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laundry with kids

When doing laundry with kids, you'll need to go over the laundry basics to prep them for the dirty jobs ahead.

These are the basic concepts any kid will need to succeed in the world of dirty laundry.

The whole process of doing laundry with kids can be broken down into three major steps: getting the dirty clothes to the machine, washing and folding the clothes, and putting the clean clothes away.

Let's talk about each step in doing laundry with kids in turn.

Doing Laundry with Kids: Getting Dirty Clothes to the Machine

Of course, you have to get the dirty duds off the child, into the laundry basket or hamper, and finally, into the laundry room before any laundry with kids can occur.

Here's how to make it easy for the entire family to get their clothes to the machine, regardless of the school-to-practice or gym-to-work rush they happen to be in:

Place laundry baskets strategically. Provide laundry bins for each bathroom or bedroom for garments needing standard laundering, such as school uniforms and play clothes.

Then, position a "special attention" or "stain" basket on the washing machine for clothes sporting visible drips, drops, or smudges of everything from finger paints to Cross pen leaks.

Less-visible everyday splotches usually come out quite well if you wash as directed with enzyme-containing laundry detergent and bleach if safe for the fabric.

And last, place a "dry cleaning" basket in one of the bathrooms for those items labeled "Dry Clean Only."

End the search for sock mates. Here is my favorite pre-laundry trick for shaving time off the laundering process and removing the "Whose sock is it, anyway?" question.

A few months ago, frustrated to the breaking point by complaints from the troops about getting mismatched or someone else's socks, I instituted the "Clipped Sock Rule."

If dirty socks aren't clipped together with their mates, they go out of the dryer directly into the "homeless sock" basket. No whining allowed.

Before they put their socks into the laundry basket, each family member clips each pair of socks together with a clothespin.

To make identifying the clipped sock pairs easy, I picked up an industrial-size clothespin bag, the kind that comes with four colors of clothespins.

Then I assigned each of us a color: my daughter Lyndsay is blue, I"m yellow, and Chris is red. I'm happy to report that the socks stay clipped together through the wash and dry! What a difference a clip makes!

The tedious matching of socks is history. I have no more complaints about missing socks or misdelivered pairs.

Just about every kid has a favorite item that she's always wearing, making laundering it regularly a bit tricky.

Try reasoning (or mild threats) with older kids. Tell your daughter that if the said item doesn't make it to the basket on laundry day, it will be out of commission for an entire week.

Or, you can get really tough and tell your son that he can only wear said item X days a week. More, and it disappears. This is an excellent time to explain the importance of washing clothes to keep them looking (and smelling) fresh.

Whatever you choose, choose something. Continually fighting and begging a kid to hand his treasured article over so you can wash it isn't doing either of you any good.

He's learning that if he resists strongly enough, he won't have to do something. Even something that's good for his health. And that's probably not the message you're meaning to send.

Washing and Folding the Clothes

Now the clothes are coming off bodies and going into baskets as directed (and not onto the floor). This is good. But someone needs to run the machine.

And it can't always be you. This is not so good. Especially if your family has gotten used to your being the resident laundress.

If you have older kids, they can alternate doing laundry for the family. If you don't have older kids, you're stuck with the job.

If you only have older kids, everyone in the house could do his or her laundry. What a concept!

The problem with this solution is that you'll have more small loads.

The benefit of this solution is that you'll be teaching your kids responsibility while ditching some of your own. (In a healthy way for your kids, of course.)

Here is my very simple step-by-step approach to getting clothes clean. Share it with your kids. Consider posting these instructions in your laundry area.

  1.  Treat spills fast. Immediately rinse or blot away spills on your clothes to prevent stains from setting. (Dampen a clean white rag and dab at the stain. You'll see color transfer to the rag. That's how you'll know it's working.) Then wash the clothes as soon as you can.

Have your kids red-flag stains and spots by clipping a clothespin to a chocolate smudge or by tying a grass-stained jeans leg in a loose knot before dumping the garment into the clothes hamper.

  2.  Before washing stained garments, pretreat or presoak spots and stains, according to the product directions.

  3.  Sort laundry by color, amount of soil, wash cycle needed, and water temperature required. (Read fabric care labels before you wash. Your clothes will last longer if you care for them as recommended.) Also sort lint givers, like towels, from lint takers, like corduroy. Separate delicates from heavy clothes such as jeans. 

One more thing: Don't wash heavily soiled clothes such as gardening duds with your fine linens. Also, you may want to run an empty load (with bleach) after washing sneakers or the dog's bed to decontaminate the machine.

  4.  To keep snags and lint to a minimum, zip zippers, button buttons, brush away lint, and empty pockets before tossing clothes into the hamper. Melted crayons overlooked during this process are no fun to tackle. Hard objects such as pins and yo-yos can bang around in the washer and tear your clothes.

  5.  Select the water temperature. Generally use hot for whites or very dirty or greasy clothes, warm for most loads, and cold for delicates or dark or bright colors that could run. Always select "cold" for the rinse-water temperature. It saves energy and is just as effective.

  6.  Dump in the clothes. If you have to stuff them in, you've got too much stuff. The machine should be no more than two-thirds full. The clothes need to tumble around to get clean.

  7.  Turn on the machine, add detergent and laundry boosters, such as color-safe bleach, bleach, or fabric softener (for fluffier clothes) according to the package directions. If you don't have a special dispenser for the boosters, just pour them into the wash water once the machine is filled. If your clothing is heavily soiled, or if you're washing a large load, or if you're using cold water, add extra detergent. 

    8.  After the clothes have been washed, check wet garments for remaining stains, and re-wash before drying. If you dry stained clothes in the dryer, the heat will set stains.

    9.  Once the clothes are clean, you can put the load from the washer right into the dryer. Set the heat and time for the most delicate item in the load. Don't use a high or regular setting for all clothes. Read the label. Fibers that don't absorb lots of water such as microfibers, nylon, and acrylic, dry faster and need a lower temperature setting than other fabrics do.

  10.  Fold clothes right away. The longer they sit in the dryer, the more wrinkled they become.

  11.  Clean the lint screen. A clogged lint screen can make dryers run a long time. That wastes energy and money and causes wear and tear on your favorite clothes. Plus, it's a fire hazard,

When doing laundry with kids, you may need to show them how to do it several times - and then supervise them doing it several more times - before letting them go it alone.

Getting the Clean Clothes Put Away 

So far, so good. The family is dumping dirty duds where they belong. Everyone is taking turns bringing down the laundry baskets, running the machine, and folding the clothes.

But who's going to wave the wand to put the clothes back into their appointed drawers and closets? If you're fresh out of fairies, here are tips for helping clean clothes get put away.

Make each family member responsible. Each person fetches his or her laundry basket and puts his or her own clothes away.

A clean house rule to consider: Any baskets left unclaimed for more than 24 hours (without a school or sleepover excuse) will be removed from sight for one week (into the garage or a closet.) 

Once your daughter has to live without her favorite jeans or your son has to go to practice without his uniform,  the problem is unlikely to arise again anytime soon.

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