Doing laundry can be a hair-pulling, curse-out-loud experience if you don’t understand some of the basic dos and don’ts of clothing care.  We’ve all been there with that new top ruined or our whites turned pink! But have no fear these laundry disasters can be avoided. Read on to learn the basics of how to do laundry.

1. Separate! Separate! Separate!

All of your clothing cannot be washed together! It may be tempting to do this in order to save time, but this will most likely result in disaster.  Separate clothing by fabric types and colors to ensure clothing is not ruined and fabrics washed according to their tags.  Generally you separate into whites, darks, delicates, and gym clothes. Whites can have hot water. Don’t EVER mix reds in with whites … unless you like pink clothes.

2. Read your clothing’s tags

This is such a simple step to doing laundry that so often gets overlooked, but it will save so much headache in the end.  Each piece of clothing comes with an interior tag (often lower, nearer the hem) that details how it should be washed.  Don’t make assumptions – read it!  Some tags will have symbols giving instructions.  Check out this handy symbol guide to learn more.

3. Learn Some Basic Rules of Fabric Care

  • Silk should always be hand washed or dry cleaned
  • Cotton is super durable and can withstand heat
  • Wool should never be treated with bleach or hot water
  • Polyester stains fast, so don’t let a stain sit long
  • To maintain elasticity in lycra and spandex air dry

4.  Tackle tough stains before you wash

Open the doors to your cleaning and first aid cabinets, and you probably already have these household stain removers: hydrogen peroxide (removes blood), vinegar (works on grass, coffee, smells), baking soda (removes proteins, grease, and perspiration), and dawn soap (works on mud, ink, and oils). There’s no need to buy expensive stain removers with these products around.

Related: 10 great natural cleaning products

5. Look at Machine Settings & Directions

Today’s machines make laundry pretty darned easy. They say things like “heavy stains” or “deep-water fill” to help you choose the best setting for the load you’re tackling. The buttons and knobs often spell out what you need to do.  Pay attention to directions in the places where you can pour things: you don’t want to get this wrong.

6. Invest in Laundry Accessories

One way to make doing laundry easier and more efficient is to use the right accessories.  Put delicate intimates in mesh laundry bags to ensure against snags and tears.  Wool dryer balls help reduce wrinkles and static cling when thrown in the dryer.  A drying rack will help air dry clothing faster, preventing mildew.  A plastic tub is great for hand washing clothing that cannot go in the washer.

Avoid laundry disasters by mastering these 5 basics of how to do laundry. Your clothing will look and smell better and last longer!

Still nervous about doing laundry?  See also: Laundry service pros and cons