I have three kids and a lot of laundry. One person (or even two) in charge of the laundry for five people gets overwhelming very quickly, so last summer we completed the switch to our kids each doing their own laundry every week.
It didn’t happen overnight. We had been laying the groundwork for years by having the kids help with age-appropriate tasks along the way. Making these small investments up front really paid off later, when we were ready to let them take the reins.
Timeline for Laundry Introduction
Note: Learning to do laundry can be complex, and requires critical thinking skills and the physical ability to load and remove clothes from the machines. So take it slowly and upgrade tasks based on your individual child.
Here are some ideas for starting a laundry routine with your kids early.
As soon as your kids are able, by around age 2 or 3, have them start to put their clothes in a hamper in their room.
Around age 4 or 5, they can start helping on the front and back end of laundry day. Gathering clothes, sorting into light and dark, and matching socks are all great small tasks for them to take on.
From ages 6 to 9, they can start to put loads in the machine, switch loads to the dryer (if they can reach), and put away their own laundry. This is also a great time to start teaching folding methods if you have a preferred way. (Towels are a great place to begin.)
When you feel like your kiddo is reaching the age when they can start doing more, have them shadow you as you start and switch loads. Show them how to put in laundry detergent and any extras that you use (dryer balls, fabric softener, etc.). Don’t skip the basics – like how to turn the machine on in the first place! This is step one in the “teaching life skills” process I went over in my last blog.
When you’re ready to move to step two (working together), keep their first few loads simple. Towels (again!) are an easy way to let them get a win under their belt. (And most washers even come with towel setting to make it super simple.) Watch as they add detergent and start the load. Then check back in when they start the dryer. If they’ve already been taught folding before, let them do this part on their own.
Once they have been in charge of towels for a while, they can “graduate” to a more complex job, like washing everything they use each week: clothes, towels, bedding. At this point, you will need to get involved again (back to step 1) to go over the more conditional settings on the washer and dryer. Explain the settings you use for each type of load (lights vs. darks). Show them which types of clothing need to be washed or dried in a special way, and explain why.
*TIP* Make sure you have visual aids to help remind them of these different settings. Keep it simple; sticky notes taped to each machine are fine! I have three: one with settings for light loads, one with settings for darker loads, and one to remind them to add detergent.
After close monitoring for a few weeks (step two), start to let them do the process by themselves and just check in at the end (step three). If you notice the same issues cropping up repeatedly, add to your notes in the laundry room and go back to the monitoring phase for a few weeks, just to make sure they’ve got everything down. (Laundry mistakes can be expensive, so it’s ok to stay in stage two for a while!)
*REMINDER* Appliances don’t last forever; if you get a new one (like we did about six months ago; shout out to our friends at ADU!) remember to give everyone lessons on the new machine if it’s not identical to your old one.
Don’t Skip These Lessons
As your kids get older and encounter more diverse fabrics and laundry issues, introducing more skilled tasks like steaming and ironing, stain removal techniques, and practice trips to the dry cleaners and a laundromat will round out laundry lessons.
Also, be sure to cover:
- How to read a laundry tag. (Real Simple has a guide that you can print that explains what the symbols on clothing tags mean. Get it here.)
- How to empty the lint trap in the dryer. (So important for safety!)
(These are things you may want to add to your reminder notes displayed in the laundry room, too.)
Finally, there is an optional fourth step in the teaching process that may help your older kids really solidify any life skill they’re taught. The general process is “I do, We do, You do.” But teaching the skill really drives it home. If you feel comfortable, have your oldest teach the younger kids when they are ready. It’s great bonding time for them, helps your oldest practice yet another skill (and really get comfortable with the original task), and gives you even more time back in your schedule! Win-win-win!
More Laundry Tips
If you have the space, it’s a great idea to have one laundry basket for each person in the family. Label them! These can live in each person’s closet. When they get full, it’s laundry time! Alternatively, each person can have an assigned day to do their laundry or everyone can do a load during your Weekly Reset. Find the system that works best for your family.
I also keep a “hang up later” basket in my youngest child’s closet. When she is picking out an outfit, she may decide against wearing something but doesn’t have the time to rehang clothes. Instead of them going in the laundry basket (which kids tend to do), they can put them in the hang up later basket. Once a week (on their laundry day or your family reset day) help them rehang the clothes in this basket.
In general, it’s a good idea to evaluate the organization of your closets and the laundry room before you get started formally teaching kids to do laundry. Take everything out, edit and sort, and put it all back in a kid-friendly way. Think about the flow and what will make it easiest for them to get the job done. If you need help in these spaces, I’m just a quick note away. Setting up systems like this for a family is one of our favorite things to do!