Death, taxes, and dirty laundry. Those three are pretty inevitable, especially if you have children. I do laundry differently than I did as a newlywed, but I still do laundry. And I’m constantly learning about laundry management. Here are some of my best tips.
Food and clothing are the basic necessities of running a home. If those systems are working well, it’s okay if other things slide from time to time.
Getting those systems running smoothly is the trick. In fact, after almost 25 years of marriage, I’m still tweaking my systems. Things change; kids grow; your schedule evolves. Tweaking systems is a part of life.
Tweaking laundry systems is SO MUCH a part of life. Once upon a time I could do laundry once a week. Then my family grew and grew and grew; once a week no longer cut it. I was doing multiple loads per day and constantly climbing Mount Foldalot, like Sisyphus, only the repeated action was folding, not pushing a rock up the hill.
Might as well be the same. Amiright?
My laundry management system has evolved as our life and schedules have changed over the years. I’ve had baby laundry and hockey laundry. I’ve had no one to help and lots of people to help. I’ve had my own laundry room, and I’ve washed socks in hotel bathroom sinks.
I’ve seen it all, baby. One husband, six kids, and 24 years later, I think I’m qualified to speak about laundry management, don’t you? Here are some of my best tips for laundry management.
Best Tips for Laundry Management
Find a rhythm that works for this season.
You may be a one day for laundry kind of person. Or a load a day kind of laundry person. You will know what works best for your family through trial and error.
When I found that our family of 8 was up to ten loads a week, including sheets and towels, I realized I needed to switch things up. I did 1-3 loads a day, Monday through Friday. My younger kids helped sort dirty kid laundry every morning, folded clean towels, and delivered clean clothes and towels to their appropriate locations. This kept things very manageable for a time.
Now we do something altogether different. The kids do their own laundry.
You have to find what works for your family this season. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Put a laundry hamper in every room.
Whether you do family laundry together or divide the laundry up by family member, make sure every bedroom and some common areas (kitchen, mud room, etc.) have receptacles for collecting dirty clothes.
I prefer the touch-it-once method, so I sort laundry as little as possible. Since we do laundry by bedroom, there shouldn’t be any sorting of clothes except to put it away in the drawers.
Throw away the hamper lids.
You want to make it as easy as possible for your kids to put their dirty laundry in the hamper. We found out early on that if we took away the lids, the kids would do a much better job hitting the target. We’ve never looked back. Might not be Pinterest picture-worthy, but at least there isn’t dirty clothes all over the place.
Limit color sorting.
Your mileage may vary, but I haven’t sorted darks and whites for at least five years, maybe longer. No one is running around with pink underwear who didn’t buy it that way. I do wash most thing in cold water, so that could be part of our success.l
Give every family member a laundry bag for travel.
Since I limit sorting whenever possible, I make sure everyone has a small laundry bag in his suitcase when we travel. When we get home, each person can just dump his dirty travel clothes in his own hamper instead of my doing a big family load and having to sort.
Make the laundry area for its sole purpose: cleaning.
Don’t let your laundry room become a catch all for dirty clothes, old shoes, and whatnot. It’s purpose is to clean clothes. If that’s how you set it up, cleaning clothes will be so much nicer and easier.
Use less detergent than the cup calls for.
In case you haven’t noticed, detergent companies give cups that are MUCH bigger than the amount specified to use per load. Is it a trick to get you to use more? I dunno. But, if I hadn’t read the bottle or squintingly examined the very fine print on the measuring cup, I know that I would be using twice as much soap than I needed to. Every bit adds up to extra costs.
Use easy to measure laundry detergent.
Once I started having the kids do their own laundry, I moved away from liquid and powder detergents. Too much was falling on the floor and being wasted. And who wants extra work to clean all that up?!
Have clean baskets and dirty hampers.
I prefer to have separate baskets for clean clothes than for dirty ones. In this way, we’re never wondering what’s clean and what’s dirty.
Have a plan for stain fighting.
Again, stain fighting is a personal battle. I’ve found Oxi Clean Max Force spray to be the best. I can spray and let something sit for a few days without needing to wash it right away.
Buy each person one type of sock.
Matching socks will be the death of you if you have more than one child or a husband with an affinity for fresh socks twice a day. Make it easy on yourself — and them since they should be matching their own socks. Buy each person one type of sock that is unique to them.
Not only does this make matching easier, but it also helps you identify the lazy culprit who left his socks in the living room.
Wash jeans inside out to prevent fading.
Reduce friction and fading on your jeans by washing them inside out. Some say you can even freeze jeans to limit their washings. Haven’t tried it yet, but let me know!
Invest in drying racks, lingerie bags, and velvet hangers.
For the first 18 years of parenting, I rarely bought myself new clothes because I had little people who might muck it all up. Once I started to invest in nicer clothes for me and them, I found it worth it to also invest in drying racks, lingerie bags, and velvet hangers. All three make it easier for me to take care of fine washables the proper way.
Teach kids to help with the laundry as soon as possible.
I’m always surprised when I hear that Mom is doing all the laundry at her house. Unless this is something you REALLY REALLY LOVE TO DO, it’s time to stop it. Kids as young as two can help you load the machines, fold washcloths, sort clothes, and put things away in drawers.
Make it your mission in life to make sure your kids know how to do laundry. Not sure this is necessary? Go talk to the people who run your local laundromat and ask them about the college kids they see. Chances are they have seen plenty of clueless people when it comes to laundry.
Make your kids do their own laundry as soon as possible.
Once you’ve taught your kids to help with the laundry, make it your mission to let them do it themselves. This was a game-changer for me. About four years ago I finally got fed up with cajoling my older kids to come help, to come get their clothes, etc.
I decided I was done. I taught them how to use the machines, I wrote a laundry schedule, and I let them take care of their own laundry. I made it easy on myself, and you can, too.
Fold clothes as soon as the dryer is done.
Who wants wrinkled clothes? Who wants to fold laundry that’s been sitting for days? Take care of it while it’s hot and it’ll be so much easier.
Several smaller loads are easier to deal with than one ginormous pile.
Recently, I skipped a week of laundry. I can do this because I only do laundry for my husband and I. Apparently, we have enough underwear to last two weeks.
As nice as that might seem, I found it really annoying to do a double load this week. Everything took longer and felt like a chore. A week’s worth of clothes is pretty quick and easy to deal with. I’m for smaller loads from now on.
Change your systems when their effectiveness wanes.
Once you get your system smoothly running, you can bet that something will throw a wrench in it. That’s okay. That’s life. That’s laundry management for families. It’s ever-changing.
Enjoy a smooth-running system for as long as you can and then get ready to tweak it.
What are YOUR best tips for laundry management?
Originally published July 3, 2008. Updated February 5, 2018.