Get Laundry Under Control

Helpful hints for the domestically challenged

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If you thought that laundry was a major chore before having kids, look out! It’s about to get much more intense. Here are some helpful hints for dealing with stains and processing those ever growing loads of laundry.

True story: I refused to get pregnant until I had my own washer and dryer. I told my husband this while he was at sea for six months with the Navy and longing to come home and start a family. No at-home laundry facilities, no babies, I said. It wasn’t long after that I dragged a friend with me to shop for my very own washer and dryer!

I had heard the story just enough times about my dad hauling a sloshing diaper pail to the laundromat when I was a baby. The idea of toting an overflowing basket of laundry and an infant to the Duds ‘n Suds by myself while my husband was away was really a turn-off.

I now realize that demanding the washer and dryer preconception was a stroke of genius. In my oldest daughter’s first couple weeks of life, the laundry doubled (at least!) and I can still remember sitting on my bed in a postpartum haze, pondering that eternal question all moms of newborns ask: How can someone with the weight of a bowling ball create This Much Laundry?

The answer of course, is simple: Babies, even when newborns, are messy. Blow-out diapers, spit-up, and baby food disasters don’t just soil one piece of clothing—we’re talking onesies, rompers, blankets, crib sheets, Mom’s shirt, you name it!

Since having kids, I own a veritable laundry list of detergents, softeners, and stain removal products. And now that my children aren’t babies, my laundry challenges are different. Mounds of dirty bibs and soiled rompers have been replaced by pizza-stained shirts, cuffs spotted with tempera paint, and jeans with mud on the knees. But it’s not only my kids’ stains that have changed; my laundry habits have changed too. I learned that to keep the mountain of clothes to a molehill, I needed to organize my laundry room and my schedule.

Timing Is Everything

The key to controlling your wash load is establishing a schedule and sticking to it. Don’t wait to do laundry until your husband is down to the silk Mickey Mouse boxers you got him for Valentine’s Day, and the only thing your toddler has to wear is her costume from last Halloween!

Families generally come up with their own wash schedule by experience. Some moms like to wait until they have a few loads to wash, some do a load or more daily. Some run a load each night and dry it in the morning, and others like to do it all once. Experiment to find a system that works best for you.

Don’t be afraid to enlist help—after all, you didn’t dirty all of those clothes yourself! If your children are old enough, have them do wash with you. Post general washing and drying directions near your machines so everyone is clear on how to do the laundry. If kids aren’t ready to operate the machines, they can fold and/or put away clothes. Even small children can help you sort clothing by color or type—have your toddler put all the socks in a pile, all the towels in a pile, and so on. If you’re having trouble keeping everyone’s laundry separate, try using different colored bins or baskets for each family member. Color coding also works well for towels, washcloths, and bed linens.

The Laundry Space

You need somewhere to put your supplies. Install shelves or cabinets above the machines or try a laundry supply shelving unit on wheels that fits between the washer and dryer, keeping supplies out of sight.

Keep your most commonly used laundry supplies where they are easily accessed. If your stain remover is handy, you’re more likely to use it before stains set. If you buy detergent in bulk, you may want to transfer smaller amounts of it to canisters or jars for easier use and refill as they empty. Some moms may prefer to keep a huge bucket of detergent with a secure lid on the floor—just be sure little ones cannot get into the detergent or fall head-first into the bucket.

Keep a supply of paper towels or rags handy to wipe up spills. Over time, certain laundry products can damage the finish on your machines if they are left to sit. It’s also easy to keep your appliances clean by occasionally giving them a quick swipe with a rag while the washer is filling and then throwing it in the hot water.

Install a small bar or line in your laundry area if possible and keep it stocked with empty clothes hangers. Hanging shirts and pants directly from the dryer will greatly reduce your ironing load. Folding clothes as they come out of the dryer will also minimize wrinkling and help you get the job done right away. Don’t have space in your laundry room for folding? Try attaching a fold-down shelf to the wall. Fold-out ironing boards are also helpers for moms with small laundry rooms. And don’t forget this handy tip: When you’ve let a load sit in the dryer too long, toss in a damp towel and run the dryer briefly on warm to get rid of wrinkles.

If the sock-eating monster lives in your house, keep a small bag or basket for “loner” socks. Go through it occasionally and match up socks. If a sock stays in the basket after a couple of matching sessions, it’s probably lost its mate for good and can be recycled into a sock puppet!

Washing Baby’s Clothes

Read the care labels on clothes before buying and washing them. A “hand wash only” garment may look darling on your newborn, but how many sleep-deprived moms have time to wash little outfits in the sink? And be sure to check for special washing instructions on pajamas in particular, since sleepwear often has specific laundering needs to retain the fabric’s flame resistant properties.

Unless your baby has eczema, allergies, or other conditions causing sensitive skin, you likely don’t need special “baby detergents.” Washing your little one’s clothes using a regular detergent without color or fragrance is likely to work just as well. (Try testing one of baby’s outfits first in the wash to see if your child’s skin becomes irritated.) Let’s face it—life is easier when everybody’s dirty clothes go into the same wash cycle.

Are you diapering with cloth? Today’s cloth diapers are designed to be easy to use and care for. Check washing instructions that come with your baby’s cloth diapers or try these steps recommended by Bareware Baby & Maternity:

  • Put wet diapers directly into your diaper pail.

  • Rinse soiled diapers in the toilet before putting them in the pail.

  • If you’ve been soaking your diapers in the pail, drain the excess solution into the toilet and dump the diapers into the washer.

  • You may choose to pre-rinse the diapers or do a cold soak cycle. Then wash your diapers in a full cycle using hot water and a mild soap or detergent with no phosphates and a minimum of additives. Rinse the diapers in cold water. Do not use bleach (which isn’t good for a baby’s skin and can damage the fibers in cloth diapers) or fabric softeners (which can reduce the diapers’ absorbency).

  • If rashes are a problem, double rinse the diapers or add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle. The vinegar will help eliminate detergent and/or soap residue and brighten diapers.

  • Dry diapers on normal heat for about an hour. To make diapers dry faster, add a dry towel to the dryer. Drying in the dryer helps sterilize the diapers, as does drying in direct sunlight.

Sock It to Stains!

As all moms know, spills happen! For helpful tips on removing a plethora of stains, try Tide’s Stain Detective, an easy-to-use feature that helps you take the guesswork out of treating stubborn spots and spills. There’s even a handy stain guide to print out and post by the washer.

For protein-based stains commonly seen in houses with kids—such as baby food, formula, poop, urine, vomit, spit-up, and dirt or mud—Tide recommends the following general treatment:

  • Soak fresh stains in cold water, rubbing the fabric against itself to dislodge the stain.

  • For dried stains, scrape off as much of the crusted material as possible and soak the fabric in cold water with liquid detergent.

  • Launder fabric with protein-based stains in warm water with detergent. Using hot water to soak or wash items with protein stains can set the stain.

  • If the stain remains after running the garment through a wash cycle, repeat the process of soaking and washing the item. Do this before drying, since a hot dryer can set stains.

It’s All about Attitude

While nobody can promise that doing laundry will ever be fun, why not take some of the tedium out of the chore? Paint your laundry room a sunny color, hang photos of your children on the wall, or have them color pictures just for your laundry space. Play some music as you sort clothes, watch a favorite TV show as you pair oodles of socks, or spend the time just talking with your spouse or children. If you follow some of these handy tips, you’ll spend less time looking for clean underwear and enjoy more time with your family.

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