This is not how a grown-up does laundry.

This is not how a grown-up does laundry.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

If you like a piece of clothing enough to pay money for it, you probably like it enough that you would like for it to last as long as possible. Life and laundering are hard on clothes, but if you do your laundry properly you will increase the lifespan of your garments dramatically.

Here’s what you need to know to do your laundry like a grown-up and keep your clothes lasting longer. Even the old college T-shirt you wear on laundry day.

1. Separate what cannot be washed

This step should be so obvious that I should not have to say it, but considering that I came home to find my partner had washed and dried my very favorite wool sweater and then denied that it had changed even though it was now toddler-sized, I will specify: Before you do laundry, go through and make sure every piece can actually be cleaned. Do not put leather jackets, suede skirts, or beautiful and asymmetrical wool Rick Owens sweaters in the wash. Unless you live alone and are very good at not throwing your good stuff in the laundry, you will probably have to do this every time.

2. Separate darks, lights, and whites.

Separating the laundry is one of the most annoying parts of it. I have definitely pitched all my clothes in at once and just said, “Eff you, white underwear!” But now that I own a perfect white T-shirt and a desire to look like Olivia Pope sometimes, I am committed to keeping my whites actually white. That means the white clothes have to be separated and washed together I know you think you can trust your old blue jeans. They’ve been washed so many times they cannot possibly bleed anymore, right? Wrong. If you put them in with the whites, the whites will slowly start to pick up dinginess and lose that gleam. Keep your whites separate, and also separate your light colors from your dark colors.

3. Read the care instructions.

I’m sorry, I know this is getting to be a lot of work. But take a quick look at the care instructions on all the clothes. Remove anything that cannot be washed. Wash the clothes following the instructions on your machine using the temperature and setting of the most delicate piece in the load.

4. Use a stain stick.

Stain sticks actually work! If you get coffee on a white shirt and treat it quickly with a stain stick, there is a good chance it will come out. It’s not a bad idea to just stick a stain stick in your handbag so you’ll always have one around.

5. Unbutton all buttons.

Make sure all the buttons on your shirts are unbuttoned. If they stay buttoned in the machine, it puts stress on the buttons and buttonholes.

6. Use a lingerie bag.

A mesh bag is very useful for keeping lingerie from getting caught in the machine. It’s also very good for keeping track of things that might get lost, like socks. Or baby socks. Baby socks are so small they get stuck in the door of the machine. Use a mesh bag to corral them in place.

7. Do not overload the machine.

The washing machine works by swishing your clothes around in soapy water. In order for it to work, the clothes must have room to swish around. Do not cram all your clothes into one load. Give them some space.

8. Separate heavy and light things.

Rough, heavy garments like jeans bash around in the agitator and wear out your delicate shirts more quickly. At this point there’s so much separating going on, it seems like my one white shirt is going to be in there by itself. (Maybe I will just dry clean the thing.)

9. Vinegar is magic.

Add a bit of white vinegar to freshen clothes that smell bad or musty. This is a good thing to have around for when you wash the clothes and then can’t be bothered to dry them and they get mildewy in the machine overnight.

10. So is fabric softener.

I can’t help it, I love fabric softener. I just love the way my clothes smell and feel out of the dryer after using a sheet. (I like the one with the bear, because I have fond childhood memories of that bear.)

11. Fish out anything that can’t be dried.

Some things can be washed but not dried. Do not forget to fish those things out before starting the dryer. Never put a bra in the dryer.

12. Tumble dry and remove everything promptly.

Tumble dry on low for the things you want to keep a long time. Towels and such you can go ahead and dry as hot as you want. The permanent press setting tosses your clothes with some warm air at the end to help keep them from getting massively wrinkled. The permanent press setting is awesome.

The faster you remove things from the dryer, the less likely they are to get wrinkled. If you remove them promptly and utilize the permanent press setting, you  might be able to avoid the iron entirely.

13. Not everything needs to be washed all the time.

To help freshen up a coat or another piece of clothing that you don’t want to fully clean, give the garment a light mist of the cheapest, worst vodka you can find. I used to work in theater, and we had jugs of vodka lying around, but it was so unappealing that not even a room full of overworked 21-year-olds would drink it. You can also use something like Febreeze, if you like.