Skip to Content

Can You Put One Item in the Washing Machine?

This post may contain affiliate links. Learn more.

There are times in life when you need to wash just one particular outfit and don’t want to take the time to wash a whole load. Or maybe you work in a restaurant and you only have so many uniforms to wear for an entire week of work so you have to wash in between normal laundry days. 

While you most certainly can put one item in the washing machine at a time if absolutely needed, there are a few things you need to know to protect your clothing and your machines. 

Read on to find out what they are. 

Is Underloading a Washing Machine Bad?

Underloading a washing machine can be bad for a number of reasons, some including: 

  1. Unbalanced load: Your clothes can accumulate on one side of the drum causing it to spin out of balance. The machine will make a loud thumping noise when this happens and may even shake to the point of moving across the floor. 
  2. Unregistered load: The machine may not be able to spin because it doesn’t register enough weight in the drum. This can cause your clothes to sit in the washer in the dirty water for an extended period of time. This can not only cause your clothes to smell bad or start to mildew but can also cause damage to the washing machine itself. 
How Many Clothes to Put in Your Washing Machine
I made a video on how to measure how many clothes you can fit in your washing machine.

If the load is unbalanced, you would open the lid and redistribute the load evenly throughout the drum, making sure to put weighty items opposite each other. Also, make sure your items aren’t too heavy for a standard washing machine. Things like comforters, large coats, and weighted blankets should be taken to a professional cleaner. 

So if the load is unable to spin the water out and your clothes smell, is it okay to wash your clothes twice? Read on to find out. 

I made a chart of how many clothes you should load in your washer depending on its capacity.

Is It Bad To Wash Clothes Twice?

It’s not bad to wash your clothes twice in a row as long as it doesn’t happen too often. Washing them repeatedly can eventually wear out the fabric of your clothing and dull the colors. 

If the item is really dirty or has a peculiar smell you are trying to get rid of, (like the smell of being damp too long) washing a second time will not hurt. You can also soak the item before washing it. This will allow dirt and oils to be lifted off the fabric easier and can reduce the need for a second wash. This will make your laundry day more energy-efficient. 

Here are a few other tips to help lengthen the life of your clothes in the washer:

  1. Be sure to wash like colors together, darks with darks, lights with lights. 
  2. Use cold water. Hot water can make colors bleed out more. 
  3. Avoid using bleach if you can. The chlorine in it can cause colors to fade. 
  4. Use mild detergents. The chemicals tend to be less and are gentler on your clothing fibers. Some of the best detergents for being gentle on your clothes are:
    1. Tide Original
    2. Tide Purclean
    3. Gain Original
    4. Purex
    5. Arm & Hammer CleanBurst
  5. Wash clothes inside out. This particularly helps if there is any embroidery or things like sequins attached to the clothing. (The latter should only be washed in the machine if absolutely necessary. We’ll touch base on sequined items later in the article.)

Now, let’s move on to the history of washers and dryers.

The History of Washers and Dryers

The changes made to the washing “machine” over the years have changed considerably. Doing laundry originated with rubbing clothing against stones or rocks to break up the dirt. From there it went to using harsh lye soap and scrubbing them on a scrubbing board (usually the combination of the harsh soap and board would leave hands and knuckles dry and bleeding).

Automation brought on the invention of the electric washer and a wringer. The wringer was used to press the items flat. The pressure used to press the clothing pushed the water out into a basin. 

Eventually, the wringer was combined with the washer and clothing went from being hung on a line to being dried in the electric dryer. Each invention made not only washing clothes easier but also made the washing gentler on clothing.  

So washing twice is suitable once in a while if circumstances call for it but what about drying more than once? Let’s learn more about that below. 

Is It Bad To Dry Clothes Twice?

As with washing, drying can be repeated on occasion and only as needed. 

Drying your clothes repeatedly will cause the fibers to weaken. This can cause your clothes to shrink and lose their color. It can also make your clothes get thinner and tear. Another bad side effect of drying too much is in your elastic. The excess heat can cause the elastic to warp and not lay flat anymore. 

How Do Certain Fabrics Hold Up In the Dryer?

Below is a list of the fabrics, their strength or durability, and the pros of having clothing made from them:

FabricStrengthPerks of Having Clothing Made From:
CottonWeakEasiest to shrink during washing/drying
LinenDurableWrinkles dry out easily, the fabric dries quickly
HempDurableVery similar to linen, breathable fabric that doesn’t break down easily
WoolDurableVery warm, wrinkle-resistant

The history of the dryer mentioned above also made for differences in how the clothes dried. The new technology meant you could choose the amount of heat from “High” to “Tumble Only” where no heat was used. This setting was usually used to tumble out a few wrinkles rather than a whole cycle, which could damage your clothes if done more than once.

Fabric Softener Recommendations

Fabric softeners changed the game on softness. They also bring about new scents and spins on old scents. Two of my favorites are Clean Linen and April Fresh.

Here is a list of the top three best fabric softeners to use that are not only gentle on clothing but smell great too:

Fabric Softener BrandRanking
Gain Fabric SoftenerBest Overall
Snuggle Plus Super FreshBest Budget
Downy Infusions Fabric ConditionerBest Smelling

Now, let’s take a look at some tips on keeping your dryer in perfect condition.

How to Keep Your Dryer In Good Condition

The best way to make electric dryers easier on your fabrics is actually to not use them at all. Hanging clothes to dry, whether on a drying rack or on the line allows them to dry more naturally. It can also make them smell fresher. 

There are a few things to remember about using a dryer. Follow these tips to make sure you aren’t wearing your dryer out:

  1. Make sure your pockets are empty. Remove all coins, keys, and tissues. 
  2. Don’t overuse your dryer sheets.
  3. Don’t overload your dryer.
  4. Drying stuff you shouldn’t be drying. (More on this below)
  5. Not following the user directions for your particular machine. (See your User’s Manual)
  6. Make sure your lint trap is clean. It is very important, not only for your clothing but to reduce the risk of fire. 

Following these guidelines will save you lots of headaches with your machines. Read below to know more about what you shouldn’t be drying.

What Items Should Never Be Put In the Washer or Dryer? 

There are a few items that should never be put in the washer or dryer, whether for the sake of your dryer or the sake of the item itself. You can see some of them listed below:

  1. Knit hats–The spin cycle will pull the delicate strings apart. These should always be hand washed. 
  2. Lace items–These are the same as knit things. They have delicate fabric and will come apart easily in the wash. They can shrink badly in the dryer and should always be hand washed. 
  3. Memory Foam Pillows–The washer will break them down to the point that they have no structure left in the foam material.
  4. Coins–These will tumble around scratching the inside of the machines. 
  5. Embellished items, such as sequin dresses–Not only can the spin cycle and heat cause the sequins to come off the items, the sequins themselves can get lodged in the lint trap blocking airflow. 
  6. King size comforters–The weight of the comforter once it is wet will break the machine. 
  7. Anything with rubber–such as a bathroom rug. These can break apart once the heat dries them out. The pieces can melt into your dryer and clog your lint trap as well. 
  8. Car keys–Not only will they damage the keys themselves (such as fobs), they will scratch the inside of the machine badly.
  9. Bras–This pertains mostly to bras with underwire. The spin cycle can cause the metal to twist and bend. This is virtually impossible to correct once it happens. Also, the hooks can get snagged in other clothing items causing tears and holes. 

To sum it up, if you have the correct amount of items in your dryer, the heat will be distributed evenly and your clothes should dry as they should. However, if you put too many items in at a time your clothes will remain damp and they won’t be dry after one run. 

So what about putting just one, single piece of clothing in the dryer? Would drying the item solo damage it? Continue reading below to find out. 

Can You Put One Piece of Clothing in the Dryer?

Yes, you can put one piece of clothing in a dryer however, it will work better with a full load. If you put in just one item it will still take just as long to dry, so it is more energy-efficient if you dry more than one item. A hack you can do if you need to dry one item only is to throw in a couple of clean, dry towels to help absorb the moisture. 

But what if your clothes are still wet after drying them? What do you do then? Can you try drying them again? Read below to find out. 

My Clothes Are Still Wet After Drying

There are several reasons your clothes would still be wet even after you have dried them for a regular amount of time. The top four reasons are listed below:

  1. Your dryer is too full. If there are too many items being dried it doesn’t allow the hot air to circulate as well and the clothes won’t have enough room to tumble. 
  2. Your heating element is going out. When the element goes out it doesn’t produce the same amount of heat as it otherwise would. You can have a repairman come and replace it for you. Check your warranty for your dryer to see if the cost will be covered. 
  3. You need to clean the lint trap. This affects things similarly to having too many items in the dryer. If the lint trap is full then it won’t allow the hot air to circulate properly. Make sure you empty the lint trap after every load. 
  4. Your vent outside may be clogged. This can cause the moisture to remain in the vents inside the house and dryer and can even cause water to pool in the corrugated tubing. That can filter back into your dryer causing large amounts of damage. Check inside the vent on the outside of the house and make sure there is a screen present. The screen prevents things like squirrels and birds from nesting inside as they are attracted to the warmth.  

So make sure all vents are clean and clear, your lint trap is clean, and that your dryer is not overloaded. If those still don’t work then have your element looked at by a repairman. 


You can put one item at a time in the washer if absolutely necessary but to remain energy efficient and to guarantee the machines work as intended, it is best to have more than one item. This goes for putting things in the dryer as well. Keep your lint trap clean and your loads balanced and the machines will work well for keeping your clothing clean.

Next you can learn about average dryer times for clothing, or if doing laundry at night is better.

Sharing is caring!