Correct Ways of Using Laundry : Front-loading Machines and Top-loading Machines


In case some people use the laundry in a wrong ways, here are some tips.

Have I been doing this wrong?

No, you have not been doing this wrong. I actually want to know what this buttinski suggested you do differently, because I can’t even imagine what their criticism of your laundering techniques was all about.
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Actually, that’s not quite fair: I think I know what that Nosy Nelly was getting at (doesn’t make ol’ Nelly any less wrong, though!) What I suspect was going on was confusing the way in which laundry is loaded into different styles of washing machines. Here’s the explanation, based on the two types of washing machine designs that are out there:

Front-loading Machines

Front-loaders have a door on the front of the machine that opens by swinging out. Typically, machines at laundromats as well as HE (High-Efficiency) machines have a front-loading design.

To use them, you load the clothes into the drum and put liquid or powder detergent into compartments on the top or front of the machine. There will also be compartments for products like liquid fabric softener or bleach. The compartments are labeled, and are designed to dispense the product into the wash at the correct point in the cycle. It is very definitely worth taking a few seconds to examine your compartments to determine for what product each is designed.

If you use detergent pods, fabric softener dispensing balls, or scent beads in a front-loading machines, those should go directly into the drum along with the clothes.

Top-loading Machines

These are the ones with a lid on the top of the machine that flips up, and that often have a center agitator in the drum. When loading up this style of machine, put detergent in first, then the clothes. You may also opt to start the cycle before adding the clothes so that the detergent has a chance to become diluted in the the water, which will help to prevent deposits from forming. Top-loading machines have compartments for bleach and fabric softener that should be used if you’re including those products in your wash.


I am lazy college student and a marginally clean person. I hate doing laundry so I came to school with those fancy laundry detergent pods that save approximately 10 seconds of hassle. My question for you is: Are they worth it? I haven’t noticed any ill effects on my clothes besides an infrequent green gel stain (which easily washed out), but what is your opinion on the pod revolution as opposed to regular old powder detergent? Please save me from the filth.

Pods are great, and if they’re easier for you to use given your laundry set-up, by all means go for it! I use them, because I do my wash at a laundromat and find it’s much easier to manage without having to carry a heavy bottle of liquid detergent in addition to a heavy bag of laundry. The only thing that can be a little tricky about detergent pods is that you do want to pay attention to your load size and use a second one for large or heavily soiled loads. I also find that placing them into the drum before the clothes go in helps to keep them from getting trapped inside, say, the hood of a sweatshirt and not dissolving entirely.

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Broadly speaking, when it comes to different types of detergents, they’re all good—it’s just that there are pros and cons to each style: pod, liquid, or powdered detergent.

Powdered detergents have a longer shelf life than liquids, so if you’re a person who buys detergent in bulk, go for powder. The drawback when it comes to powdered formulas is that they don’t dissolve as well as liquids and can leave deposits of chalky residue on clothes.

Liquid detergents play much more nicely with water than do their powdery counterparts, especially when it comes to use in cold water, and can do double duty to pre-treat stained garments before they go into the wash. They also create more packaging waste and are easy to overuse.

Detergent pods are easy to transport and do the work of measuring the correct dose for you, making them a great choice for people who do their wash outside the home or who tend to overuse detergent, which is a very real and unfortunate thing that happens. On the flip side, you do need to pay more attention to the size and makeup of the load, so that you can be sure to use the correct number of pods in large or heavily soiled loads. A common complaint with detergent pods is that they don’t always dissolve entirely.

Question for you about laundry: Growing up my mom was adamant about sorting laundry by color and material before putting a load in the wash. When I started doing my own laundry I would not sort, but rather opt to wash everything at once in cold water. With today’s advancements in washing machine technology is this an OK solution? Or should I be sorting and washing things separately?


As long as your clothes are coming out clean and aren’t suffering in terms of pilling, lint, wear, or dye transfer, sure, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not necessarily ideal, but if it’s working for you, don’t fool with it. However, separating your wash—either by color or by fabric type—is still something I’d recommend you consider.

Separating by Color

The more traditional way of thinking about separating laundry is to wash like colors with like, usually dividing loads into whites or lights, and darks or colors. There are two primary benefits of separating laundry by color. The first is that doing so lets you make choices about the water temperature, detergent, and other products that best serve lights versus darks. The other benefit of separating by color is that it will help to prevent color transfer, including bleeding dye.

Separating by Fabric Type

A more modern way to think about divvying up loads of laundry is to wash like fabrics with like. That means that, regardless of or in addition to considering the color of a garment, you may want to wash heavy items like jeans and sweatshirts, or lint-making things like towels and fleece, or delicate cottons and underthings, together with their own kind.

Water Temperature Selection

You’ve probably heard by now that changes in the design and development of both detergents and washing machines mean that we can use cold water for just about every laundering situation, and that’s mostly true. Using cold water will save both energy and your clothes, as heat can be taxing on fibers. It also takes the guesswork out and will help you to avoid inadvertently shrinking your clothes in the wash.

There are times, though, when knowing and adhering to the old rule of thumb about wash water temperature can be helpful, and since we’re here doing a primer on laundry, it’s worth covering. Here it is: Cold water for darks, and hot or warm water for lights. Water temperature considerations also become important when talking about fabrics that are prone to shrinking (like wool or cashmere) and should never be washed in warm or hot water.

A question came up recently I thought I’d pose to you. I always use the “time” function on the dryer, an hour for normal loads, 90 mins for when I shove as much into the washer as possible and adjust the temperature setting based on the load (medium for clothes, heavy for dish towels/tablecloths). But visiting some family I watched them dry my clothes on the “automatic” cycle and I had—and still have—no clue as to the difference, if any. Any thoughts?

My first thought is that I’d hate to have your electric bills! Sir, you are positively roasting your belongings in that dryer. Good lord, you’re drying your clothes for an hour?? I dry my clothes for 18-24 minutes. Granted, I’m a small lady, but unless you’re Paul Bunyan, I don’t think your trousers need an hour to dry.

Automatic dry is actually going to be a great option for you, since you have demonstrated a tendency to want to cook your clothes and breaking that habit may be challenging for you. What the automatic dry option does is use sensors in the machine to indicate when the clothes are dry, and stop the cycle at that point. Many automatic dry cycles also have options that let you tell the machine how dry you want the clothes, which is handy for items like dress shirts that you may want to remove from the dryer slightly damp for ironing purposes.

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If you still want to stick with the timed dry cycle, try experimenting with using less time. 25-30 minutes should be enough for a large load of clothes, and 35-45 minutes ought to do it for heavier items like towels (sweatshirts and jeans may also need a longer drying time).

You may also want to familiarize yourself with the other settings your dryer offers, so you can pick and choose based on what type of load you’re drying. Cycle names aren’t standard, but the ones you’ll typically find on most machines are:

Tumble dry

A no-heat dry cycle. Use tumble drying for fabrics or embellishments that may melt, warp, or shrink when exposed to heat.

Delicate or low-heat dry

A lower heat drying cycle. This setting is great for gently drying garments with Spandex or other stretchy fabrics, and for use with shrink-prone fibers like cottons and wools.

Permanent press

A medium-heat drying cycle with a cool-down period at the end designed to reduce wrinkling. This should be your go-to cycle for most of your clothes.


The highest heat cycle. Use to dry heavy items like jeans, sweatshirts, towels, and blankets.

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