Oh, the never-ending cycle of family laundry. Let it slip just once and suddenly that pile of dirty laundry magically triples in size! Building an efficient family laundry system helps save so much unnecessary laundering time, and as your family grows, so does the need for a planned-out system.
If you’re constantly overwhelmed by laundry, it’s time to take a step back and properly plan how you should be managing your family’s laundry.
Let’s start with the basics.
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Creating the perfect family laundry system and routine
There are so many systems and routines out there with a lot of overlap and differences, but one cookie-cutter system or routine isn’t going to cut it for most families.
Instead, we need to answer each of the following questions to create a complete family laundry system that works:
- How will dirty laundry be stored and organized?
- How will our laundry be washed and dried?
- How will our laundry be put away?
- Who is responsible for what?
- What schedule works best?
These questions can be answered by taking parts of what will work best for our family from other existing systems.
This is what makes the best family laundry system because it’s catered to our family’s needs.
Let’s jump right into it!
How should you store your family’s laundry?
How we organize our laundry will make a dramatic difference in how a family laundry system comes together. Some approaches work better for smaller families and some are better for large ones. Here are the 4 main ways to sort and organize dirty laundry.
1. Hamper(s) for each family member
Each person gets a hamper to fill with all of their dirty clothes. This laundry sorting system is great for medium-to-large-sized families because it removes the need to sort clothing by each family member after a load is complete. If there is no sorting to be done before washing clothing, it’s a fast and simple method. Simply bring the hamper with clean clothing back to the room to be put away!
2. Collective family hamper(s)
One or more hampers are to be used by everyone in the home. Hampers are placed in communal areas like bathrooms or laundry rooms. They can also be placed on different floors to avoid having to up and down stairs. Some families do one single hamper, while others do multiple with success.
This is a great system for smaller families who don’t sort laundry before washing, and since sorting clean clothing is faster with fewer people to sort for, you end up with all family laundry done in one go!
3. Sorted hampers by each family member
Great for smaller families who want to sort by color, type, or otherwise. Sorted hampers have multiple pockets to sort your laundry as you fill it, rather than having to do it all at once. This saves you the time of sorting before and after.
4. Sorted collective family hampers
Have you considered a sorted hamper in one common space such as the laundry room? You would have bins or hampers that are labeled by how you’d like to sort laundry for washing (whites, darks, jeans, etc) and everyone in the family adds to those hampers based on how they’ve been sorted.
This is a popular choice for large families because it greatly reduces the overall loads that are needed. Though, sorting the clean laundry by family member is still needed.
To sort or not to sort family laundry
Can you imagine sorting all of your laundry by the tags on each piece of clothing? You would end up with so many very small piles of laundry, which would take forever to get done. On the other hand, if you mix everything in a large load you will be efficient, but you risk losing the advantages that sorting provides for your clothes.
The trick is finding the right balance.
One question to ask yourself is “do I struggle most with putting laundry away or getting loads done?” If you struggle with putting laundry away, having unsorted loads will be more difficult for you. If you struggle with keeping on top of your loads, having fewer loads will benefit you!
Sorted family laundry
People sort laundry because it helps preserve the quality of clothing as much as possible. You can quickly sort loads before laundering or have them already sorted for you by using a sorted hamper.
Sorting is most efficient when also using sorted hampers for each family member because no sorting time is needed before and after a load is complete.
The most common ways to sort are:
- By color
It’s said that separating laundry by color can keep your colors vibrant and clothing looking new. It can be separated by darks, lights, reds, and/or whites.
- By fabric type and wash cycle
Laundry can also be sorted by wash cycle to protect against damage on more sensitive clothing. This means sorting by normal / cotton, perm press/synthetics, delicates, or quick wash. Many people also separate jeans.
- By level of dirtiness
Most clothing should be washed in cooler water, but oily dirty work clothes, muddy toddler clothes, soiled cloth diapers, and used underwear are all things you may want to wash in hotter water, separately. It mostly comes down to personal preference here, but the more bacteria the garment has, the hotter the water should be!
- By drying method
Have a lot of clothing that you prefer to air dry or only need a light tumble dry in the dryer? You can also separate laundry by how it needs to be dried to avoid having to sort it after a wash when everything is wet.
Unsorted or mixed family laundry
That’s right, you don’t need to sort. You can simply remove this altogether from your laundry routine to simplify the process if your goal is to save time.
Unsorted loads are best paired with a one-hamper-per-person-or-family approach.
For years I had stopped separating laundry by color and fabric type for my family without noticing any loss in quality or signs of visible dye transfer in our whites or light colors.
Washing unsorted laundry
Just be sure to wash your clothing in cool or cold water instead of hot, and dry in low-heat gentle cycles to protect the quality of more delicate clothing that may be mixed in (plus it’s just better for your clothing anyway!)
Remember to always separate newer dark clothing to be washed separately, and if you know something will bleed feel free to separate those. You can occasionally pull all of the whites together to treat them to help keep them looking fresher and more vibrant.
CLOTH DIAPERING? Find out exactly how many you need with these unique factors in mind!
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TIP: You can also use color catchers if you’re afraid of bleeding colors in the wash. They help absorb and trap loose dyes in your wash water.
In almost all cases, household laundry like towels, dishcloths, kitchen rags, small rugs, chair pillows, dog beds, shower curtains, and more is separated from everyday clothing loads. However, some families wash and dry towels and even dishcloths along with their clothing and it works for them!
Washing and drying clothes
You should include washing and drying procedures in your family laundry system. Here’s how:
Set standard protocols
Decide how you’re going to wash each load based on how you’ve sorted your laundry.
This is especially helpful when children help with their own laundry, but even if you’re the only one handling all of the family laundry, you may run into times when someone else has to step in and run a load without you. Having a stated way of how you want your loads washed will ensure your laundry system doesn’t get thrown out of whack.
RELATED: Facing smelly cloth diapers? See our best guide to keeping cloth diapers stink-free
Here’s a great time-saving trick I learned years ago: as I finish a load, if I notice a stain on an item of clothing I will put it aside until the next load so I can treat it then!
Folding & returning family laundry
If you mix your family’s laundry, you will need to sort your clean laundry before delivering them to their rightful rooms.
However, if each person has a hamper(s), then you can place clean laundry right back into them before returning them!
Either way, delivering laundry back to their homes is only half the battle here.
Traditional laundry folding
When you fold laundry, you optimize the space within your drawer or closet, making things much easier to find.
Finding a routine that you enjoy makes all the difference in making sure you fold your clean laundry. I take our clean laundry somewhere comfy and fold it away as I watch TV, YouTube, or listen to a podcast. It flies by!
But did you know you can completely forego folding altogether?
The no-fold laundry system
The no-fold laundry system is essentially the practice of placing clean laundry directly into its intended drawer or storage area, unfolded. This works particularly well for children but adults do it too.
Though clothing is put away unfolded, it’s still organized well. For example, you may organize no-fold laundry into drawers by clothing types like pants, shirts, pajamas, socks and underwear, sweaters, and church or work clothes.
What about wrinkles? It doesn’t happen as long as it’s not packed too tight and clothes are not placed all crinkled up in a ball.
If you have young children this is an excellent way to get them involved and have them help with laundry. Even a 2-year-old can help store away their clothing this way!
Who’s responsible for what?
Next is deciding who will or will not be involved in getting family laundry done. You can do it all yourself or include the rest of the family!
Should your husband do laundry?
This depends on every family, of course, but if your husband is taking part in laundry duties, he must be fully onboard with the same system and schedule.
My personal opinion is that if your husband works full-time while you work on the home and children, it’s expected that you would take care of basic household duties like laundry.
But it can be challenging if you work full-time hours and are also expected to keep laundry at bay, so having your husband help out is a great option.
No matter the decision, the important part is being on the same page.
Getting children involved
Here’s the thing. You could (and should) teach your capable children to handle their own laundry, but at the end of the day, you are the one accountable for making sure your laundry system is a success.
They are responsible for taking care of the tasks expected of them. But as the accountable one, you are still the one taking ownership of the results. If someone is behind, you need to be the one to remind them and enforce the system. If someone needs help, you are the one who needs to step in and teach.
Otherwise, this system is bound to fall off track.
When assigning capable, older children to their laundry you need to very clearly lay out what is expected of them. Walk them through the entire laundry process 2-3 times by actually doing it with them before letting them try it on their own. Always be there to help when needed.
Once you have a schedule, make sure they see it daily and remind them, again and again, and again as needed. They are developing children, and responsibilities and habits take time to form!
If you do it yourself it’s much faster, but with some up-front, you will benefit long term and they’ll learn both personal responsibility and an important life skill.
Involving younger children in a family laundry system
If you want to teach your children how to handle their laundry but they’re not quite old enough to do it all, they can still help out in small ways.
Children over 5 years old are all capable of folding, and children as young as 2 can start helping by (very slowly) adding clothes to the washer or dryer with you, clicking the buttons once settings have been set, sorting clothes, and more. It’s great to encourage their interest. Be patient and include them in the process young.
Doing it all yourself
Sometimes you don’t have a choice and you have to do it all yourself. Sometimes homemakers just like doing laundry. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with handling all the family laundry yourself.
Changing the way you look at the task of doing laundry can change your relationship with it.
I see doing laundry as a way to care for and show love to the rest of my family. I always have my toddler help me (more like she insists!) so it becomes precious bonding time for us.
Being disciplined and holding yourself accountable is so important and yet so hard to do, but there are things you can do to help like setting up phone alert reminders and posting schedules in visible locations. You can do it!
Family laundry schedules
How often you need to do your family laundry will depend on different factors, like family size and the age of your children.
If you’re mixing all family laundry into one unsorted load, your schedule will be simple and repeat every day or two.
Regardless, you do need a schedule and it should be visibly posted in a high-traffic area like the fridge and the laundry room, or post it to a digital family calendar. This way everyone knows who’s on the hook for the day (if others are helping), or whose laundry will be done that day, or it will simply help keep you accountable with reminders.
There are a few approaches you can take when crafting your family laundry schedule.
One load a day family laundry schedule
Each day of the week a load of laundry is done, only needing 20 minutes of active laundry time a day rather than spending an entire day or two doing laundry. This is a great approach if you struggle with building habits because it’s so consistent.
- For unsorted hampers by family member
Each family member’s load is designated a day of the week. For especially large families, days of the week can be bucketed into “groups.” For example, one day of the week could be designated for two family members instead of one.
- For sorted hampers by family member
All loads would be done each day for one designated person.
- For unsorted family hampers
Wash the accumulated laundry every day or every other day, filling in gap days with household laundry like bedding, dish towels, etc.
- For sorted family hampers
Each day of the week is designated to a load like “all whites,” “all jeans” etc.
Don’t forget to designate a day or two for household laundry like towels, bedding, cloths, etc. Some homemakers also plan a day into their laundry schedule that’s free of any laundry!
Once-a-week family laundry schedule
Some people prefer to get their laundry done all at once and out of the way for the week. It can sometimes take 1-2 days to catch up on laundry when using this approach for a whole family, but it just works better for certain personality types!
Apparently, people who tackle laundry a little at a time are more likely to be energized after cleaning, and people who tackle it all at once are left feeling more accomplished.
Tips for keeping on top of a family laundry schedule
Keep that schedule visible
Staying on schedule is the secret to staying on track, which is why I recommended having visual reminders posted in high-traffic areas for everyone to see as well as adding it to any family or digital calendars you use.
Set reminders on your phone
Once the laundry is started, it’s especially important to be aware of how long each load will take when you have multiple loads to go through in one day. You also don’t want to forget about your laundry in the washer and come back to smelly, damp clothing! Set reminders on your phone to make sure loads are fully completed on time.
Attach new habits to existing habits
I find it easier to build a new habit when I tie it to other already existing habits. For example, I throw in a load of laundry as part of my morning routine just before heading downstairs, and when trekking my 2-year-old up for her mid-day nap I will transfer that daily load into the dryer.
Make it obvious that laundry is in process
Keeping the hamper inside the laundry room or even outside of the laundry area, visible to you as you go about your day, are two great ways to remind yourself that laundry is in process.
When you go to change clothes and notice there is no hamper, it’s a good reminder that laundry is being done or may need to be tended to.
Another option is to use a flippable sign that you can see as you go about your day, but I find that the first approach works best, especially for younger ones.
My family’s laundry system
Now onto my family laundry system! It’s taken a lot of trial and error over the years to get to a system that works well for us.
Our hamper situation
My husband and I share a sorted 3-slot laundry hamper in our bedroom. My two daughters each have a laundry hamper (unsorted) in their rooms. I also have a laundry hamper in our laundry room for towels or for collecting bedding, and a bin for collecting dirty cloth diapers.
There’s a bin for dirty dish towels and rags in the kitchen as well.
How I sort my family’s laundry
I sort our clothing by whites & lights, my husband’s work clothes, everything else (including jeans), then socks and underwear. I do not sort laundry for my two daughters (with the obvious exception of cloth diapers for my youngest.)
All bedding is done together in one load every month. All bath towels are collected and washed approximately every 2 weeks. Dish towels and kitchen rags are washed every month or so together (I have a large stash). Cloth diapers are washed every 2 days.
Wash & dry
I wash all loads in a cool wash cycle with a low-heat delicate drying cycle.
Occasionally I will take all the whites out of the “whites & lights” sorted pile and treat them separately, and wash the lights with the “everything else” pile.
I wash towels, kitchen cloths, shower curtains, and other household laundry in a long, hot wash and dry cycle to keep them fluffy and fresh.
Folding & returning clothes
I hang up all shirts and pants for my husband and myself. Shorts, old t-shirts, and PJs use the no-fold method while sweaters get put away folded. Socks are paired together while underwear is thrown in. I use a mix of methods here!
My daughters’ PJs do not get folded. I roll up pants and hang nicer shirts and one-piece outfits like dresses or rompers. I fold everything else!
My family’s laundry schedule
- Every 2 weeks on Mondays I do towels, with every other Monday alternating between bedding or kitchen rags and dish towels.
- On Tuesdays, our daughters’ loads are done.
- Wednesday is when I do my husband and I’s largest pile, the unsorted “everything else” pile.
- Whites & lights for my husband and I get laundered on Thursday.
- Saturday is dedicated to my husband’s work clothes since the work week is over.
- Sunday is a catch-up day for any slacking done through the week or a day off of laundry!