Laundry may be the most Sisyphean of household chores: Unless everyone in your house is stark naked, it’s literally never done. That’s why, when my son turned 11, I decided he could do his own laundry.
That’s right, he washes, dries, folds and puts away his own clothes. Reactions to this news from other moms fall into one of three categories:
- How can I get my kid to do that?
- That would never work in my house.
- You are a terrible mother, and I bet your kid looks like a slob. (They say this with facial expressions, not words. Usually.)
If you’re interested in delegating some of your household laundry to the creatures who create it, here are some hints on why, how and when to get kids doing their own laundry.
Why it’s worth a try:
- Well, obviously, it’s easier on you. When I started working in an office after several years of working from home, I needed more help from the family to stay on top of the housework. That’s when we each took responsibility for our own clothes.
- Kids who do their own laundry are more cognizant of how much laundry they’re generating, creating less unnecessary washing. My son was in the habit of going through three pairs of socks throughout the day and often as many outfits, but he quickly changed his ways when he had to wash it all.
- I’m not a stickler for chores, but I do feel it’s good for kids to contribute to the smooth functioning of the household. I knew a twentysomething guy who didn’t know how to load a dishwasher – I don’t mean he was bad at it, I mean he literally didn’t know where to begin – and that has served as a cautionary tale for my parenting. I have no wish to raise a prince.
- Knowing their way around a washer and dryer will prevent kids from ruining their clothes in the dorm laundromat when they go to college. I recall laundry-challenged freshman boys looking like dorks in pink-splotched white T-shirts and shrunken sweaters, or sporting something absurdly dressy because nothing else was clean. Let’s call it an investment in their independence.
Some common concerns and ways to deal with them:
- “My kids just won’t do it.” Well, sure they will, if you don’t step in to bail them out. It helps to roll out the policy around the time they start caring about what they wear and how they look. If you truly feel that your kid would be content wearing dirty clothes every day, maybe she’s not ready. In our house, allowance isn’t doled out until the laundry’s done (AND put away – this is important) so that’s a powerful motivator.
- “They’ll ruin their clothes, or the laundry room.” Start them out with their play clothes and pajamas instead of their Sunday best or school uniforms, then build up to the rest as you (and your kids) gain confidence. Show them how to load a washer without overstuffing it, and eliminate concerns about too much detergent with a super-easy
pump bottle brand such as Method. Four pumps for each load is easy to remember – it says it right on the bottle – and the container makes spills impossible. Because I’m not wild about my kid pouring bleach, not to mention the fact that he doesn’t have enough whites to make a full load, I do his whites along with mine. (But he folds them!) I also made the laundry process foolproof by marking the correct settings for kids clothes right on the washer and dryer. I used Sharpie to mark the preferred setting on the machine, but you could use a bit of colorful tape if that galls you.
- “They’ll slack off and won’t have what they need when they need it.” Ease them into the responsibility by asking, perhaps on Sunday afternoon, to check and see if they have everything they need for the week. (Or check for yourself, at first, if you prefer.) The important part is not to swoop in and proactively wash that field trip T-shirt or favorite skirt for the dance – just remind them what the consequences will be if they don’t have what they need.
- “They’ll look sloppy, because they won’t do as good a job as I would.” Quite possible. How much does that matter to you? Besides, no one said you had to stop ironing.
- “I will feel like a bad mom.” If you truly feel this is part of your motherly duties, launder away. But this is hardly Cinderella territory. You’re not making them wash the whole family’s clothes, mop the floors, and muck out the stalls before dawn. However, I expunge my mommy guilt by taking responsibility for the family’s sheets/towels/table linens and white loads, so I’m still doing more laundry than anyone else in the house.
Tips for success
- Cover the rookie mistakes. Yes, two wash loads will fit in the dryer – but they won’t actually dry, as everyone who spent $9 in quarters on this in college knows. Teach them how to do a rough sort of lights and darks, but also that washing in cold water helps prevent shrinking.
- Establish rules for folding and putting away, and have consequences if those rules are broken. Is it OK for them to dress out of a laundry basket of clean clothes, or will it drive you nuts? Establish the rules accordingly. Same goes for how neatly clothes need to be folded and put away.
- Lower your standards. Do socks absolutely have to be matched before they’re put away? Do basketball shorts have to be folded? Of course it’s up to you, but pick your battles. We streamlined the process by eliminating dressers and only hanging what absolutely must hang: pants, dress shirts, etc. Almost everything goes in open-topped canvas bins.
- What will you do if your kid announces he or she has no clean underwear on a school morning? I’m not saying there’s a right way to handle this, but it’s worth thinking through what you can stomach to drive the point home. It might sound complicated, but in truth, you might be surprised that if you let something go that makes your skin crawl (like fishing a beloved T-shirt out of hamper for an encore, or inside-out underwear), they’ll decide all on their own that it’s gross and won’t do it again.
- A radical idea: Have fewer clothes. When laundry isn’t so overwhelming, it’s easier to tackle, and fewer outfits means kids have to do laundry every week or so, and it becomes part of their routine. It also makes putting away easier – no struggling with overstuffed dresser drawers. Culling an outsized wardrobe down to their favorites can eliminate headaches in the long run.
21 thoughts on “My Tween Does Laundry. Yours Can, Too”
My SIL started her boys at 8 on laundry.
YES! Tweens can help with the laundry! Kids much younger can help with a lot of things around the house. It not only helps the parents but helps the kids in many ways. Having the kids helps teaches responsibility and ownership. It also give them a sense of independence.
I also totally agree that you should not expect perfection especially at first. Way to go!
I started doing my own laundry when I was 12 because I was sick of waiting for my mother to get around to doing it and I wanted particular clothes that were in the dirty laundry. My mother’s harping on how to clean my laundry were actually much less helpful than anything. She was big on scrubbing and prewashing in the sink. I went out and bought stain spray (this was like 1992, they were new) and cut my time in half. I haven’t scrubbed anything since. I also sort my laundry by type rather than color as they dry more uniformly – and I’ve never owned anything that shrunk or bled. I’ve ruined 2 pairs of pants – which was an early on bleach lesson and I screwed up my partner’s laundry in college as I hadn’t thought to separate out a red shirt since I never do.. I was shocked in college that most people hadn’t ever done their own laundry!
I’ve also been folding laundry since I was able to, probably around 3-4 years old for socks and underwear.
My kids have all done their own laundry since they could reach then controls – about 8 years old.
Oh, and they each have a weekly chore, such as cleaning a bathroom or being responsible for the dishwasher that week.
They are all responsible adults now. It was a good decision and one they have thanked me for making.
YES!!! I feel strongly about this one. I started doing my own laundry around age 12 and it was a great confidence-builder (though I still made the $9-in-quarters error in college). Can’t wait til my kids are big enough to start this 🙂
Awesome post! It’s time to have my 7 and 9 year old sons to do a little more here. They already fold (and that’s a sight to see, but I won’t complain) their play clothes. They can certain sort and wash. I work on the church and scouting clothes, but they can handle the rest.
My boys started being responsible for their own laundry at about age 10. This was especially important once they started playing team sports at school–they learned it was their responsibility to be sure all parts of the uniform were ready to go. My eldest still does his own laundry–sorting and spot cleaning. The youngest puts everything in at once in cold water. (I had to get over it.) It’s a great time saver for the adults and a great skill builder for the kids.
We still have problems with bedwetting with my 7 yr old son. I got tired of doing his wet laundry, and refuse to buy him goodnights anymore . Soooo, he does his own sheets and wet clothes now. He’s pretty happy to do it actually. Yep I’m a horrible slave driver mom.
That reminds me of a friend who taught her two sons to aim better when peeing by having them clean up their bathroom messes on their own. They learned in a hurry!
I think another response to being a “good mommy” is the role of passing on crucial information! I think I started doing laundry, ironing, and mowing the lawn around 13 and my older sister was actually mad because she didn’t know how! (Hey, I asked!)
I’m a big believer in teaching kids the skills they need for when they are on their own, and teaching it early. This is a wonderful article! (I especially love the idea of marking the machine for the right settings, why didn’t I think of that?)
This is great! I started doing laundry around 12 and wound up asking my mother to not do my laundry. Then it turned into something of a complex, but now I’ve got it “ironed” out. But as an adult with a laundry challenged roommate, I wish this was just common sense advice. Of course a 12 year old should be able to do laundry in a machine that’s specifically designed to make laundry fast and easy!
No bragging, but stating as fact. Our 6 year old helps us with more house chores than just laundry (although laundry was his first). We never obligated him to partake in these duties, he simply saw how both me and my wife took turns with these tasks and he naturally wanted to help. We instructed and taught him the basics, how to separate whites from colors, heat settings, dryer settings and so forth. He now does it couple times a week and so far so good. He also help us do the dishes. He knows what can go in it, how to hand-rinse, what belongs in the lower drawer and upper drawer and so forth. He still not very good at folding the clothes once they’re done in the dryer, but he’ll get the hang of it sooner or later. He also takes the trash to the trash can outside and he is expected to keep his room in decent shape (i.e. not super tidy or anything, but he is expected to put his toys away after he’s done playing with them).
I believe all kids have a lot of potential, you just have to know and take the time to harness them. And in households such as ours with very little family close by, that sort of help actually has a great impact on the whole family.
Amen! Preschoolers can learn to put away their clothes. By 6 or 7 they are old enough to help sort by color (or even earlier since it is educational!) It is helpful to supervise the first few loads, but once they have the skill they can handle their own.
Mine also learned to do all the dishes. The rule in my home is that the person who cooks doesn’t have to clean the kitchen. We made a list of all the things that needed to be done after dinner and they just follow the list.
Sadly, now that they are 16 and 18, they rarely actually do the dishes – of course they aren’t home for dinner either. Way too many school activities. We now eat without them most of the time and they eat when they come in from school.
My mother had my brother and I doing laundry at 7 yrs old and doing our own ironing at 10. She also had my brother and I make dinner twice a week. Menu had to be planned in advance so she could shop for ingredients. At the time I hated it, but now am so glad she did it.
My mom taught me to do laundry at a young age and now that I am a dad I am doing the same with my kids. My oldest two who are 5 and 7 are expected to help carry sort their own clothes and they have to fold and put away all of their own laundry. My 2yo likes to push the buttons and carry things too.
At first there were cries of “too hard” since we don’t let them do a rushed job on it. Once they figured out that the sooner they get the chore done the sooner they can play, it became easier.
I am proud of them and it’s working out well.
My older son started to wet through his diaper during the night and so I decided he would learn to wash his sheets. So I made a pictorial instruction sheet for him to follow. It had everything numbered since I knew he could count and he was able to follow it. So in the morning he would bring down his sheets (full size bed) & blankets and would start the wash. He would then transfer to the dryer. That evening he would help to put the sheets back on his bed. Routine was repeated most nights for about a year until he was able to have full bladder control.
Now the most interesting thing was that my older son decided to teach my younger son how to do the laundry, using his sheet!!! So at age 6 and 4, my sons were able to do the laundry. I had front load machines so they were easily able to reach things. In addition, they help with the normal wash too. They don’t have to do their own laundry, but they do have to help with all aspects of the laundry, the dishes, cleaning their bathroom, and the latest was to learn to clean their soiled clothes with gloves and a scrub brush.
I think the key is that I share with them that this is part of normal life. We all have to do these things and they too need to help. I have no guilt about them learning and helping maintain a household. I just wonder what will happen when they become teens?!
I saw the photo of the marks on the washer and immediately had flashbacks to my mom putting pen marks on the washer and dryer so my sister and I could do our own laundry. I’ll admit we were both in college before we mastered the fold it part, but we were able to climb up on the dryer and do the wash with no problem. My kids are a bit young to run the washer, just yet, but they started folding their clothes (all of them as they didn’t have a closet rod until a couple months ago) from the age of 3.
As soon as they got that “can I help you” phase going, they started folding underwear and pants. By 4.5 my oldest could fold her shirts and her sister just started being able to do that when we rearranged their room and put in a sudo closet. Only the master bedroom has a closet in our house, and the rooms are too small for a wardrobe if you want a bed to fit. I love that they do this themselves. My 2 year old son will be a completely different challenge.
The other thing that helps us, is to wash their clothes on a set day each week, that way there is never “that much” to do.
My Mom has everyone bring down their clothes everyday and we would run a small load, no dirty clothes are ever allowed to sit in the rooms. Last person to bring it down, starts the wash. At lunch Mom switches it over, after dinner whomever didn’t help with dinner folds one small load and everyone takes their clothes upstairs. New clothes were washed separately the first time.
No laundry sits around on the weekends we wash sheets/ towels.
Laundry was actually one of the last domestic skills my parents taught me, but I had the hang of it by the time I was 12. Teaching kids how to function independantly is the gift that keeps on giving IMO.
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