might say they don’t, but I present the evidence that they’ve never had one of my jalapeño-pickled carrots in a taco on a hot day. Irresistible. Buy vinegar it’s great. Ok, Piggy out!

Another hot tip: find a person who knows you will forget, and catches it without saying anything, because they love you in your brokenness, and lock that shit in by getting married to them in a modest, sensible ceremony. Ask the mildewy laundry to officiate.

Step Six: Drying

Honey I shrunk the pants

I once heard my father—an affable and easygoing man—give a mighty cry of uncharacteristic anguish. I sprinted downstairs to find him in the laundry room. He was holding a pair of children’s trousers, staring at them, mouth agape, face white.

“What’s wrong?” I demanded.

“They’re wool…” he said faintly.

“So what?”

“This suit cost six hundred dollars…”

Oh. They were not children’s trousers. They were his trousers. And they’d ended up in the dryer, which shrunk them down to roughly half their original size. His nicest interview suit was now fine formalwear for hobbits.

Two lessons here, friends. Don’t put wool in the dryer, and don’t spend six hundred dollars on suits.

Fabric matters

There are two general categories of fabric: synthetic and natural. You can pretty much tell which is which based on what the name is. If it has an easy, familiar name like silk, wool, or cotton, it’s a natural fabric derived from plants and animals. Meanwhile polyester, spandex, and acrylic are synthetic fabrics derived from human ingenuity and plastic. The xs and ys are dead giveaways.

I know what you’re thinking. “How the fuck do I know what’s in this mystery energy drink branded t-shirt that was shot at me from a cannon at a concert I regret going to but decided to keep and wear anyway because I am cheap and it’s sorta comfy to sleep in?!”

Every piece of clothing sold in America is required to have three pieces of information on it: identity of maker, country of origin, and fiber content. Unless it’s the wedding dress your mother hand-sewed for you (stop bragging, Piggy), everything you own has a tag that tells you exactly what it’s made of. Don’t put anything in the dryer unless you’ve checked what its fabric is. Because you will fuck up that piece of clothing.

Less is more

So now you’ve got your wet shit separated into yas-gawd-dryer and nah-brah-chill-out-and-stay-wet-for-a-sec piles.

The less time your clothing spends in the dryer, the longer it will last. It’s just like cooking—if your steak is nicely cooked in ten minutes, leaving it on the grill for another hour doesn’t make it “more betterer,” it makes it burnt and disgusting and appealing to Donald Trump. Excessive heat and tumbling both damage fabrics, so don’t dry for longer or at a higher heat than you need to.

At the same time, you want it to be fully dry, because that light mildew smell is not my favorite. There are lots of ways around this. You can put like-with-like (one load of wet heavy towels, and second load of lightweight tees) so that they’ll dry evenly. You can also stuff it all in together, and check the cycle halfway through, removing the stuff that’s ready and leaving the still-damp stuff behind.

What if I can’t put it in the dryer?

Oh god, here it is, my least favorite part of laundry: dealing with the shit that can’t go in the dryer.

Here, you want to check the label. There’s almost always a tag with care suggestions. Here’s what you might see and what they mean.

“Hang dry”

Put it on a hanger in an area with good circulation, like near a fan or a window. Or drape it over something, like the back of a chair. Ignore it until it’s dry. They make folding and hanging dryer racks, if you need one. They are technically called “clotheshorses.” And here I thought that was just an old person insult! The more you know!

Some people in the personal finance community swear by hang drying everything. It saves you a lot of money, uses no energy at all, is great for the environment, and very easy on your clothes. I think that’s totally noble! But it’s also something that seems unrealistic for most people. Especially people who don’t live in the goddamn Colorado desert. It’s purely extra credit.

“Lay flat to dry”

Take the garment in your hand, crumple it up into a ball, and put that crumpled ball in the trash, because “lay flat to dry” is a fucking scam, and this sweater or whatever is in on it.

I have only ever had one result when laying flat to dry: nasty, damp clothing taking up my whole kitchen table, refusing to dry, beginning to stink, until I lose my patience and throw it in the dryer on low heat, and it’s just fine. I have no idea how this is supposed to work—with no air circulating around it to dry the clothing, how would it even dry?! It doesn’t.

Lay flat to dry is a scam. A SCAM, I SAY!




“Air dry” or “air fluff” or “tumble dry without heat”

If it’s small, just hang dry it. If it’s big, do as they say. The heat of the dryer might melt things you didn’t want melted.

Step Seven: Put your damn laundry away

I won’t comment on whether it is better to hang everything, fold everything, fold it some special way that makes the clothing have better self esteem, or just dump it into a big new pile arbitrarily labeled “clean.” Just please, remember to take your laundry out of the machines when you are done. If you share a washing machine with anyone—family, friends, roommates, neighbors, other students—leaving your laundry to languish is peak bad behavior. I don’t want to touch your slightly damp undies because you were too busy putting Bugles on your fingertips to do it yourself.

That’s it, friends! Thank you again to our graceful, ballet dancer-like patrons on Patreon. As the site grows in popularity, the cost of upkeep continues to climb steadily. Our patrons’ support ensures that the site will never be kneecapped by bandwidth issues. This is a HUGE HELP to us, and if you like what we do, we encourage you to join them! You’ll get access to exclusive content polls, and we’ll even help you answer your own personal finance dilemmas!

Hit us with your most favoritest laundry tips in the comments…

27 thoughts to “How the Hell Does One Laundry? Asking for a Friend.”

  1. I don’t have time for primadonna fabrics and now happily donate any gifts of clothes that require dry cleaning, ironing, or that can’t handle the normal cold cycle + low heat tumble that I subject my unsorted pile of everything to.

    It was a huge revelation for me a few years ago, running this hunk of flesh-searingly hot metal over freshly washed fabric in a sleep-deprived state while watching my baby hang out in her playpen. She wanted out to crawl and explore and eat all the dirt, but it wasn’t safe yet (it wasn’t even really safe for me). Then I still missed a sleeve anyway, and I realized that wrinkle-free workshirts were a thing and this was some crazy cargo-cult adulting that I had let into my house.

    One point of disagreement from me is on dryer sheets: they really do help reduce static zaps in the winter (if you’re in an area that has winter). They do come unscented, too (which should be the default but that’s a rant for another time).

    1. 1/8-1/4 cup of white vinegar (depending on the size of the load) put in the wash as fabric softener and you wing have static!!

  2. Great post guys. Would you think about doing “How to clean a bathroom” especially the shower? I always spend forever cleaning the shower and it’s still not perfect, I’m sure it could be better. But anyway with the lay flat to dry thing: In my country dryers aren’t as common, they’re more a luxury item, so every house has a clothesline outside. What I do with “dry flat” things (which I very rarely have mind you) is lay it across the lines, put some pegs if it’s windy. Therefore you get the air circulation from underneath. But I know some people don’t have clothes lined because they live in apartments. Try draping it over two points, like two chairs or over two poles on the clothes horse. Just in case you absolutely have to dry something flat.

  3. Figure out exactly how much you can fit into your/the local laundromat’s washer without overloading it. How do you know it’s overloaded? The cycle runs longer than it should, things are still sudsy, or they’re just generally not rocking that “just cleaned” vibe. That being said, you can totally fit more than you think in most industrial front load machines. HOWEVER….that load usually doesn’t translate to the dryer. I usually have a pretty large load of “nice things & tshirts” that I wash, pull out the things that don’t play with the dryer, and then have the perfect load size for the dryer. Make sure that things have room to tumble around, folks!

  4. Oxyclean is trash in my opinion. Use Biz! Proven to be better and much gentler. It’s gotten any stain I’ve ever gotten out with just a couple hour soaking (my ass is lazy and I have irregular periods that sneak up like death ) its saved me so many clothes which is kinda amazing since 97% of my clothing are black

    1. Thank you for confirming my existing suspicions. I’m sorry, Billy, but I just can’t bring myself to truly trust a product that must be sold WITH SO MUCH YELLING.

  5. I feel like a plebian for having run a tumble dryer exactly once in my life, and we never owned one growing up. But my clothes last longer when I don’t and our flat has the best ventilation system I have ever experienced. No regrets. I’ve even heard that the UV rays from the sun (if you hang dry outside) helps kill bacteria. Bonus!

    1. I think that’s the way to do it, man! If you’ve never had the experience of owning a tumble dryer, hanging dry feels natural, not inconvenient.

      My rental car had a backup camera, and all it did was distract and overwhelm me. I’ve learnt to park my car just like the cavemen, by turning my neck, thank you very much! But I know many younger folks who don’t know how to park without one.

  6. If you’re in a position to replace/upgrade your washer or dryer, High Efficiency (HE) units are worth the investment, both in terms of utility costs, but also by being gentler on your clothes.

    I got a sparkly new HE washer/dryer set when we bought our house (!!!) and I love it. Huge piles of laundry cycle through no problem, and it’s significantly less abusive to my clothes. As a bonus I no longer have to untangle stretched-out shirt sleeves or pant legs from the agitator spindle.

    Important lesson kids: if something is stuck in the washer, yanking on it usually results in something ripped or stretched to freakish proportions.

    1. This is seriously so true. FUCK the agitator. Last year, I donated the elderly agitator one that came with my house to a Habitat for Humanity store. Black Fridayed myself a new one, because I was tired of seeing tiny rips and holes appearing in my gently-worn clothes.

      1. Donations are awesome!

        Being on the short side, I also had to avoid being impaled on the damn thing when scraping the socks off the bottom. Now I just have to worry about generally falling into the very roomy basket. One day I’ll upgrade to a front-loader and my feet can stay on the floor when unloading it!

  7. Loved this post! I don’t even own an iron because that’s a waste of time. And the only thing I take to the actual dry cleaners is my fancy business suit, that I rarely wear anyway. Everything else labeled “dry clean only” goes in a dryel bag, which works like a charm.

    Another piece of random laundry advice: baking soda. Especially for blankets that smell like dog because…you have a dog.

    1. NOTED! We foster dogs, and boy lemme tell you, a dog who’s been living off of trash and sleeping in municipal kennels does not have a nice fragrance. It usually takes two weeks of quality food and 3-4 baths before their funk settles down to regular clean dog smell.

  8. The only point I would slightly disagree with is “lay flat to dry.” I do have a few (key word being FEW) sweaters and such that would get weirdly stretched out if I hung to dry but definitely would not survive the dryer. It is however the second worst care instruction only to dry clean. The solution I’ve found is a handy dandy mesh hanging drying rack thing that hooks on my shower bar but folds up like a sun shade for your car’s windshield. The mesh lets enough air get around things that they dry as well as they would hanging but gravity doesn’t turn my sweater sleeves into some kind of swamp monster.

  9. Growing up, I remember my mom had special miniature trampoline-like doohickey for drying sweaters flat. I however have been known to just lay my box fan down on its side – a flat surface and improved ventilation!

  10. Laundry-ugh! Every once in a while in my 50 plus years of washing stuff, I make a mistake. Like a pen somehow got in the dryer and exploded, thank god it was a dark wash. (You should see my tie-dyed dryer drum). Most of the items survived except Bob’s newer blue shirt. I rewashed-no good. I used blue Dawn, which works well on food stains-no good. I used commercial stain remover-no good (why do I even have it!!). Then I saw the spray can of WD40 nearby and said what the heck. It worked!

  11. Lay flat IS a lie. It. Does. Not. Make. Sense.

    Where is the air supposed to go?

    We air dried for a hot second and my wife will still insist on her clothes being hung…but the baby changed all that. Everything goes in gentle cycle now. Easy peasy.

  12. “Take the garment in your hand, crumple it up into a ball, and put that crumpled ball in the trash, because ‘lay flat to dry’ is a fucking scam, and this sweater or whatever is in on it.”

    Thank you for this bit of writing. You just made my monday (and thank god I didn’t have coffee in my mouth when I read it)!

  13. Re “lay flat to dry” – I lay them across the top of the clotheshorse, rather than folded over one rung
    lets the air get to it, and it won’t pull out of shape (which I believe is the point of the whole thing)

  14. My animals always wake me up at the crack of dawn to feed them even on weekends and holidays sad panda. So on weekends when I drag myself up to feed them I also check the weather. If it’s good I put washing on as well before I head back to bed. Bonus couple hours drying time as it’s pretty much done by the time I wake up again. This kind of efficiency and breakup of the chore makes it much easier to manage. I wake up feeling very accomplished and hang it out while drinking my coffee instead of thinking one more damn thing to do.
    I hot wash sheets and towels, cold wash everything else with eco powder.
    I generally separate shiny fabrics (e.g. my bras, nice work tops, and gym pants) from rough/fluffy fabrics like sweatshirts and house pants.
    Occasionally there will be enough for a white wash but generally not.
    I have never owned a dryer but live in a temperate climate. Where I live now is almost always windy and pretty hot over summer so line drying is quick if sometimes an exercise in engineering and patience. It can be tough in winter but if it’s cold we often have the fire on and just hang racks in front of that.
    I’ve only lived in houses- never an apartment.
    My favourite tip is to put everything on hangers to dry so it’s not double handling, and to pair socks as hanging buddies for easy storage later.
    And always double peg sheets if you live where I do
    I learned to fold fitted sheeets like a fucking wizard a few years ago and that still feels like a novelty haha. I also like having bamboo pegs and matching hangers. Feels fancy. One day they’ll all be wooden but cheap plastic for now.

  15. I am adding a comment for those who do seriously stinky workouts (e.g. I do jiujitsu). Those Gis STINK and a simple wash will not do. I use both white vinegar and baking soda. Yes, it makes a crazy bubbling sound but my Gi does not make my drilling/grappling partner gag (this is called kindness in my sport). I just lay the Gi in the bottom of the washer, sprinkle baking soda and 1/2 a cup of vinegar. I have tried just one or the other, but this is the most consistently effective.

    It does need hang drying a rack/clothes horse (who knew that is what they are actually called!) On other fronts I am anti-fussy clothing, but starting at $100 for a serious Gi, it is worth it. What can I say, I enjoy getting beaten up on a regular basis (knee is currently getting iced) and some passions are worth the extra fuss.

  16. Note: Lay flat to dry means that you are supposed to lay it out on a drying rack. The air flow over and under the fabric allows it to dry pretty quickly! My current place doesn’t have a dryer, so I am learning to factor in extra time for doing laundry, but we have excellent air flow through the apartment, so things dry within a few hours & bonus: I never have to worry about my favourite sweater shrinking!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *