Laundry is one of those deceptively simple household chores: Clothes travel from hamper to machine and back again in a repetitive cycle that runs on autopilot. But there's more to doing laundry than separating colors and fluffing the load you forgot about in the dryer. Here are a few ways to do the wash effectively without turning the chore into a complete drag:

Thoughtfully separate

Separating clothes by color is one of those necessary evils that keep whites bright and colors from bleeding into other fabrics. There's another dimension to this process: Picking out the truly dirty from the lightly soiled and the clothes in-between. It's standard procedure for companies that work in hospitality — after all, you wouldn't want the towel at your hotel to have stains from the dining room on it. Why shouldn't you employ the same tactic at home? Before you throw the next load in, take an extra look at how grimy things really are, and sort things accordingly.

Pre-treat stains

Grass, chewing gum, red wine, coffee — if you toss clothes with these types of stains right into the washing machine, it's going to be near impossible to get them out later. Pre-treating takes a little bit of research and time, but it's the easiest way to maintain the integrity of your favorite button-down or pair of slacks. Plus, if it becomes a regular part of your routine, you won't think twice about the few extra minutes you'll need to fight stubborn stains.

Temperature matters

Take clothing color, fabric type and soil level into consideration when you're spinning dials on your machine. Generally speaking, cold water is less likely to cause colors to bleed or fade, and your clothing without care instructions can likely be washed with no problem on cold settings. Other apparel might require warm or high heat. Take a look at care instructions to be sure, and remember you might have to tweak instructions based on factors like stain type or suspected bacteria.

Use your dryer correctly

Nobody likes pulling twisted up sheets out of the dryer, or folding laundry to find several socks have disappeared into the abyss. If you want to avoid tangling up your linens, make sure you don't overload your machines. You can also take a look at the care instructions of your sheets. Depending on thread count and material, you might want to toss in a few dryer balls to keep them from wrinkling, or dry them on a different setting to make them as soft as possible.

Don't neglect maintenance

Regularly cleaning your washing machine and dryer doesn't just ensure they'll last longer and clean your clothes more effectively. Nearly 3,000 dryer fires are reported each year, says the U.S. Fire Administration, and those result in an estimated $35 million in property loss. There are also deaths and injuries reported each year because of dryer fires, and 34% are caused by a failure to properly clean the dryer.

Call in help if you notice signs of lint buildup in your dryer, leaking coming from your washing machine, or any excessive noise coming from either unit. It typically costs homeowners between $105 and $240 to repair an appliance, via the Angie's List Pricing Guide.

Diana Crandall is a reporter for Angie's List, a provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from providers. Visit