How to Wash Cheap Clothes: A Comprehensive Guide

Learning how to wash cheap clothes can be a lifesaver for your wardrobe and wallet. Often, lower-priced garments are made of less durable materials that can be damaged during the washing process.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step procedures to ensure your budget-friendly clothes last longer.

How to Wash Cheap Clothes

Preparation Steps

Here are the steps you’ll need to take…

Sort Your Clothes

Before you start washing, it’s crucial to sort your clothes. The reason for this is that different colors and fabrics require different washing conditions. Mixing them together could lead to color bleeding, shrinking, or even damage.

Separate Whites from Colors

The first step in sorting is to make separate piles for whites and colored garments. This helps to prevent the colors from bleeding into the whites during the washing process. Put all your white T-shirts, socks, and other garments in one pile and colored items in another.

Categorize by Fabric Type

If possible, go a step further and sort your clothes by fabric type. Cotton, polyester, and delicate fabrics like silk or lace should each have their own pile.

Different fabrics have different washing needs, so this extra step can go a long way in preserving the quality of your clothes.

Prioritize Dirtiness

If some clothes are heavily soiled or stained, consider washing them separately or pre-treating them before adding them to the main wash. This can help ensure that dirt or stains don’t spread to other garments.

Check Care Labels

Reading care labels might seem like an extra chore, but it’s an essential step in knowing how to properly wash and dry your garments.

Care labels contain symbols and instructions that tell you everything you need to know to keep your clothes in optimal condition.

Locate the Label

You’ll typically find the care label sewn into the inside seam or the back of the garment. If it’s a shirt, the label is usually near the bottom hem or along the neckline.

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Decode Washing Instructions

Care labels often include washing symbols that specify the water temperature and cycle type. Make sure to follow these guidelines.

For instance, a symbol of a hand inside a bucket usually means ‘Hand Wash Only,’ while a triangle indicates that bleach is not allowed.

Note Drying Recommendations

The care label will also provide drying guidelines. This can range from ‘Tumble Dry Low’ to ‘Do Not Dry’ or ‘Lay Flat to Dry.’ Adhering to these instructions will help prevent your clothes from shrinking or losing their shape.

Special Care Items

Some garments may have special care instructions such as “Dry Clean Only” or “Wash With Like Colors.” Keep an eye out for these special cases to avoid inadvertently damaging these items.

The Washing Process

Here’s the washing process…

Use the Right Detergent

Selecting the right detergent is more than just grabbing the first bottle you see on the shelf. Different detergents have varying levels of strength and ingredients, which can have a significant impact on the lifespan of your garments.

Why Choose Gentle Detergent

A gentle detergent is specifically formulated to be less abrasive on fibers, reducing wear and tear. This is especially crucial for cheaper clothes that may not be as durable as higher-end garments.

If your clothes are predominantly made of delicate fabrics like silk, lace, or fine cotton, a detergent designed for delicate clothes is often a good choice.

Scented vs. Unscented

While some people love scented detergents, these can sometimes cause irritation or allergic reactions. If you have sensitive skin, consider opting for an unscented, hypoallergenic detergent.

Liquid vs. Powder vs. Pods

Detergents come in different forms: liquid, powder, and pods. Each has its pros and cons, but for most cheap clothes, liquid detergent usually dissolves more easily, especially in cold water, which is generally recommended for cheap clothes.

Test for Colorfastness

Before you commit to washing a full load with a new detergent, it might be a good idea to test it on a small, hidden area of a garment to ensure it doesn’t cause colors to run or fade.

Water Temperature

Choosing the right water temperature can be just as important as selecting the right detergent when it comes to washing cheap clothes.

Incorrect temperature settings can result in various issues including color bleeding, shrinking, and weakening of the fabric.

Why Cold Water is Your Friend

Cold water is generally the safest bet for most cheap clothes. It’s less likely to cause colors to fade and is easier on fibers, thereby extending the lifespan of your garments.

Additionally, using cold water is often more energy-efficient, which is a plus for both your utility bill and the environment.

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Exceptions to the Rule

Some clothes, particularly whites or heavily soiled garments, might benefit from warm or hot water. However, hot water can weaken fibers and cause colors to fade. Therefore, it’s crucial to weigh these factors carefully and to refer to the care label instructions when in doubt.

Cycle Settings

Besides temperature, also consider the wash cycle setting. A gentle or delicate cycle usually complements cold water washing by minimizing mechanical agitation, which can be hard on your clothes.

Use a Gentle Cycle

Your washing machine likely offers a variety of cycle options ranging from heavy-duty to delicate. The setting you choose can make a significant difference in how your clothes are treated during the wash. For cheap or less durable clothing, the gentle or delicate cycle is often the most suitable choice.

What is a Gentle Cycle?

The gentle cycle uses less agitation and usually has a slower spin speed compared to regular cycles. This reduces the mechanical stress and friction on your clothes, lessening the likelihood of stretching, ripping, or general wear and tear.

When to Use a Gentle Cycle

While it’s a good idea to use a gentle cycle for most cheap clothes, it’s especially important for fabrics that are prone to damage like lace, silk, and fine knits. Items like undergarments, swimsuits, and athletic wear can also benefit from a gentler wash.

Additional Precautions

Some washing machines offer a “hand wash” cycle that mimics the gentleness of washing clothes by hand. This could be an option if your garments are extremely delicate. Alternatively, placing items in mesh laundry bags can provide an extra layer of protection during the wash.

Rinse and Repeat

Once your washing machine has completed its cycle, your next step is to inspect your clothes for cleanliness. Despite your best efforts, stains or soiling may sometimes remain.

Inspect for Stains

Take each garment out and carefully check for any leftover stains, spots, or soiling. Pay extra attention to areas like collars, cuffs, and underarms, which are prone to dirt accumulation.

Treat Stains Individually

If you find remaining stains, consider treating them individually with a stain remover or by dabbing a small amount of detergent directly on the stain. Rub gently and let it sit for a few minutes before re-washing.

Second Wash

If a garment didn’t come clean, or if stains require additional treatment, don’t hesitate to run it through another wash cycle. Choose the same gentle cycle and cold water settings to maintain consistency in care.

For stubborn stains, you may consider adjusting the water temperature or cycle according to the care label, but always exercise caution to prevent damaging the fabric.


Here’s the drying process…

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Air Dry When Possible

After washing your clothes, you’ll need to dry them, and the method you choose can significantly impact their longevity.

While it might be tempting to toss everything into the dryer for quick results, air drying is usually the best way to go, especially for cheap clothes.

Benefits of Air Drying

Air drying is a natural, gentle method that doesn’t involve heat or mechanical action, both of which can be hard on fabrics.

This process maintains the integrity of the fibers, making your clothes last longer. Plus, it’s a more energy-efficient option that’s good for both your utility bills and the environment.

Hanging Clothes

When hanging clothes to dry, make sure to shake them out first to eliminate wrinkles. Use padded hangers for shirts and blouses to maintain their shape. For pants, clip them by the waistband to let them hang and dry naturally.

Laying Flat to Dry

Some garments, like sweaters or other knitwear, may stretch if you hang them. For these items, lay them flat on a clean, dry towel to maintain their shape. Make sure to reshape the garment first, smoothing out any wrinkles or folds.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Drying

If you’re air drying clothes outdoors, keep in mind that direct sunlight can cause colors to fade. On the other hand, drying indoors is kinder to colors but may take longer, especially in humid conditions.

If Using a Dryer, Use Low Heat

In some instances, you might not have the time or space to air dry your clothes. If you must use a dryer, it’s crucial to use the right settings to minimize potential damage to your cheap clothes.

Why Low Heat?

High heat can be incredibly harsh on clothes, leading to shrinkage, color fading, and breakdown of the fabric. The lowest heat setting will still get your clothes dry but is much gentler on the fibers.

Drying Time

Using low heat may mean that your clothes will take longer to dry, so plan accordingly. Check the dryer periodically to prevent over-drying, which can also cause wear and tear.

Additional Dryer Tips

Use dryer balls or a dry towel to help circulate air and speed up the drying process. Remove garments as soon as the cycle is done to reduce wrinkles and potential heat damage. Some dryers have a “fluff” or “air” setting, which uses no heat at all. This is another good option for delicate items.


Once your clothes are clean and completely dry, store them in a cool, dry place. Avoid overcrowding to reduce wrinkles and fabric stress.

For more articles on how to wash, click here: How to Wash: Your Comprehensive Guide to Clothing and Fashion Care

Conclusion: How to Wash Cheap Clothes

Taking care of cheap clothes doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By applying a little extra attention and care, you can extend the life and maintain the quality of your garments, making your budget-friendly choices even more worthwhile.

Remember to sort your clothes appropriately before washing, consult care labels for specific instructions, and use a gentle detergent and cold water to treat your clothes kindly. The gentle cycle is your friend, and post-wash inspection ensures that stains and dirt don’t linger.

Air drying is the optimal choice for maintaining fabric integrity, but if you’re in a pinch, a dryer on a low-heat setting can also do the trick. Through these simple yet effective steps, your cheap clothes can look and feel as good as new for a long time to come.