If you’ve ever taken a shirt out of your washer only to find that it has changed color since you last saw it, you could probably use a lesson in laundry sorting. Whenever you put colors that shouldn’t mix into the same load, you should expect some pretty crazy results.

So what colors can be washed together? Before we go through the main rules of sorting your laundry, let’s talk about the consequences of not following them.

Why You Can’t Wash Completely Different Colors Together

Washing incompatible colors of fabric together can have pretty disastrous consequences. The error is particularly evident on light-colored items, but it can be noticeable on darker shades as well. Still, for the sake of giving a good example, let’s talk about what happens when you wash a white load with a single differently colored item.

Most people know enough to carefully examine their white loads for red items. Missing one can make all previously unpigmented items come out of the washer pink.

The amount of color transfer is usually determined by the temperature you use. High temperatures create the perfect conditions for bleeding colors — but you’ll have to use them to wash your white loads. If you don’t, the white items may lose their brightness (if they’re made of natural materials).

Even though most people would just like to avoid having a closet full of pink work shirts, this scenario can happen with other colors as well. Take denim, for example. If you accidentally threw a light shirt into the washer with your brand new jeans, you’ll probably end up with a streaky shirt.

Of course, there are different ways to get stray pigment out of your clothes. However, most of those tricks only work on white fabric. So learning which colors you can wash in the same load is your best option.

What Colors Can You Put Together in a Washing Machine?

Now that you know what can happen if you don’t follow these simple rules, it’s time to learn them. Most of them are pretty straightforward.

1. Don’t Put Light Colors In With Any Other Hues

As we have established, white fabrics are the most susceptible to changing hues when you wash them with different colors. Therefore, it’s imperative to keep white and light-colored items away from any other shades.

Since most people use whitening detergents or bleach powder on their white loads, separating them from other items will also preserve those vibrant colors. However, this rule also applies to non-white shades of tan, blue, and other pastel colors. Keep those together with similar items.

2. Separate Cool and Warm Shades

Ideally, you should also sort your laundry loads by color family and not just by the brightness of the fabric. That means keeping vibrant yellows with other rich orange and red shades.

After all, you certainly wouldn’t want that yellow shirt in the same load as a purple sweater. Cotton and wool sweaters are extremely susceptible to color bleeds because of the dying processes the manufacturers use on natural fabrics. Therefore, throwing those two items in the same load is sure to result in a streaky yellow shirt. So keep that purple in with blues or pinks, depending on its position on the color spectrum.

Following the logic of these two directives, you might think you’ll need to sort your light colors according to their color families. However, since gray, beige, and various pastel shades are less likely to bleed, you could keep them together.

3. Keep Vibrant and Muted Colors In Different Loads

So you know not to put light colors in with any other colors and to sort your loads according to the color family. If you follow those rules, there’s a chance that you won’t even need this one. But just in case, you should also know to avoid putting vibrant colors in with muted ones.

Even if they belong to the same color family, the vibrant fabric could still change the hue or saturation of the other items in the load. For example, a neon green dress could make a light pastel green shirt take on a yellowish hue. If you don’t want that to happen, make sure your vibrantly colored items have completely stopped bleeding. Just wash them separately once or twice before putting them in a load with the other items in the same color family.

More Tips to Preserve Color While Washing

The previous section should answer the question we started this with. However, there are other ways to avoid staining your clothes and keep all the colors where they belong.

Always Wash New Clothes With Similar Shades

Most of the new clothes you buy will release some dye the first time you wash them. That’s just a fact of life. So to protect the rest of your clothes, you should only wash your new pieces with their closest color matches.

Turn Clothes Inside Out

As you continue using your clothes, you’ll probably want to preserve their color as long as possible. Turning them inside out during the washing cycle can greatly improve your chances there. What’s more, doing so will also keep any color bleeds on the inside of the fabric.

So even if your dark navy jeans bleed, the color may not make it through the fabric into the water. And when the water drains, the pigment will probably settle back into the denim.

Run Cold Cycles Whenever Possible

Washing your clothes in cold water will make them last longer. Not only will it keep the color in the fabric where it belongs, but it’ll also preserve the integrity of the material.

Doing so is especially important for dark and vibrant items, which stand to lose most of their color if you run them through a hot cycle. As mentioned above, you’ll probably have to process white items at higher temperatures to preserve their brightness. Additionally, underwear, which is typically white, is also washed on high heat — but for hygienic reasons.

Still, for any other articles of clothing that aren’t too filthy, you should try to use cold cycles. But don’t just take this on faith. Make sure to read the label inside each article before you throw it in the washer.

Different materials will have different requirements. Eventually, you’ll learn to recognize the material an item is made of by touch and know exactly which temperatures you can expose it to. But if you’re a beginner, it’s best to go by the information on the label.

Use Products That Can Soak Up Bleeding Colors

If you don’t have time to sort your laundry, you may just throw caution to the wind and that red shirt into the light load. If you must do that, there are products that can absorb loose dye from the water. Color catcher sheets are also helpful in cases when a single item of clothing has both light and vibrant colors.

Unload the Laundry as Soon As the Cycle is Complete

Even after the water drains upon the completion of the washing cycle, your clothes could still transfer colors to the surrounding items. The fabrics will still be damp enough to release and absorb the dye. So you should get your load out and either put it in a dryer or hang it up to try as soon as possible.

Don’t Use the Dryer on Vibrantly Colored Clothes

Speaking of drying, you should avoid putting dark or vibrantly colored clothes through a drying cycle. Instead, hang them up on a line or a foldable rack like this one. Alternatively, if you live in a tiny apartment, you can get a smaller rack like from AmazonBasics.

Just keep in mind that the little thing may not be able to hold the whole load. You may have to commandeer the shower curtain rod and other surfaces as well to dry your loads. Or you can wash fewer items at a time so you never run out of hanging space.


Eventually, following all these rules will become second nature to you. But even though we’ve covered a lot of ground today, sorting loads by color is only a part of this whole process. Still, it’s as good of a place as any to start learning the ropes!

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