Kids Can Do Laundry

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Kids can do laundry. Here’s how it’s working at our house.

Kids Can Do Laundry

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Early one morning as we lay in bed, still waking up, I heard the girls giggling and running to the laundry room which is next to our room. FishChick6 came into our room to grab a chair. “What are you doing?” hubby called.

“I’m changing our laundry.”

Be still my heart. Before their parents had even gotten out of bed, my little girls were doing laundry!

Now, don’t go envisioning images of all rainbows and unicorns at our house. The girls’ bedroom is a complete wreck at the moment.

BUT, we have tamed the laundry beast. Or at least kept him at bay and prevented him from wreaking total and complete havoc.

Kids can do laundry.

It was actually my husband’s idea. Over a year ago he suggested that the kids learn how to do the laundry themselves. I was resistant at first. His point was that I shouldn’t continue doing it on my own — which I had mostly been doing.

Instead of jumping for the idea right away, I held laundry parties. I would wash loads and loads of laundry and then call all the kids to fold for 30 minutes. We got it all done in 30 minutes!

However, I got weary when my group folding parties were met with moans and groans. I realized that hubs’ idea was, indeed, a good one. The kids could do their laundry themselves.

Kids Can Do Laundry

the laundry piles of yore

It wasn’t until February of this year that I actually put it into practice. In fact, on Valentine’s Day I sent my husband the following Laundry SOP (Standard Operating Procedure):

This is my laundry plan for the family.

1. Dirty Laundry is to be collected in hampers in bedrooms and bathrooms only. No more piling it up in the laundry room to make Mom’s head spin around. If you are cleaning a living area and find someone’s clothes, take it to their room to deal with.

(Note: I think this will cause people not to be so laissez faire about taking their socks off everywhere. It will also cut down on laundry since folks tend to take clean sweatshirts and jackets to the laundry room instead of hanging them up.)

2. Dirty laundry only goes to the laundry room when someone has the intention of washing clothes. The laundry room is no longer a receptacle for ick…. It’s a place to make things clean.

3. Each bedroom will have a day to use the laundry room.

Monday: parents
Tuesday: girls
Wednesday: towels
Thursday: older boys
Friday: younger boys
Saturday: bedding

4. It’s expected that you will clean the lint tray, put trash in the wastebasket, and leave the laundry room and laundry table as clean if not cleaner than you found it.

Note: I don’t think that we need more equipment, we just need a system and a form of accountability.

Yes, I really did write that. Because I’m a total geek. And I’m so romantic on Valentine’s Day. As he didn’t have any objections, I put it into practice that day.

So far, three months later, this plan is mostly working. The kids know what day is theirs to wash clothes. I’m responsible for a lot less, and the laundry is rarely a big pile in the hallway.

Full disclosure: We’ve had a few snags in the system when someone forgets and leaves stuff behind and then there’s mixed randomness left behind, but overall, the system is working well.

Ways to help your kids do laundry:

These are things that I’ve learned over time through trial and error. It might not work at your house. Your mileage may vary.

1. Have a clean work area.

We are blessed to have a dedicated laundry room on the second floor, just steps from the bedrooms. My mom has a corner of her garage. Your situation may be different.

But, if the area is clean and tidy, it will be easy for your kids (and you) to work in. Check out this month’s Zone Defense assignment if you need help with this.

Kids Can Do Laundry

2. Label the washing machine and dryer.

I do not revere my washer and dryer so much that I am shy to grafitti them. I took a black permanent marker and wrote on the machines. I made it very clear to my boys which knobs to turn and how to operate the machine.

3. Dirty clothes stay in your hamper until washing day.

It was so depressing to go to the laundry room and constantly see piles of dirty clothes. Now, the room is used for its true purpose: to make things clean.

Its purpose is not to be constantly dirty!

We have two kids in each bedroom. They share a hamper. On their washing day the pair work together to get their clothes cleaned, dried, folded, and put away.

If your kids can’t or won’t work together, then you’ll need to adjust this. I didn’t want to mess with two separate hampers. They have a hard enough time picking things up off the floor. I didn’t want to worry about hearing, “He put his shirt in my hamper.” I figured they can sort at the end.

Adjust to fit the personalities of your kids.

4. Require it.

Don’t ask if your kids want to do their laundry. Tell them. Unless you plan on doing their laundry forever, now is a great time to teach them. (I know. I didn’t believe it myself at first, either.)

Everyone eight and older around here can operate the machines and does a great job of it. My girls are 4 and 6. I wash their clothes; they help move it to the dryer; they fold it and put it away.

(Honestly, I was surprised that they could fold and put away on their own. Goes to show you kids often can do more than you think they can!)

I’ve done a lot of laundry in my time. And I’ve changed my systems over the years. This system may not work forever, but I sure hope it does. It’s brought a lot of peace to our house.

How do YOU do laundry?

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  1. Because of this post, I implemented a similar system. When the kids were little they were responsible for sorting their clothes and bringing a set (all shirts, all shorts, etc) down to put in the washer. They would also help with folding and putting away. I found washing one set of clothes makes folding and putting away easier. Now that they are older, they do it all (with little or no reminders). Oh, also, getting them in the habit of turning their clothes right side out when they initially get undressed is key! Less for them to do at wash/folding time.

  2. Thank you so much for this! It’s just what I was looking for! We use SOP’s for EVERYTHING at our office, but I never once thought of creating one for home! Genius!

  3. I long for the day – but my top-loading washer is so deep even *I* can barely reach the bottom, so that’s a long way off for my kiddos. But we’ve started with the 6yo always emptying the dryer and they also both put away their clothes after I fold. Working on relinquishing that control 😉

  4. I have read this idea of requiring the kids to do their own laundry in countless places–and having 7 kids at home, I have LOTS of laundry! However, I don’t understand how having each couple of kids doing their own laundry would truly be efficient and cost effective. It seems like it would cause lots of smaller loads, unless they just tossed all of their clothes in together and didn’t worry about sorting. I guess my question is, how would this increase in washing machine wear/water/detergent costs balance out with having them do their own?

    1. I think this will probably differ depending on families, the types of clothes your kids wear on a regular basis (ie. sports uniforms as well as fabric types and colors, etc.), the size of your washer, and how many clothes your kids have available to wear in a given week.

      I explain all our laundry steps here: including the fact that we don’t do separate whites loads from colors. This system probably wouldn’t work as well for folks who sort clothes in whites, lights, and darks. I used to do that, but for about five years have tossed it all together and haven’t ruined anything yet. (Knocks on wood.)

      Since my kids are all able to do their laundry, my laundry responsibilities are limited to my clothes, my husband’s (sometimes), and managing the sheets and towels. It works amazingly well for us. Our new washer adjusts itself by the weight of clothes in the machine, so there’s no issue with size of loads, etc. Your mileage may vary. Hope that helps!

  5. Funny this should show up on Facebook today – a few minutes earlier I had “let” my 7YO daughter put a load in the washer and she liked it 🙂 I’m curious – in your note to your husband you said you needed a system and a form of accountability. What is the form of accountability you’ve been using? Is it different for different kids? Or is it just natural consequences (don’t do your laundry, don’t have clean clothes….)? I have one strong-willed one and one who probably wouldn’t care whether the clothes are clean 🙂 Thanks!

  6. I love that you labeled the washer! Very smart. We only wash in cold due to insufficient hot water in our rental house. It works. All the kids help. I love your ideas. We added a clothes line in the back yard. It is mainly for towles, but that has given the kids a chance to hang the clothes up outside and bring them in for folding.

    1. Yep. And unbelievably, the Sharpie rubs right off the machine, so it’s not really permanent.

  7. Thanks for great ideas here! Mine are helping to unload the dryer and fold laundry so far as I haven’t taught my eldest (7yo) to know which sensitives should be handwashed. How do you manage that?

    1. The only person with hand washables is me, and I do my own laundry. 🙂

  8. thanks again Jess for great ideas!!i have a sign in my laundry room that says..”the laundry room..where mom hangs out!!” with 7 kids i feel like i am never caught up..I was thinking i would start some routine for them to do their own clothes(my older 2 boys do their own, but kind of when ever, and i still get quite a bit of it in the bathroom hampers!!i am going to call a family meeting on saturday and use your routine for mine!!thanks again!!

    1. The schedule has been really successful. I had to stop my 10yo at 6:30 this morning (his laundry day) and say, “Wait until everyone’s awake.” Since the laundry is on the second floor, it’s kind of loud. lol

  9. I can’t figure out how to make this totally work b/c I right now have to stain treat all my kids’ clothes or they don’t come clean :/ We have to use detergent for sensitive skin so maybe it is less strong than what you use?

    1. I always get the stain stuff that can sit. If you get a Stain Stick the kids could do it themselves? Depends on how old they are, of course.

      1. When I use the stuff that it can soak in, I get mixed results. A lot of stuff doesn’t come out. Maybe my kids are particularly messy. My son is 6 but not quite ready to do stain treating. The 8 & 9 year olds we are adopting are interested but miss spots…hmmm

  10. I started when I was 10 so I guess I was waiting for that age … with no rhyme or reason. I’ll have to check tomorrow to see if they can reach the bottom of the washer and then I may have to revise our chore chart 😉

  11. Ah laundry…I am grateful to finally have an indoor laundry room, but still battle it constantly! With 7 of us there’s always something to wash. I’m in the process of having my older 2 boys do loads from start to finish. The 3 older boys already fold and put away their own laundry. I’ve learned to let go w/ the folding…it has gotten better the more they do it, but is still very lumpy. 😉 I actually taught them to sort laundry from the time they were toddlers…colors in one basket and whites in another. My favorite thing about them folding and putting away their own clothes is the accountability when they can’t find something or it ends up in someone else’s drawer…my first question is always “who folds and puts away your clothes?” Can’t blame mama anymore! I may have to try something similar to your system. My big plan right now is a clothes purge. Fewer clothes means less laundry!

    1. Yep. I try to keep their clothes to a minimum, but it seems they multiply when my back is turned.

  12. As a mom of 6 who battles the mountains of laundry and seems to never find a system that works, this has caused a light bulb to go off in my head!! I hadn’t finished the last sentence of your post good before I was making a chart/schedule and taping it to the wall! We’re going to have a laundry party tonight and start fresh on our schedule tomorrow!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    1. I should add that my kids have always helped with the folding and putting away, but with no solid plan in place, it’s always been random and we ALWAYS have piles! I have one question… when they take baths/showers, do you have them take their dirty clothes back to their bedrooms and just leave the towels? We have one bathroom with a shower and I always keep a basket in there for laundry – but it’s everybody’s clothes plus towels!

      1. I’ve given the instruction that only towels go in the bathroom hampers. Clothes should go back in their rooms. We’re still working on that one, but it’s a start. It makes folding towels so much easier!

  13. I completely agree with you. I have my son folding and putting away laundry (as well as bringing it down to our garage on Saturday, laundry day.) Do you ever refold your kids clothes? My son’s folding is so bad…I have just started having him start a towel load first thing on Saturday morning since he’s up by 6:30 in the morning. By the time I get up, it’s time to throw the towels in the dryer.

    On the positive side, my son is the house bathroom cleaner. We have 5 bathrooms and he actually doesn’t mind taking care of the bathrooms. He is only 12, but he does manage to clean the toilets, empty the trash cans and wipe down the sinks and floors with Lysol wipes. Not perfect, but I’ll take it.

    1. I was refolding during the group folding parties. Now that they fold their own plus one load of towels, I don’t sweat it.

  14. Jessica, I hope you believe me when I say I had a large smile on my face reading this post! I could just picture your 2 cute little girls dragging their laundry from their room into the laundry room and waiting for you to do the wash, then them moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer, then unloading and folding and putting their laundry away!! Precious!! You do a great job with your sweet kids and I hope you know you are blessed.
    God bless, Kathy in Illinois

  15. We’ve been having the kids do the laundry on their own for 2 years now, they are 7 and 9. We add Shout color catchers to each load or the Carbona Color Catchers, so we don’t have bleeding issues, and we wash everything in cold water.
    Now that we do loads by child, it seems crazy to me to take laundry from all parts of the house, dump it together and then sort it all out again, when it is clean.

    1. We are washing everything in cold and so far it’s working fine without buying an extra product. I’ve also heard that you can add a cup of white vinegar to the wash to help set the colors.

  16. Jessica – what a delightful morning surprise! I may start to shift more in this direction. I started having my son do all the laundry because he always had so much (questionably??) dirty clothes each week.

    At this point, I still do most of the washing and hanging on the line (since the kids are in school during the day). They help take it down and sort it all. I have them sort everything into individual hampers without folding – I leave that up to everyone as they put the clothes away. For socks, we each have a delicates net bag where we put socks altogether. This way no sorting needed. When I hang them up, I hang up all the bag’s contents on the line with the bag and take them down that way as well. So much easier!

    We wash everything with cold water – except sheets, dishtowels and towels.

    I love hearing about kids taking on more responsibility!!

    1. This has totally solved my sock matching headaches. Not only are they sorted down to the socks of only two people, but I also don’t have to match and fold!

  17. This is a great idea. Right now the kids don’t help with any part of the laundry, not even folding or putting away. Would you recommend using your plan straight off the bat, or introduce it in parts to get them used to the tasks? Thanks.

    1. Great question! It makes me think of that Susan Wise Bauer quote, “Don’t teach more than one new and different skill at the same time.” The idea of teaching the different tasks in isolation and later putting them together sounds like a win. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s what happened. I’m guessing that could be why this is actually working. lol

  18. My son is now six and has been doing his own laundry for two years. Start to finish. I don’t touch it. It’s entirely possible!!

  19. My husband and I own a hotel and laundry is a daily part of life. We also have six children with a baby due in Sept. The hotel laundry takes first place over our personal laundry. Since we live onsite I love the fact that I can use our industrial washer and dryer but finding the time to do laundry for my family is the hard part. This summer, my plan of attack is to give each child a hamper and they will be responsible for doing their clothes. I will help the ones who need help but the older two (ages 11 and 9) can take care of their clothes. Thanks so much for the helpful info in your post. Your picture above is nothing compared to what our laundry room has looked like, I wish ours looked like that on some days:)

  20. My laundry room is a corner in our garage too, like your mom’s. Oh how I long for a beautiful laundry room like the ones on Better Homes & Garden…mine is very functional at least.

    I have my two daughters help with laundry too. They are 7 & 5. It started about a year ago when I was folding laundry and I was sick of all the clothes being inside out and I would have to fix them in order to fold them. I now have the girls “get their laundry” ready before I wash. They dump their laundry baskets and make them right side out. I wash and usually fold myself, but they put away. They are capable of folding, but I usually do it when they’re at school. I like the idea of having them move the laundry from washer to dryer. I may have to start that soon.

    1. I think that learning the steps incrementally has helped this be a success.

  21. I like the idea of kids doing their own laundry. My husband is a Class-A contractor and I work in food service (and from home, too!). With two young kids, one of whom likes to change clothes three times a day, I end up doing laundry SIX days a week!

    I’d make my kids do their own laundry but, sadly, mine (2 and 4) are too young to do this. Although, my 4-year old has asked me to add it to her chore chart *sigh*.

    Downside, though- she can’t (or maybe won’t) put her laundry away neatly. I’ve watched her just throw/shove it into a drawer (and not the right one) and be done with it. And it’s frustrating because I’ve taken the time to fold it neatly so that there are no wrinkles in her shirts and pants (which she hates).

    Oh well. One step at a time, I suppose.

      1. Anyone have advice for bleach handling? I am due with #7 in 6 weeks, I do kind of a ‘tag’ system. After each meal (or more often upon request) the 6 year old empties the dryer, then she tags the next kid to move laundry from washer to dryer, when he/she is done, tag the next one to load the washer. It’s great except I don’t want them handling bleach. I worry over the next 2 months or more, that I will be too exhausted to get up and do it myself. My oldest is 12, but not very responsible, any ideas on helping a tween safely handle bleach?

        1. I don’t typically use bleach in our clothes. Four boys and it’s never really been an issue. I don’t buy them much white, though!

          Unless you have rust in your water or some reason why bleach is really necessary, I’d try a few rounds without it and see if you notice a big difference. The kids could skip that step if you’re too tired to manage it.

    1. I have 4 and 2 year olds also. I have them help me sort the laundry and then load it in the washer. I lift them up and have them turn the knobs and start the machine. Then they help switch it to the dryer. My 4-year old can put shirts on the hangers, very slowly, but it gets done. We have double-bars in the closets so the bottom one is very low and both kids can hang them up. I haven’t tried to get them to put things in drawers yet because I think it would turn out like your experience!! lol But they enjoy sorting so you may try having yours help with that. Good luck!

    2. I have had to learn to allow them to put the clothes in the drawers how they choose, if they are wrinkly and the child does not like it then they start to put things in neater. 🙂

  22. I LOVE this idea!! We’re looking to move in the next few months & on my wish list is a laundry area that is more accessible to everyone (right now it’s in the old cellar part of a 1935 farmhouse, the kids won’t go downstairs!)
    I’ve also am learning that I need to let go of the expectations I have about what my kids can do & are willing to do.
    My 5 yr old LOVES to hang up the kids shirts. yes it takes him at least an hour, but there are lots of light saber fights happening in that hour since the hangers have the color of sabers. So we’re working on time management.
    My 8 yr old LOVES to match socks (which I loathe) so he’ll match all the socks & fold underwear & PJs. he hangs the adult pants too…but he doesn’t like folding the kid pants; he doesn’t like getting them wrinkled. Come summer time though, he’ll take care of all the shorts.

  23. This sounds like a fabulous idea. My kids put away all their clean laundry, but I still DO it and usually fold it. In the summer, one of their chores is to fold everyone’s laundry (even mine!). But I haven’t really thought about having them run the machines. Hmmm. We might be trying that out this summer!

  24. I have also taught my girls (10 and 9) to do laundry. I decided it wasn’t rocket science and they could learn. The first decision I made was that we didn’t have to be so picky about what went with hot water, warm water, etc… I decided kids clothes (with a few exceptions) can all go in warm water – yes, even white socks. I decided getting it done was more important that maybe getting every white sock bleached clean. I taught them to pull certain things out of the laundry that required a more delicate wash (leotards, swim suits, tights) – those go in a pile for me. Everything else? The girls can do on their own.
    They are each responsible for one load a week of their own laundry – wash, dry, fold and put away. Sometimes we need more than one load per week for each person – but if they can at least do one per week, they are shouldering part of the responsibility.

    1. Yep, we’re washing all clothes on cold. Unless it’s a brand new red sweatshirt, they’re all getting lumped together. So far, so good.