Sorting is the process of separating soiled clothes and linens into heaps or piles such that all the articles in a pile can safely receive similar laundry treatment—similar washing methods, washing products, water temperature, washing vigor and duration, and, usually, drying methods, times, and temperatures. Sorting the laundry has become more complicated than it was because there are new fibers, finishes, and fabric constructions to deal with. Even care labels may seem to complicate matters instead of simplifying them. I recently counted ten different sets of laundry directions included on the care labels of the clothes included in one medium-sized load. Drying instructions add even more complications. If you tried to obey each care label to the letter, you might end up with thirty or forty laundry loads on every laundry day. As a result of these complications, a kind of minicrisis of sorting has developed in which the old rules no longer seem to work, and the standard consequence of a breakdown in rules and values has ensued: the youth have become skeptical and nihilistic. They do not believe it is possible to figure it all out. They do not sort their clothes for laundering, and they sneer that sorting makes no difference.
But they are wrong. You can still figure out how to sort, and if you don’t sort, over time your clothes will suffer the subtle or not-so-subtle bleeding of dyes that turns all light-colored clothes dull pink or dingy gray, along with shrinking, pilling, tearing, and other problems. Damage can be mild or immense. The bad effects of undesirable laundering habits are often cumulative and long-term. You will not necessarily see them at once; they may appear over weeks and months. Some people know very well what is the cause of their pink undershorts and towels and sheets of uniform dinginess, but they believe that their time is so short that bright, attractive colors, good fit, and unpilled knits are luxuries that they cannot afford. Doing laundry well, however, takes little more time than doing it poorly, and endless shopping to replace goods that prematurely look bad or function badly takes far more time in the long run. Besides, when you find something you like, you want it to last. Most of us cannot afford to buy whatever we want whenever we want it, even assuming that another shirt just like the ruined one could be found.
Sorting clothes properly requires knowing what their care labels say. The care label warns you against procedures that will likely do damage and tells you a safe way to clean the garment. If reading a lot of care labels seems onerous and you are not accustomed to it, be assured that as you gain experience, you come to know your own clothes and linens. Eventually, you will read care labels only when you first buy and launder things, as you get into the habit of keeping this kind of information in mind. If you, like me, choose to second-guess care labels, it is virtually guaranteed that sooner or later you are going to wreck something. Ignoring care labels has led me to turn a crisp linen suit into a limp rag and to shrink a chic rayon/acetate crepe dress so severely that I was unable to pull it on over my shoulders. When this happens to you, be prepared to shed philosophical tears and blame no one but yourself.