10 Steps for a Better Laundry Routine

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You're probably on autopilot after all these years, but could your technique be further refined?

Laundry is a household chore that I truly enjoy. It has a clear start and finish, and the end result is fresh-smelling spotless clothes that are ready to wear. Who doesn't love that? Because I live with a bunch of little children who generate a significant amount of laundry, I've learned to make the process more efficient. These are the tactics I use on a regular basis to stay on top of the never-ending flow of dirty clothes and to make it as gentle as possible on the environment.

1. Stay on top of it.

I do a load of laundry every second weeknight, roughly. (Electricity is much cheaper after 7 pm.) This means that I always have space to hang the clothes out on a line or indoor drying rack. Staying on top of it is key because when I don't, I have to do multiple loads, run out of space, and end up putting the clothes in the dryer, which makes me feel guilty.

2. Pre-sort laundry.

We have two big laundry baskets in the house, one for colored clothing and one for whites. This means I don't have to dig through a pile of dirty clothes to find whatever's going in the wash; it gets dumped right in.

3. Use cold water and less detergent.

I use significantly less detergent than what most manufacturers call for, unless it's a highly concentrated natural formula that already comes in minuscule quantities (like Nellie's Laundry Soda that I've been using lately). I occasionally use warm water for whites and especially dirty darks, but rarely hot. (That was for cloth diaper days.)

4. No bleach

Instead of bleach, I add a half-cup of baking soda to the wash cycle and a half-cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Combined with sunlight, it results in the whitest sheets.

5. Pre-soak smelly stuff.

All dish clothes, hand and tea towels, cleaning rags, and stinky gym wear are kept out of the main laundry basket. They get a quick soaking in the sink with hot water and baking soda before joining the main load.

6. Hang dry as much as possible.

The more you hang clothes, the easier and faster it gets. I've learned to love those ten minutes outside in the early morning sunshine, pinning up wet clothes. I use indoor racks in the winter, hanging the clothes at night and taking them off in the morning, or if I'm washing bedsheets, just hang them on an open bedroom door where they dry rapidly. (I like to think it adds some much-needed moisture to the air, but who knows.)

Hanging helps clothes to last longer too, and disturbs fewer plastic microfibres. Sunlight bleaches whites naturally. I prefer to think of the dryer as a last resort – for those nights when we need an outfit ready for the following morning or when something needs to get fluffed up, like pillows, parkas, and snow pants.

7. Stretch out wet dress shirts.

This great tip comes via Amanda Hesser, editor at Food52. She recommends pulling on the arms, collars, and any ruffles on dress shirts in order to straighten them out and avoid ironing. She says, "Drying shirts this way won’t get them as smooth as a pressed shirt; your shirts will look put together but a little looser."

8. Don't iron unless absolutely necessary.

As much as I like ironing, it's a very low priority activity in this busy household. Instead, I try to fold laundry as soon as it comes off the line (or out of the dryer), which I find cuts down on wrinkles. Another good tip is to fold sheets, pillowcases, and cloth napkins when they're still ever-so-slightly damp; that way, they'll form nice crisp lines.

9. Sort efficiently.

Do a rough sorting before you start folding. I dump everything on a large bed and divide up socks, underwear, towels and cloths destined for downstairs, and each family member's clothes. Then I fold and stack together, so it's easy to deliver to the proper room.

10. Enlist the children.

I don't do any of this alone. The entire family is expected to pitch in. The kids are especially good at sorting, matching socks, and carrying stacks of folded clothing to the appropriate dresser. They also hang clothes on the drying rack and gather them up for folding once dry.