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How to get kids to do their own laundry

Kids' sports can produce the toughest laundry!
Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller

With four kids, the laundry is a never-ending cycle, and I recently realized that by continuing to do it all on my own I was doing myself and my kids a disservice. My oldest, an athlete who is college-bound next year, produces the most laundry and will soon have to do it on her own. So I decided it was time to get not only her, but her younger siblings, on board with doing their own laundry. These changes all occurred within the last month, so I can attest that this process can be put in place rather quickly, with lasting changes. If you follow these steps, you will soon find yourself with more time on your hands, as well as a reduced energy bill.

1. Give each child their own laundry basket.

I purchased three white plastic “laundry sorting bins”, which look like hampers but have handles and can easily be carried up and down the stairs. I placed these in the rooms of the three teenage children (ages 13, 15, and 16). The youngest, age 7, does not yet have her own laundry basket; she puts her dirty laundry in the master bathroom with mine and her dad’s.

2. Remove the ‘family laundry basket’.

There used to be one laundry basket in the main bathroom. This was removed and each child was instructed that they were not to leave dirty laundry in the bathroom. This means that each child takes responsibility for the laundry they produce, including used towels.

3. Teach each child how to wash and dry their clothes.

People learn best by doing things themselves. Show them which washing cycles to use, what water level to choose, and how much detergent to use. Similarly, show them what cycles to use for the dryer. They might have to be shown a few times before they ‘get’ it.

4. Resist the urge to do the family’s laundry.

Let the kids’ hampers overflow if they delay doing their laundry. They will soon realize that no one else is going to do their laundry. They will run out of socks, or underwear, or want to wear their favorite shirt again. Normally by the time the laundry reaches the top of the hamper, they will decide to do it, without being nagged.

4. Follow up on the appliance ‘cycles’.

Kids will need to be reminded to take their laundry out of the washer, put it in the dryer, and take it out. This is the part that will need some fine-tuning, as the kids might all want to do their laundry at the same time, or conveniently leave it to you. Teach them how to time the cycles so that they are available to follow through once they start. Do not do it for them if they leave it in the washer or dryer. If they go to bed or leave the house and their laundry is in the way of you doing theirs, take it out of the appliance and place it in the basket for them to follow through later; they will learn.

5. Decide how you will handle your ‘white’ wash.

If you are a believer in bleaching your ‘whites’ separately, you will have to decide on a system for this. Because most laundry is colored, I find that only one white wash is only needed for the whole family each week. Therefore I have the kids put their whites into one sorting bin, and I do this part myself.


I found that this system drastically cuts down on the amount of laundry produced by the family. Knowing that they have to do their own laundry, they think twice before putting something in the bin. This results in reduced energy costs for you. It also gives you more free time, and teaches them a valuable independent life skill.

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