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Laundry 101: Your Collegiate Guide for Keeping Whites White and Colors Bright

college student doing laundry

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You’ve picked out your classes, claimed your side of the dorm room, scored an invite to the first campus party, and you’re back from your trip to IKEA to stock your dorm with new lamps, pillows and organizers. First, don’t throw out that giant blue shopping bag—the iconic IKEA tote is perfect to re-use as your laundry bag. Not only is it lightweight and spacious, but the long strap handles make it easier to carry your load to the laundry room than a traditional basket.

But now, how exactly are you supposed to do laundry again? Is it hot or cold? To sort or not to sort? Don’t freak. We’ve enrolled you in a little Laundry 101 so you can keep your whites white, your colors bright, your clothes the size they were when you bought them—and you can get back to college life ASAP.

Get on a laundry schedule.

Between essays, hangouts and sports practice, it’s easy for laundry to get lost in the mix. Don’t wait until you have nothing left to wear—if you need to put a “Do your laundry!!” reminder into your phone, do it. And try to avoid laundry rush hour, i.e. Sunday afternoon when everyone else also realizes that they have no clean clothes for the next week. Need to pull an all-nighter studying for an exam on Wednesday? That 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. time slot just might be when the laundry room finally empties out and you won’t have to arm-wrestle for a machine.

Keep the change.

If your school doesn’t have a system where you can deduct laundry money using your student ID, make sure you always have quarters on hand so that you’re not checking under the common room couch cushions when laundry day rolls around. Keep a bowl of change by the door and empty your purse into it daily. Hint: ask for rolls of quarters in all your care packages from home.

How often do I need to wash this?

IKEA FRAKTA shopping bag

IKEA FRAKTA shopping bag

Save time and money by only washing things as often as you need to. Basics like undies, socks, T-shirts and workout clothes need to be washed every time you wear them (and if we have to tell you that, we’re glad you’re reading this). Heavier items like denim, jackets and sweaters can go much longer without a wash—unless you spill something on them, once a month is probably enough. Sheets, towels and pillowcases should be laundered every two weeks, while you should toss your comforter cover in once a semester.

Not all fabrics are created equal.

There are some clothes you should never machine wash or dry. Don’t just toss anything made of silk, cashmere, leather, wool, linen or acetate into the washing machine—most likely, these should be dry cleaned. If you’re not sure, check the tag. Invest in a delicates bag so the machine won’t eat up your lacy undies. And you shouldn’t machine dry spandex (that means stretchy skinny jeans), some synthetic fabrics, or anything with appliqués or rhinestones. Instead, split a drying rack with your roommates and hang these things up to dry.

Get ready, get set.

Separate your laundry into lights and darks to avoid tinting all your whites. Some schools ban bleach in communal washers, but if you’re in the clear you can add 3/4 cup of liquid bleach or hydrogen peroxide to brighten your white load. Check your pockets—a stray lipstick or pen will ruin your clothes and a washing machine will ruin your student ID, flash drive or iPhone. Pre-treat stains with a stain remover (dish detergent is particularly good on protein stains) and gently rub the spot to loosen the stain. Finally, empty the lint trap for more efficient drying.

Choose the right temperature.

Hot water seems like it will get your clothes the cleanest, but it should be used sparingly. Heat keeps white loads extra bright and sanitizes the really dirty stuff, but beware that more heat equals more shrinkage. Choose the warm setting when you’re washing your colored load, and cold water to prevent your darks from fading. Brand new jeans and brightly colored items on their first wash should always be laundered in cold water. As for the dryer, if you’re crunched for time, you can use the high heat setting (on anything you’re not afraid of shrinking), but if you’ve got the time, choose the lowest setting possible to avoid ending up with all crop tops and micro-minis.

Finish the job.

Finally, fold your laundry and put it away immediately after you’re done—this isn’t a plug from your mother, it will help keep clothes wrinkle-free and will make them last longer. Also, if you act fast, you can avoid having a stranger who wants to use the dryer after you take out your clothes and handle your underwear.

Tips for eco-friendly laundering.

Save water by only doing full loads. If you’ve only got a few items to wash but need them fast, combine your laundry with your roommate’s. Use cold water and the cooler setting on the dryer to save energy. Dry right after someone else to mooch off of their leftover heat and shorten your drying time.

Want more? Check out College Confidential for more back to school style and Declare Your Style for dorm decorating tips and essentials.

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