Laundry Help: Laundry Systems for Large Families

Whether or not you use the family closet or take my advice on minimizing the amount of laundry that you have to wash, it is helpful to have a system in place to get through all of your laundry in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, you may have problems with family members running out of important items of clothing, or gross rags sitting at the bottom of the pile for months. (I’ve never had those problems, cough cough, I just think that perhaps you might if you don’t have a system in place and get distracted writing a blog or something.  Ahem.)

The Three Basket Laundry System:

You need a laundry cart divided into 3 segments or 3 laundry baskets. We put our cart in our hall (it worked in our house, but you could put it in the bathroom or laundry area). Each person is responsible to sort their laundry into colds, whites, and warms (even very young children can do this with a little teaching) and put them into the cart.

As soon as a basket or section gets full wash that load. I would start a load from a different section each morning, colds then whites, etc. Depending on how much laundry your household produces, you will adjust the number of loads that you work through each day, . You may only need to wash a load every couple of days or perhaps you need to do 3 loads a day.

Also assign a “laundry day” to wash all of the towels, bed linens, etc.

Here are some pros and cons as I see them:

Pros:

  • Very simple.
  • Works well with young children.
  • The kids love sorting and rolling the cart to the washer.

Cons:

  • Requires a lot of laundry movement from room to room unless you have a family closet or your bedrooms are all very close together and close to the washer.
  • If you don’t get to the bottom of a section on a given day you could end up with the gross rag at the bottom of the pile for months (in theory).
  • A particular family member could run out of clothes because their items are the ones at the bottom of a section and you didn’t make it all the way to the bottom.
  • If there is a particular outfit that someone wants to wear on a particular day, it is hard for them to be certain that it will be clean.
  • If one person has all cold laundry, for example, they could run out of clothes before the section filled up. (Especially if you limit the number of outfits each person owns, more on that in another post.)
  • It’s easy to ignore the laundry until it gets out of control.

Laundry Day

I know this is obvious, but wanted to include it. You just select one day a week and then wash all the laundry in the house. Pick a good read aloud book and only read it while the children are folding clothes. If your children are too young to fold themselves then you can listen to stories on Cd.

Pros:

  • One day of laundry chaos and then you don’t have to think about it for a whole week.
  • Everything gets washed each week.
  • Family members will know when their clothes will be clean and will be able to plan to wear a certain outfit on a certain day.
  • Fun reading and folding all together as a family.

Cons:

  • One day of laundry chaos.
  • If your washer or dryer goes out, no one has anything to wear.
  • It may be impossible to get through all the laundry in one day.

Personal Responsibility Laundry System:

Each family member who is old enough is responsible for their own laundry (and perhaps the laundry of a younger sibling). Assign a day for Johnny to wash his clothes and a day for Jenny to wash hers and a day for you to wash yours, hubby’s, baby’s, and the household things.

Pros:

  • The children learn to do their own laundry.
  • They will know when their clothes will be clean.
  • They will be less inclined to throw clean clothes into the laundry.
  • You will have less laundry responsibilities.

Cons:

  • Will take some training.
  • May have quality control issues.
  • They may be less inclined to throw dirty clothes into the laundry.
  • If you are a control freak, it may be stressful to let go.

Room by Room Laundry System

This has been our system for nearly 3 years and it is a perfect fit for our family.

You assign a day for each room to do their laundry. This system would work well combined with the personal responsibility system. Each bedroom has their own laundry basket and assigned day for getting their laundry washed. Bring the laundry from the appropriate room making sure to check under beds and dressers and in drawers in case someone put something dirty back into a drawer. (We give this responsibility to the children.) The laundry then gets washed, dried, folded and put away. (We have the children fold and put away.)

I have a day for the girls room, for the boys room, a day for the master bedroom, then two days for towels, bed linens, diapers, etc. Since we are massive laundry producers I also have a hamper beside the washer and dryer for cloth napkins , cleaning rags, wet clothes, dish cloths, etc. that I wash nearly everyday.

Pros:

  • Not as much laundry movement.
  • Less sorting.
  • Children know when their clothes will be cleaned, so can plan on certain outfit for certain event.
  • I know when clothes will be cleaned so if our schedule is disrupted I know exactly what to wash to get caught up or to get ahead.
  • I know if a child is not putting their laundry in the basket, or if they are putting too much laundry in the basket.

Cons:

  • If you only have one child in a bedroom there may not be enough laundry to sort into different loads. (Don’t let this completely turn you off of this system. I used to be able to do everything from a bedroom in one load. I washed everything on cold and had no problems.)
  • It would be difficult if you didn’t want to do laundry everyday.

So what laundry system works for you?

Read the rest of my series on laundry management. Also be sure to check the comments for ways that others have combined these laundry systems and more laundry ideas.

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26 Responses to Laundry Help: Laundry Systems for Large Families
  1. Laurel
    March 18, 2009 | 9:42 am

    We use the combination of Personal Responsibility and Room by Room.

    We have 3 girls in a downstairs room … 12 year old Hosanna washes the clothes for herself and for her two sisters (ages 7 & 10). The younger girls fold and put away all of their own clothes.

    We have 3 boys in a downstairs room. Josh (18) and Ben (15) are both responsible for their own clothing, and they are to wash the clothes of Jacob (13, but only home from Ghana 1 year, so not as well trained yet as Hosanna). Jacob folds and puts away his own clothes.

    We have 2 little guys (7 & 8), who happen to be across the hall from Mama and Papa’s room. I sort my clothes and then they sort their clothes into my piles. They, then, fold and put away all of their clothes after they are washed.

    Papa washes his own clothes.

    Papa and Mama share the wash load of sheets, blankets, towels, etc…

    [Reply]

  2. Nikki
    March 18, 2009 | 4:30 pm

    Right now, we don’t have a family closet. I have the kids sort their own dirty laundry into the three laundry bags- blue is for colors, white is for whites, green is for towels. We wash the white on warm or hot depending on the stinkiness, towels I ALWAYS wash on hot, colors are on cold usually.

    I try to do two loads a day. Cloth diapers I have in a bucket and they are completely separate from other laundry.

    From your description, I like the idea of Room by Room. I also like the idea of folding while listening to a story. I really need to crack down and teach my kids better how to fold. I don’t personally like the overwhelming-ness of having a laundry day. When I do it that way, everything else seems to fall behind- like dishes and school, vacuuming etc.

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  3. Jama
    March 19, 2009 | 12:51 am

    For many years I used the 3 basket system (actually 4 in my house). It worked well when the children were small and the laundry and bedrooms were all on the same floor. We recently moved into a house with the laundry and master bedroom downstairs and all the other bedrooms upstairs. I switched to the room by room system which I think works much better. The children know which day to bring their clothes to the laundry room and they get it all back the same day. I never liked them having a little bit to do each day. It seemed like everything was never all put away.

    The only thing I still do separately is reds. We seem to wear a lot of red, so I wash all of it in one load. Have you had any problems with reds bleeding onto other things with the room by room system?

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  4. Kimberly
    March 19, 2009 | 1:18 am

    Nikki,I agree about the laundry day, that never worked well for me. I did the 3 basket system while the children were all small, just like Jama. Then about 2 or 3 years ago we switched to the room by room with a bit of personal responsibility thrown in.

    The children bring me the laundry on their day and they know that they will be folding and putting all their laundry away that afternoon.

    Jama, I agree precisely with your comments about the 3 basket and the room by room systems. I haven’t had problems with reds, but I often pull things out that I am worried about. I wash those questionable items with our napkins or towels because they are dark.

    [Reply]

  5. Miranda
    March 19, 2009 | 6:15 am

    We have two laundry days. I do the laundry on Wednesday usually and then my husband does the weekend laundry on Saturday. This doesn’t happen every week, but it feels so satisfying to have empty baskets for a day (I also love that my husband does the weekend stuff including sheets/towels/ect)! When our kids get older, I am sure they will be involved more.

    [Reply]

    Kimberly Reply:

    Miranda,
    That is a great solution to the problem of too much laundry for only one day. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    [Reply]

  6. Alyce Ross
    March 20, 2009 | 2:08 pm

    Kimberly, it is great to read how God is speaking to you and showing you how important it is to accept all that he brings into your life. He truly does know what we need, and He is for us, not against us.

    I remember the day of your engagement with such warm feelings. I wish we could see the whole family. It has been too long since we have been to the East Coast.

    Lots of love, Aunt Alyce

    [Reply]

  7. Sara
    September 12, 2009 | 12:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing your different systems. We have been doing something a little different and it’s working well for us…Every day of the week there is an assigned laundry helper, and if you have more helpers than laundry days, they work together as partners, youngers and olders. I also have a different type of laundry every day of the week-Mondays-towels, sheets, diapers, Tuesday-darks, Wednesday-denim and diapers, Thursday-lights, and Friday-whites. Except for Monday, I usually only have one load of laundry a day, except for diaper days. Then my laundry helpers help me hang to gather, hang to dry or transfer to dryer, and fold/put away.

    In His Grace,
    sara

    [Reply]

  8. Sugar Mommy
    January 14, 2010 | 12:00 am

    I am blessed enough to have a lady who comes and helps me with the general housework once a week, as my husband is gone for weeks at a time. However, I try to have the dishes and laundry done before she gets here because: a) I feel like those are two things I can and should be accomplishing daily, b) I can never get to dusting the blinds, baseboard, and shelves or the toilets and showers, and I’d rather her spend the time on those thing than on the things I know we can do, c) if she does put the laundry away, it usually ends up in the wrong place and we can’t find what we are looking for, thus adding time and stress to my morning routine/schedule, and d) those are the areas that are perfect to start teaching children to be responsible for their own chores.

    I have 5 baskets and they are numbered according to what types of clothes go in them (1-whites, 2-darks, 3-lights, 4-dark towels/sheets, 5-light towels/sheets) , so at the end of the day when the children take off their clothes, I inspect them to see if they need to be washed, and tell them in which numbered basket to put their clothing (or have them return the items to their closets). This keeps me from having to manually sort the clothes as they do it themselves as soon as they take them off, and teaches/reinforces number recognition. Now that my oldest can read the actual color words on the labels, he knows what the numbers mean and why we sort them the way we do (I’ve had these baskets since my husband and I married 10 years ago…I labeled them when I got them so HE could sort the laundry correctly, too. LOL!)

    I also have a 3 (sometimes 4) day system for laundry:

    Day 1-wash and dry day…everything except sheets and towels gets washed and dried. My two year old helps me move the clothes from the washer to the dryer–I hand her the wet clothes from our top-loading washer and she puts them in the dryer, which is the perfect height for her. My 5 year old empties the dryer by just pulling the clothes out and straight into the basket on the floor in front of the dryer. Both of these helpers save my back! Everything stays in the basket until the next day, and most items do not get wrinkled. I only pull out the iron on the days I need to wear something that is wrinkled. Most wrinkles fall out when you hang the clothes anyway.

    Day 2-folding day…everything is folded, and my 7 and 5 year olds are responsible for folding their own clothes and their younger siblings’ of the same gender. They actually don’t have much to fold (only underwear, socks, and pjs) as all of their play and dress clothes are hung up. We just lay those clothes out flat, one on top of the other, which helps press out any wrinkles that might have formed in the basket. Also, as we fold, we sort the stacks by room (boys with boys, girls with girls, etc), so that when we are finished and the baskets are empty, we load the folded clothes into a basket with the hanging stuff flat on top and set it by the door for the next day’s task (boys have a basket and girls have a basket).

    Day 3-put away day…we take the basket and begin putting away the clothes. The hang up clothes are picked up one by one and put on a hanger. Everything else goes in the appropriate basket in their drawers or on their closet shelves (I have found that little baskets keep socks and underwear nice and neatly separated, and easily found by little ones in the morning).

    My goal is to have this done the day before the cleaning lady comes. Doesn’t always happen to completion, but it helps keep me on top of the laundry beast.

    Day 4-sheets and towels day…occurs every-other week on the morning my cleaning lady comes. We strip our sheets as soon as we get up and wash them all in hot water (usually takes 3 loads). Then, with them still wet, we put the fitted sheet back on the bed as normal, lay the flat sheet on top without tucking in the ends, smooth it out all over, and lay the pillow cases out on top of that. Then we turn on the fans, and go about our day (washing/drying/folding/putting away the towels, too). By the end of the day (and usually by naptime) the sheets are dry and feel as crisp as if they had been ironed. And we saved the energy of drying 3 loads of laundry!

    I had tried the one-load-a-day method, as well as the one-day method. With the first, I would get behind and end up washing multiple loads a day w/o time to fold them, and with the second be completely overwhelmed, not able to finish that either. This 3 day method is just what I fell into in my efforts to have a one-day laundry method, so I gave up the goal of having it all done in one day, and took up smaller more manageable goals (wash and dry in one day, etc). It really works well for us and, because I know I want it done before my lady comes, it keeps me on track.

    [Reply]

  9. Melanie
    February 7, 2010 | 3:05 pm

    We have 3 girls and I do all of their clothes on one day (Mondays) and divide everthing else (mine & hubby’s clothes and the linens) into Wednesdays & Fridays. I hate laundry and this has worked well for me. Everything gets washed and put away before the weekends where before we usually ended up putting about 14 loads of laundry on Saturdays. And I have Tuesdays and Thursdays to catch up if needed.

    [Reply]

  10. KimC
    March 22, 2010 | 2:56 pm

    We use the 3 basket system, but we have 5 categories: whites, lights, darks, and towels in separate stacking bins in the laundry room, plus the diaper bucket in the bathroom. Diapers get washed M/W/F and everything else gets done as needed.
    We have run into many of the cons you mentioned but found them pretty easy to overcome:
    We make sure to empty each bin completely on a regular basis so that the same 3 items aren’t stuck indefinitely at the bottom of the bin. For example, if I’m doing lights and there are just a few items that won’t fit in the load, I make a point of leaving the darkest of the lights, then running them with the darks in the very next load.
    Also, we have found that our whites bin doesn’t fill up til Dad is nearly out of underclothes since many of us girls have more colorful underthings. We just make sure to consider the white bin “full” at the halfway mark.

    I think the biggest advantage to this system is that it makes it very easy to keep up. Even when we feel like we’re way behind on laundry, we really only have 4 or 5 loads to catch up on.

    [Reply]

    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    I am considering switching back to the 3/5 basket system. That is what we used up until 3 years ago when we switched to the room system.

    A couple of questions:

    1. Do you have any laundry in bedrooms? Master bedroom? Anywhere besides the laundry room? How do you handle everyone getting their laundry to the laundry room?

    2. How do you handle folding responsibilities?

    3. Outside of diapers, how many loads are you doing per day?

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

  11. KimC
    March 22, 2010 | 5:41 pm

    1. I think you meant to ask,”Do I *plan* to have laundry in any rooms?”
    Hubby and I keep a very small basket in our room, which I sort into the main bins daily (Ha ha! Daily? I made a joke!)
    The children do often toss their laundry on the floor, but that’s not part of the plan. It’s a work in progress, even after several years.

    2. Laundry is one of our household chores, rotated among the children old enough to handle it. The current laundry girl washes, hangs, and sorts the laundry, then calls the owners to come get their pile.

    3. Although I’ve never counted, we seem to average about 15 loads/week, plus 3 of diapers.

    [Reply]

  12. Mama Mirage
    March 22, 2010 | 5:51 pm

    In my house, each day of the week has an assigned type of laundry that gets done. I made a list of the things I need washed most frequently. I knew I wash 2 loads of darks, 1 of whites, 1 of reds/pinks/purples, and 1 of greens/yellows/tans. So I then I thought some more about what else we do for laundry in a week and came up with blacks, sheets, towels, blankets, delicates, and things that need soaked overnight in OxiClean! I divided these into a week’s worth of days as evenly as I could, leaving Sunday for the soaking and no actual washing, and Saturday a light laundry day with only 1 load so I have time to spend with the family. Here is what I came up with:

    MONDAY:
    First I turn on the load that’s been soaking in there overnight.
    Sheets get changed and washed,
    Any odd things like carseat pads, highchair pads, jumperoo or swing seat covers, mittens and hats, shoes, backpacks, etc. also get washed this day. I don’t wash those things often, just when they get poo or spit-up or food or mud on them. ;)

    TUESDAY:
    Darks that can absolutely under no circumstances be friendly with anything linty- I usually have 2 loads worth.

    WEDNESDAY:
    Blankets
    Towels

    THURSDAY:
    Delicates
    Whites
    (Usually if all my delicates are white I wash them all together, but if not all the delicates are white I make 2 seprate loads of it. I inspect the whites as they come out of the washer to make sure they’re white, if they are stained or dingy I drape them over the edge of the hamper to wait for Sunday.)

    FRIDAY:
    Darks that are linty or are lint-friendly.
    Reds/Pinks/Purples and sometimes if there are not enough red/pink/purples I throw in some browns too. If there are too many I put the purples in the darks load and save the browns for Saturday.

    SATURDAY:
    Green/yellow and any leftover browns get tossed in together in the morning and then whenever I have time later in the day I switch them or sometimes just before bed.

    SUNDAY:
    I run a rinse cycle on any cloth diapers or stinky dishcloths/washcloths and then add those dingy or stained whites leftover from Thursday with detergent and Oxiclean in HOT water and soak them overnight.

    With this system I am able to overcome my obsessive compulsive need to do it ALL. PERFECT. RIGHT NOW. (and then I wouldn’t get anything else done). If I get to any day and don’t have enough to make a load I get a surprise break which is nice. It just waits until the following week. Like if I get to Wed. and there are no blankets and only 1 towel. :) Or if there was nothing stained or stinky to soak on Sunday or not enough greens for Saturday. Love those days.

    [Reply]

  13. Amy
    March 23, 2010 | 7:59 am

    What great ideas. I have tried all the ways that you mentioned. I used to do it all in one day. But that just doesn’t seem to work anymore. I have four kids and other responsibilities that need my attention that day. I have started the room system. That way, my hubby has all his clothes that he needs and I don’t have to go diggin’ through all the baskets to find something. I am doing Master Bedroom right now! What a great post. Just found your blog, by the way, and I love it. Very helpful.

    [Reply]

  14. [...] may be interested in how our large family manages the laundry or how we encourage our children to do chores or  you may just want to read about how I managed to [...]

  15. A Loopy Idea | Cardamom's Pod
    May 5, 2010 | 11:34 am

    [...] a friend told me about a laundry system that works for her family of eleven. Read about some great laundry systems here. The one that works for me is the Room-by-Room Laundry [...]

  16. My Life at the Moment | Raising Olives
    July 14, 2010 | 8:24 am

    [...] I’m getting spoiled because my hubby and kids are amazing helpers.  After I finished nursing the baby on Monday morning I came out to find that the kids were finishing their chores and Mark was already washing the assigned laundry loads for the day (laundry systems for large families). [...]

  17. jennifer
    July 14, 2010 | 7:39 pm

    We wash constantly, and have a sterilite shelf in the laundry room. Every person has their own basket, which is put away every other month. :)

    [Reply]

  18. A Loopy Idea « The Cardamom's Pod
    July 29, 2010 | 7:22 am

    [...] a friend told me about a laundry system that works for her family of eleven. Read about some great laundry systems here. The one that works for me is the Room-by-Room Laundry [...]

  19. [...] a  laundry system.   (We are still using the room laundry system, but considering switching to one of the others [...]

  20. Not Me: Skunks and Spit Up | Raising Olives
    October 11, 2010 | 7:31 am

    [...] opportunity to tell you all the things that did NOT happen over the past week.Since I have a great  laundry system, I’m always caught up on laundry and  Mark does not have a extra stash of underwear in his [...]

  21. Jennifer
    April 13, 2012 | 11:22 pm

    We do laundry every day, probably 3 loads on avg. We have a chores list up on the fridge divided into 3 categories: Dishes (2 kids on each day), Cat Food & Litter Box, and Laundry. It looks sort of like a calendar, since the top row goes across listing the days of the week, and the first column going down lists the categories. All the spaces are filled in with the names of those responsible on that day for that particular chore.

    All clean laundry gets carted to our bedroom, where my husband will host a folding party with a number of the kids when the clean piles get too big to dig through for underwear or whatever. Then everyone helps put stuff away. I only iron if I absolutely have to.

    [Reply]

  22. Sarah Massey
    June 17, 2012 | 3:25 am

    It’s good to see a range of ideas – families’ needs and routines change over time. When everyone was too small to help out I used to amuse myself by working through the rainbow -reds on Mondays, oranges on Tuesdays, etc. – with diaper washes and whites/mixed coloureds thrown in as needed. Passers-by used to comment on our washing line! When my eldest hit 10 I showed her where the warm wash was on the dial and she’s never looked back – she’d shiver at the thought of anyone else doing her washing. For those too young for such complete independence, we have three pop-up laundry bins on the shelf behind the bath – pink/red/yellow, blue/black/green/purple and white/fast coloureds – and take it in turns to wash, hang, fold and put away. We all LOVE laundry!!

    [Reply]

  23. Krista
    January 28, 2013 | 1:44 pm

    Minimizing laundry…the link took me to the family closet. I’d like to know how many clothing items do you keep for each child. Play clothes, then “town/church/nice” clothes? I’m finding w/too much clothes clean ones end up back in the dirty clothes baskets. We use a 3 basket system. One for darks, one for pinks (yes we have a lot of girls), one for whites. We have a laundry basket in the master bedroom and discipline ourselves to only put darks in there. Whites or pinks we walk to the 3 basket system (that my husband custom built). Towels, sheets, diapers done on an as needed basis. Yes, our kids still leave their laundry on the floor (work in progress), but that’s part of daily room clean up before bed if all else fails (nobody likes to trip on toys in the middle of the night and want to keep it safe in case of an emergency).

    [Reply]

    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Krista. Here is the correct link. I also changed the link in the post. Thank you!

    [Reply]

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