According to the Consumer Energy Center, the typical American household does nearly 400 loads of laundry per year. That’s a lot of dirty laundry, especially if the task of washing clothes falls on the shoulders of one individual. Learn tips to make laundry a manageable (and maybe even enjoyable) task in your household by doing it together!

Never Too Early
Just as small children are asked to help pick up toys when they’re finished playing with them, the same goes for clothing and towels. Encourage toddlers and preschoolers to put their clothing into a hamper, clothing chute, or their own personal laundry basket to be washed. To that end, make sure each child in the home has his or her own laundry basket or knows where to put his or her clothing once it comes off the body.

Children in elementary school may enjoy shadowing Mom or Dad during a laundry project. Parents can teach about the different settings on the washing machine and dryer and how to measure and pour laundry detergent. Children in upper elementary school may also be encouraged to iron, hang, fold, and put away their laundered clothing. Make sure your child is supervised while operating a hot iron.

Teens are capable of all aspects of laundering clothing. Many junior high and middle schools not only teach teens how to wash their clothing, but also how to mend, iron, and steam it as well. Lisa Peterson, the Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Frazee High School in Frazee, Minn., has instructed eighth grade boys and girls in the steps to launder their own clothes since 1999.

“Before I teach about laundry, I spend time talking with the students about shopping for clothes,” adds Peterson. “As consumers, they begin to learn about the hidden cost of clothing that includes dry cleaning or other special care.”
Whether your children are toddlers, elementary students, or teenagers, it’s never too early to learn the basics of doing laundry.

Start at the Very Beginning

Show kids how to divide clothing into piles for whites, colors, and darks. You can make a game of it with young children. Remember to empty pockets, tie off drawstrings that might come loose, and zip up long zippers that may snag other items of clothing.

Have the kids help you look for heavily soiled or stained clothing. Pretreat with laundry detergent or stain remover, paying close attention to the clothing label guidelines.

Washing Machine Settings
Explain each of the dials on your washing machine to your child. Individual machines vary, but typically you must select temperature, load size, and type of wash cycle.

Tell them what temperature you’d like them to use for washing and rinsing. Many people prefer to wash clothes in hot or warm water and use cold water rinses to save energy. However, with today’s new technologies and soap formulas, most mildly dirty clothes will come clean when washed in cold water. Heavily soiled clothing and certain fabrics release dirt and stains better in warm or hot water.

Choose a load size to match the pile of clothing you’re washing. For top-loading machines, remember to allow for plenty of water to surround the clothing and room for agitation during the wash and rinse cycles when selecting a load size.

Most clothing will come clean in the regular wash cycle, but if your clothes are heavily soiled, you may want to use the heavy wash cycle. Save the gentle cycle for delicate fabrics.

Add Detergent
For top-loading washers, start the machine and show your child how to use the laundry detergent cap or a measuring cup to measure out the correct amount of detergent. Pour it under the running water, allowing it to dissolve a bit before adding clothing to avoid detergent stains. For front-loading washers, add the detergent as instructed by the manufacturer.

Add Clothing
Show your child how to distribute the clothing around the agitator for top-loading machines. For front-loaders, just let them toss in the clothes. Shut the door and press start or, for top-loading machines, close the lid.

Dryer Settings
Explain each of the settings on your dryer and show the children how to set them.

Don’t forget to talk about the lint trap or tray. It should be cleaned after every load to avoid creating a fire hazard.

Add Clothing
Let the children toss the wet clothes into the dryer, shut the door, and start the machine.

Try to encourage children to remove laundry from the dryer as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary wrinkles. Demonstrate how you would like clothes folded or placed on hangers.

Put Away
Set up a system where the kids are responsible for transporting their clothes from the laundry area to their rooms. It’s a simple task and easy for kids to get into the habit.

Laundry: Together Now, Solo Later
By the time children reach adulthood and are living on their own, it will be necessary for them to know how to care for and wash their own clothes. Get them in the routine now and encourage everyone in the family to help out with this necessary, albeit mundane, chore.

Laundry Detergent: Make Your Own
About four years ago, Sharon Douglas, Automation Coordinator at Lake Agassiz Regional Library in Moorhead, was complaining to an acquaintance about lugging laundry soap up two flights of stairs to her apartment after grocery shopping. The acquaintance told her she made her own laundry soap using a recipe on the Internet.

Douglas began experimenting with several laundry soap recipes. After she calculated the cost of the ingredients, she learned she was doing laundry for pennies a load. To top that off, she was no longer consuming extra cardboard or plastic laundry containers from the store.

“It’s not a labor intensive process; making it will not cut into your busy schedule,” says Douglas. “Of all the DIY projects I do, this is one that has never failed. It’s that easy.”

As co-workers and friends took an interest in Douglas’ laundry soap recipe, Sharon began to teach homemade laundry soap classes to the public at the library in Moorhead.

“When demonstrating the process, kids are always eager to stick their hands into the gelled bucket of soap to break it up,” says Douglas. “Watching the twinkle in their eyes and the big grin on their faces is a hoot!”

To make sure there isn’t an allergic reaction, Douglas cautions anyone with sensitive skin to test the detergent on their skin first. However, Douglas is very prone to allergies and reacts to a lot of products, but has never had an allergic reaction to the homemade laundry soap.

So, does it really work? Yes! “The last time I demonstrated how easy it was to make this laundry soap, an audience member asked how clean clothes really got,” shares Douglas. “Another audience member spoke up and said that she used this same formula in her baby diaper laundry service for years. Talk about an endorsement!”

Douglas is often asked about using this soap in front-load washers. She has not experienced any problems and thinks it’s because it’s a low suds detergent.

“That’s why I mention using only low-sudsing bars of soap as part of the recipe,” advises Douglas. “There are a few other laundry soap bars out there, but I have not tried them yet because almost all local stores carry Fels-Naptha®.”
Douglas encourages those embarking on the home laundry soap journey to experiment until the right soap that works for each particular household is found. She recommends searching on YouTube to gain additional tips for the home laundry soap project as well.

Home Laundry Soap Recipes Courtesy of Sharon Douglas: *Please note: Use ingredients with caution, avoid breathing in powders and, as with any laundry detergent, keep out of reach of children.

Powdered Laundry Detergent
(3 cents per load – 80 loads)
1 ½ cups Arm and Hammer® Washing
1 ½ cups 20 Mule Team® Borax
1 bar of Fels-Naptha® Bar Soap

1) Grate Fels-Naptha® Bar Soap, then use a food processor to finely chop the soap into powder.
2) Mix all ingredients together.

How to use:
1 tablespoon for a small load
2 tablespoons for a medium large load
3 tablespoons for a super large load

Gel Laundry Detergent
(1 cent per load – 160 loads)
1 cup Arm and Hammer® Washing Soda
1 cup 20 Mule Team® Borax
1 bar of Fels-Naptha® Bar Soap

1) Grate Fels-Naptha® Bar Soap.
2) Melt with four cups water in microwave five to eight minutes.
3) Pour into five-gallon bucket, add dry powders, and mix well.
4) Fill bucket with hot water; mix well.
5) Set aside for at least eight hours or more. When the whole bucket is set it will be a solid gel.
6) Break up gel.

How to use:
½ cup for a normal load of laundry
Add more if laundry is especially dirty

Liquid Laundry Detergent
(1 cent per load – 64 loads)
½ cup Arm and Hammer® Washing Soda
½ cup 20 Mule Team® Borax
1⁄3 bar of Fels-Naptha® Bar Soap

1) Grate Fels-Naptha® Bar Soap.
2) Melt with eight cups water in microwave five to eight minutes.
3) Pour into two-gallon bucket, add dry powders, and mix well.
4) Fill bucket with hot water; mix well.
5) Set aside for at least eight hours or more. When the whole bucket is set it will be a loose gel.
6) Break up gel.

How to use:
½ cup for a normal load of laundry
Add more if laundry is especially dirty

• High efficiency washers require detergents that create very little foam. The above recipes work well in high efficiency washers because they have low foam content.
• Zote® is another laundry soap in bar form that can be used in place of Fels-Naptha®.

Janelle Brandon is a wife to Lukas, mom to Dylan (4) and Julia (2), writer, doula, and marketer living in Moorhead. To learn more, visit

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