The laundry mountain: It’s the bane of my existence, and that of every other parent I know. Why is simply cleaning and putting away clothes such a monumental task? Simple. It’s the worst.
As I embark on motherhood with my fourth child, I’ve seriously started to question how I will overcome this parenting and home organization hurdle, and come out the other side with some semblance of a plan for the next 18 years (not including the “mom I’m home from college to do my laundry” years, of course).
Everyone who does laundry can point to some part of the process that they hate the most. For me it’s the clean, folded clothes that need to be put away in specific drawers and closets — but instead lie in wait on what has become my “laundry couch.” Compounding the laundry challenge is my ongoing battle to get more of my family involved in the process. Asking a 6-year-old to put away a basket of laundry is akin to getting a root canal, but we persist. Luckily my husband has taken on the thankless job of carting baskets up and down the stairs daily — given that I’ve had a plethora of injuries and pregnancies over the past 7 years, that has been an immense help.
Looking for more ways to make laundry easier with a family of six, I turn, as always, to my online parenting community and a few organizational influencers who always have advice to save us from ourselves. Here are some of their tips that I’m hoping will help me reclaim my couch for resting, not folding.
Determine why laundry is such a sore subject in the first place.
I once tried to cut my whole family’s wardrobes down to five items per type (such as five shorts, five shirts, etc.) after reading some minimalist, capsule wardrobe-style Instagram inspiration. While it worked for a while, it ended up causing a headache when one of my kids would go through multiple outfits that day and I didn’t keep up with their few backup pairs. But the occasional challenge doesn’t mean it’s not worth sticking with. According to home organizer Faith Roberson of Organize with Faith, “laundry is a lot when you have a lot.” She explains that the less you have, the less you have to manage, which frees up more time. “I’m not convinced the challenge is laundry but our perception of it.”
Professional organizer Katrina T. Green, of Bad Ass Home Life, agrees, adding that too much stuff creates a problem. In addition, she says accessibility is a factor for some, because making your way to a laundromat or apartment basement to do multiple loads of laundry can be challenging. “When you have your own washer/dryer, it’s a lot easier to combine it with different tasks you have that day,” she says, putting my now-not-so-big problem into perspective, since I am able to wash and dry in my house. Time to stop complaining.
Prevent a major laundry traffic jam.
Another reason experts think laundry is such a nightmare is that you have to be perfectly consistent or it gets backed up, causing a traffic jam at each stage (moving to the dryer, sorting, folding, putting away, and on and on). Pia Thompson, Home Organizer and “Joy Finder,” says that you are “practically punished” if you don’t do laundry all the time, because when you finally do get to it, you end up with the monumental task of washing all the loads at once. “It’s very tempting to put that clean pile of clothes down on top of that chair in your bedroom and slowly back out of the room!” While I consider myself an organized person, I’m not a laundry machine who is perfectly consistent with doing multiple loads per day, hence the back up when you multiply it by six people. I’m here for all the laundry hacks.
To really get ahold of this problem, creating a schedule for yourself and sticking to it, whether it’s one load per day or a whole half day to do everything, can keep you from falling behind.
Thompson has a brilliant trick for sorting laundry. Do your sorting before the clothes ever make it to the laundry room. And even more, if you can teach your family to sort their items as they undress, you never have to worry about it on the other end of the process. For example, a three-section laundry bin in your kid’s room helps sorting “take care of itself,” Thompson suggests. The bins can be sorted by color, or tops, bottoms, and underwear/socks. “You can encourage them to treat it like a game, see how far back they can stand and still throw the clothing like a basketball into the hamper!” Hang on while I go shop for three-section hampers and round my kids up to try this right now. But the question remains, does my 2-year-old know a shirt from a pair of shorts? We shall see.
Do one load per day… completely.
You may have heard before about doing a load per day (it’s the whole, how do you eat an elephant metaphor… laundry style). But, define “do”? Doing a load of laundry shouldn’t stop at folding, our experts say, but rather moving them completely to their final destination, whether it’s a drawer, hanger, or closet. Vaishali Sahni, of Tiny and Tidy, says, “Doing the laundry as soon as we have a full load, is what works for our family. Since we’re a family of six, that usually means doing laundry five to six times per week. However, I only have to put away one load per day, which is much more manageable than dealing with five or six loads on a single day.”
Thompson adds that it’s time to accept this fact: “laundry isn’t done until it’s folded or hung up.” One side effect is that she explains warm clothes don’t hold wrinkles, so there’s a hidden benefit to putting them away quickly. She recommends passing the time folding while you are on the phone with an old friend.
As far as chores go, laundry gets a pretty bad rap. The tedious task is on the bottom of most people’s to-do lists, and you would be lying if you said you’ve never waited until you’ve run out of underwear to finally do a load of laundry. (We’re all friends here; you can be honest.)
Still, it’s just one of those things that has to get done, and I’m all about figuring out ways to make life’s must-dos a little bit more palatable. Enter: these tips designed to make your next load of laundry quicker, more effective, and — yes — even pleasant.
Reserve Your Fave Podcast or Book
To help psych yourself up for doing laundry, save a much-loved form of entertainment just for the task. “I bank episodes of my favorite true-crime podcast for laundry day,” says Caitlin Thomson of Putnam Valley, New York. “Listening to something distracting and enjoyable makes folding go by so much faster.”
Inject Personality into Your Laundry Space
Laundry day will feel like way less of a chore if you’re not closed off in some sad, dim, forgotten room of your home. If you have machines at home, whether they’re in a dedicated room or just a hall closet, spice up that zone with a bold pop of color or a touch of plant life. “I’m a plant mom through-and-through and believe that plants (even faux ones) belong in every room, including your laundry room,” says Kenika Williams, professional organizer and owner of Tidied by K. “It’ll dress up your space and make it a more inviting environment to spend time in.”
Doodle on Your Appliances
Nothing sinks your stomach more than realizing you accidentally tossed your favorite air-dry-only top into the dryer by mistake. The key to keeping all your cycles in sync? A dry-erase marker. “If there’s anything I have to take out of the washer to hang dry before transferring the load into the dryer, I write myself a note directly onto my machine with a dry-erase marker — that way, there’s no forgetting,” says Amber Casillas of Washington, D.C. To add an extra playful touch, choose markers in fun colors or leave notes of encouragement for the next poor soul — ahem, laundry warrior — who uses the machine.
Customize Your Own Laundry Scent
Scribble Out Grease Stains
Though there are tons of effective products on the market for treating everything from stains to mildew, sometimes useful ones are options you haven’t even considered. Exhibit A: chalk. “At my house, any stubborn grease stains get treated with chalk,” says Allison Bottenhofer of New York City. “I’ll scribble chalk on top of the stain, let it sit for a bit, then add a bit more before throwing it in the laundry.” While this is honestly probably really satisfying even for an adult to do, it’s a great task to get children involved in. (Look, kids: Chores can be fun!) Just don’t be surprised if they start drawing all over your jeans. Don’t worry: It will wash off (duh).
Grant Yourself Some You-Time
Instead of feeling like you’re shackled to the washer and dryer while making your way through laundry loads, use the chore as an excuse to build a little me-time into your schedule. The average wash cycle is around 40 to 50 minutes, so squeeze in some TLC for yourself while your clothes tumble. “I do my laundry once a week and use that time as a self-care ritual,” says Shelley Brown of New York City. “I face mask and sometimes even whiten my teeth while my stuff is in the wash.” Whatever your form of ahhhhh — meditation, a bit of couch time with a magazine, or a quick walk with your dog — gift yourself the freedom to do it during the wash cycle. Who knows? You may even start looking forward to laundry day.
Having sensitive skin isn’t just a health issue; it’s a lifestyle. It can impact what cosmetics you buy and what materials you wear. It can even influence the way you do your laundry — if you’re not making special adjustments to your washing and drying routine, you could be setting yourself up for even more irritation.
“For people with sensitive skin, anything can trigger inflammation, dryness, contact dermatitis, and other skin irritations,” says board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics. “Laundry detergent, fabric softeners, and even dryer sheets contain ingredients that can affect your skin.” As a result, Dr. Rodney says, “doing laundry the right way means taking steps to ensure your clothing does not cause allergic reactions or even breakouts.”
Clearly, you’re not born knowing how to do laundry, and you’re definitely not born knowing how to do so while navigating sensitive skin. Here, dermatologists and people with sensitive skin break down their hacks for washing loads without irritation.
And if you’ve tried these tricks and you’re still struggling with sensitive skin flares, talk to your dermatologist. They should be able to offer personalized advice to help you get relief.
“Your laundry detergent may be the culprit for your skin issues,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Fragrances and dyes in traditional laundry detergents can cause a rash known as allergic contact dermatitis, he says, pointing out that “this is the same type of rash that you can get from fragrances and other personal care products.” Cue the itching and skin discomfort.
When picking out a laundry detergent, Dr. Rodney recommends looking for something marked as “fragrance free.” “That subtle change can make a big difference,” she says. While you’re at it, Dr. Rodney suggests trying to avoid ingredients dioxane, ammonium quaternary sanitizers, and sulfates and phthalates. To check your detergent for dioxane, look for “1,4 dioxane” or “diethylene dioxide.” Ammonium quaternary sanitizers will usually show up as ingredients that end with “ammonium chloride,” while companies will usually advertise if they’re sulfate- and phthalate-free. Just a heads-up: Some detergents list their ingredients on the label, while others require you to look them up on the company’s website.
Watch how much soap you’re using.
“My skin is so sensitive, I’ll be uncomfortable all day if too much soap is left in my clothes,” says Los Angeles resident and public speaker Daphne O’Neal.
It might seem minor, but the amount of detergent you toss in with your laundry matters. “Overdosing your detergent in your washing machine can be a problem,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This causes the detergent molecules to become trapped within the fibers of the textile, leading to a direct irritation when it touches your skin.”
And it can happen even if you use a fragrance- and dye-free detergent, Dr. Zeichner says. His advice: “Follow instructions on how much detergent to use or use the premeasured pods.”
Avoid dryer sheets and fabric softeners.
Dryer sheets and fabric softeners are created with the intention of enhancing your clothes, but Dr. Rodney explains that they use a combination of fragrances, dyes, and surfactants (molecules designed to penetrate your clothes) and, “unfortunately, these can trigger skin allergies or skin irritations,” she says. (Many people steer clear of these types of products, even without sensitive skin.)
Alex Varela, general manager of Dallas Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas, says she has “very sensitive skin,” and is also allergic to fragrance, making dryer sheets and fabric softeners out of the question. You don’t need to resign yourself to a life with stiff clothes, though. “I like using vinegar instead of fabric softener,” Varela says. “It does the job and leaves no fragrance, nor creates any allergic reaction.”
Many newer washing machines give you the option of adding an extra rinse cycle to your load. If you have sensitive skin, Dr. Rodney says this is a good feature to take advantage of. “A second rinse cycle gets rid of lingering soap particles,” she explains.
O’Neal uses this hack with her laundry. “I usually set the washer for an extra rinse,” she says. “But if I make a mistake and use too much soap in the first place, I may have to go for a third rinse.”
Wash new clothes before you wear them.
It’s tempting to just throw on new clothes when you get them, but Dr. Rodney says it’s crucial to wash them first to rinse off any chemicals, dyes, allergens, or bacteria that may be lingering on the surface. “If you don your new threads without washing them, these chemicals can leak onto your skin thanks to sweat,” Dr. Rodney says. And this is particularly the case for people with sensitive skin, who could feel irritated “right away,” she notes.
Wear gloves when you handle laundry.
Dirt, allergens, and other gunk can lurk on clothes when they’re dirty. You may also not want to directly touch your laundry products, even if they’re made for sensitive skin. That’s why some people wear gloves when they do the wash. “It’s the only way to avoid any contact with laundry products and prevent irritations on my hands,” says Monica Davis, a hairstylist who says she’s “extremely sensitive” to detergents.
“Wearing gloves is a great idea if your hands are prone to irritation or allergic contact dermatitis,” Dr. Rodney says. “This is especially true if you’re washing some pieces by hand with harsh soaps or laundry detergent.”
Keep your laundry isolated from your household’s.
If the rest of your family prefers a harsher detergent or likes a scented variety, you’ll want to do your laundry apart from theirs, says Dr. Rodney. It’s also a good plan to keep your clean laundry separate, “as fragrance particles can rub off from one clothing or linen item to another,” she says. Meaning, you probably want to store your clean towels and sheets independent of the rest of your family’s linens, too.
One area where you can comingle laundry: your dirty hampers. “It’s not as important that you store your dirty laundry separately because it’s going to get washed in any case,” Dr. Rodney says.