Laundry 101 For College Students

May 09, 2018 Allison Hess


Not everything you learn in college is in the classroom. College teaches you how to be responsible, financially independent… and how to do laundry without your parents.

We’ve heard hundreds of college laundry stories. One sophomore bought new underwear every month because she didn’t want to learn how to wash her delicates. (By the way, you should always wash your underwear before wearing the first time!) A freshman didn’t know he had to separate out his colors, and he turned his white baseball uniform pink.

Thankfully, we’re here to give you all of the best tips and tricks so you can make it through college with fresh, clean, laundered clothes.

Laundry 101 For College Students

What you need

You’ll need:

  • Hangers (we recommend thin fabric hangers to avoid damaging your clothes)
  • Stain remover pens
  • Lint removal brushes
  • Laundry basket/hamper (we recommend a collapsible one)
  • Fabric softener
  • Dryer sheets
  • Laundry detergent
  • Mesh bags
  • Collapsible drying rack
  • Iron/board or steamer

When choosing your laundry detergent, you want something cheap but also good for you and the environment. Some of our favorite brands include The Honest Company, Method, and Seventh Generation. Check out this list of the 5 best natural laundry detergents by Organic Authority. Try to avoid laundry detergent that has bleach or chemicals in it.

Pro-tip: Buy your laundry detergent online! You can usually find great deals on home goods products on or

1. Separate your colors.

One of the biggest freshman year mistakes is throwing all of your laundry in one machine. This is a great way to change or fade the color of your clothes.

You want to separate your clothes into different color/type piles for a disaster-free cleaning.

The five categories of laundry include:

  1. Reds
  2. Whites
  3. Darks
  4. Lights
  5. Towels/sheets

We know laundry can get expensive in college, though. Sometimes, it can be $4 to wash and dry just one load. If you only have a few articles in each category, you might not want to spend that kind of money.

If necessary, you can pair reds with darks (and wash in cold water). In some cases, you can also pair whites with lights (like yellows and tans) if you wash in cold water. We often recommend washing towels and sheets separately, but they might fit in one load if necessary.

Learn how to naturally whiten your whites here.

2. Wash with mesh bags.

Some college washing machines are “industrial-grade.” This means they can cause damage to your clothes, especially small or delicate items. We recommend using laundry mesh bags to keep your items from ripping or getting lost in these heavy-duty machines. These bags are especially useful for keeping socks and underwear together while ensuring a thorough cleaning.

This can help you avoid the “sock thief.” Socks are static, so they easily get lost in towels, sheets, or clothing. They also stick to the sides of the machine, and they can get lost in the shadows. Mesh bags help make sure you don’t lose your articles and end up with a drawer full of mismatched socks!

If you don’t have mesh bags, you can also pin your socks together with a safety pin.

Laundry 101 For College Students

3. Don’t overfill.

You want to fill the washer 3/4 of the way full. Filling to the brim or stuffing clothes in ensures your clothes won’t get a full clean. It can also cause the machine to overwork, leading to a sudsy flood or a total breakdown.

P.S. Check your pockets before putting items in the wash. You don’t want melted chapstick, ripped up money, lost documents, or icky gum washed with your clothing.

4. When in doubt, use cold water.

Hot water makes your clothes cleaner, but it can also make your clothes shrink or colors run. Cold water helps avoid any potential concerns, and it’s also better for the environment.

You should always wash reds, delicates, and new clothing in cold water to avoid color running or fading. You should also wash mixed colors in cold or warm water. You can use hot water for whites and linens (sheets and towels).

Pro-tip: Wash your clothes “right side in” not inside out. This will make your clothes cleaner and help them fade less. However, turn your clothes “inside out” if there is plastic lettering on the outside of the T-shirt.

5. Check the label.

Before throwing items in the wash, check the laundry label. This will tell you how to properly wash the article.

In some cases, the label will read, “hand-wash only” or “dry clean only.” Keep these articles out of the washing machine.

Be aware of cotton, nylon, and polyester. These fabrics are most likely to be damaged in heat. Find out how to care for each type of fabric here.

Did you know that those symbols on the tag actually have a meaning?

Check out this laundry cheat sheet to easily understand how best to wash the articles in your closet.

6. Hang out nearby. 

We recommend studying in the laundry room so you can hear when your machine is done. This makes sure that other people aren’t touching your clothing and that you don’t forget your clothes for hours (or even days). It can also be a quiet study place with the hum of the machines as white noise.

This also helps avoid other students putting your clothes on the top of the washing machine, which brings us to our next point.

7. Don’t put your clothes on top of the machines.

The tops of the washing machines are the dirtiest place in the laundry room. Everyone puts their dirty clothes on top of the machine before putting it in the wash. This means that the germs from their clothes are spread there—along with dust, detergent spills, and other debris. You don’t want gunk from others’ clothing to go on to your clean clothes after washing.

Make sure you move your clothes directly from the washer to the dryer. If you need to take your clothes out of the washer while waiting for a dryer, put them in your hamper to avoid dirtying your clean clothes.

8. Don’t let your clothes sit in the washer.

Wet clothes, especially wet cotton, can breed bacteria. This can make your clean clothes dirty, unhealthy, and smell like mildew. Try to move your clothes from the washer to the dryer as soon as you can.

This is another reason to hang out in the laundry room; you want to remove your clothes right after they finish.

Pro-tip: Shake out your clothes individually when moving them from the washer to the dryer. This will help minimize wrinkles!

Laundry 101 For College Students

9. Remove items you can’t dry.

Some items can go in the washer but not the dryer. You should double check the label on your clothing to double check what you can and can’t dry.

General items that should not go in the dryer include:

  • Bras
  • Swimsuits
  • Chiffon
  • Tights
  • Lace
  • Spandex
  • Rayon
  • Pleated clothing
  • Wool
  • Fake leather (pleather) (also not in washing machine)
  • Suede (also not in washing machine)
  • Silk (also not in washing machine)
  • Velvet (also not in washing machine)
  • Shoes

It’s a toss-up at HomeRev if you should put your jeans in the dryer. A lot of professionals say you should hang your jeans to dry, while others like putting jeans in the dryer to help them shrink up a bit.

Ultimately, it’s up to your preference. Hang your jeans if you want to keep the “broken-in” look. If you want to tighten stretched out jeans, throw them in the dryer.

Pro-tip: If you put your jeans in the dryer, take them out while still slightly damp to help stretch and mold them into place. This preserves the fabric and makes for a great fit!

Read: 7 Dryer Hacks To Save Your Clothes

10. Hang other clothing.

You will likely want a collapsible drying rack for your dorm room. You can even share this with your roommate to save space. This gives you an area outside of the dirty laundry room to dry those items that can’t go in the dryer. Some people forgo the dryer altogether and just use a rack to save their clothing from shrinkage or damage—plus it saves money.

Gently drape the items over the drying rack, keeping them as flat as possible.

Try to avoid hanging items on a hanger to let them dry. The water makes the fabric heavy, and gravity will start to stretch out the article. This is especially true for sweaters and dresses.

11. Clean the lint tray.

Before turning on the dryer, check the lint tray. Empty it in the garbage. Other college kids may not be as courteous as you. You want to make sure the lint tray is empty to avoid damaging your clothes. A clean lint tray also helps your clothes get dryer faster, so you don’t have to put them through a second load. Plus, a filled lint tray can even start a fire.

You should also empty the lint tray after you’re done using the machine. It’s laundry room etiquette!

Laundry 101 For College Students

12. Fold right after removing from dryer.

Don’t let your clean clothes sit in your hamper or on your bed for days or even hours. This can cause wrinkling that can be hard to get rid of.

Put your clothes away right after removing from the dryer. You already have the laundry motivation—so just get it done! You’ll feel more organized and clean when your fresh clothes are folded and put away.

13. De-wrinkle your clothes.

Do college students really need an iron?

An iron can be a great tool, especially if you have space in your dorm for one. If you want an iron without an ironing board, you can purchase a small tabletop ironing mat that works on your desk space.

However, there are other options if ironing isn’t your speed. Portable clothes steamers or wrinkle-release spray can help remove some of the wrinkles from your clothes. You can also hang your clothes in the bathroom while you shower, so the steam from the shower can help release the wrinkles.

When in a bind, throw your wrinkled clothes back in the dryer with one damp item—like a wet towel or T-shirt. Dry for 5 to 10 minutes. This will remove the wrinkles so you’ll be ready for that presentation or interview in no time.

14. Don’t fight the crowds.

Try to do laundry when everyone else is sleeping or in class. Morning is a great time—since most college students like to sleep in. An empty laundry room means you can run multiple loads at once, saving you time spent in the laundry room.

If you live off campus, be aware of the operating hours of the local laundromat.

15. Know laundry etiquette.

There are certain laundry “codes” to follow. For example, you want to clean the lint tray after use, and you don’t want to hog multiple machines at once during a busy time. You also don’t want to leave your clothes sitting in the machine for hours at a time.

If someone else left their clothes in the machine, what do you do?

You can put their load on the top of the washing machine. (It’s gross, but it’s not your clothing—and they didn’t follow the “stay nearby” rule.) But, if you want to be a friendly neighbor, you can put the clean clothes in your own hamper. If you took their clothes out of the dryer, you can even fold it for them.

If it’s a load that you don’t feel comfortable folding (like their intimates), put it on top of a nearby washer. We recommend leaving a note that says which machine you took it out of so the right owner can claim their clothes.

Laundry 101 For College Students


There are a lot of tips and tricks to doing laundry…

But it gets easier the more you do it!

So do your laundry often… Don’t wait until you’re out of clean underwear.

How do you or your kids keep your clothes clean in college? Let us know in the comments below!

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