Another Independence Day: When Kids Can Do Their Laundry

Here in the States we recently celebrated Independence Day. For our family, it is a day full of pleasure that begins with our local parade. When my kids were younger, I would dress them in some mix of red, blue and white — nothing new, just outfits pulled together from clothes they had.

My youngest, Eden, is 10. She’s the only person who stills consults with me on apparel for the Fourth. This year, about a week before the festivities, she picked a navy blue shirt with big white polka dots and khaki shorts. The polka-dot shirt was clear and I recommended she hang it in her closet, ready for the Fourth, and she did straight away. The shorts are ones she wears and I forgot about them. I inquired Eden where they were and when she said, “From the wash” I advised her to grab them so I could throw in a small load before bed.

“Mommy, they are in the washing machine now — I needed to clean them before tomorrow so I put in a load”

I did not fall to my knees and ugly cry, but it had been close. Another independence day has been celebrated, and like the original, this one has been years in the making.

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Eden was a toddler when I began to plot how I could delegate laundry. We did not have space in our budget for a cleaning service, so I did not understand how I could swing offloading my laundry, but I was desperate.

Of all the endless tasks of home keeping, laundry is the worst: so many steps and it never ends. And I noticed Eden’s older sister and brother, two glowing and able-bodied children who, with only a little training, could be ideal laundry minions. And, if we labeled it “Learning Responsibility and Life Skills,” it could be considered good mothering instead of lazy homemaking. Yes!

That I began to teach the big children, then 10 and 12, how to do their own laundry that very day. It took a long time — months and weeks — but eventually they began to establish their own rhythms of doing laundry. For my son, it is when he runs out of clothes, give or take a couple of days.

Eden was much younger I knew it’d be years before she would do hers. I forgot about it until a couple of months ago when I realized she was old, and I began to teach her.

If you’d like to experience this liberation, you want to:

1. Teach your kids how to do laundry.
2. Stop doing it for them.

Simple as that.

Step one will take a while, and in the beginning you will likely initiate everything — that is OK. Teach your child how to:

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1. Type Have your child bring all of her dirty clothes into the laundry area. We divide involving lights, brights and darks. Your little one can start this quite young, when she is still a toddler. Young kids like to help, and being involved in the household’s work is a source of gratification. Make the most of the (fleeting) period and get your children involved with the day-to-day running of the family while they’re still young.

2. Pre-treat stains. Once the heaps are sorted, teach your child to analyze each article of clothes for stains. Point out the obvious areas: shirt fronts and the knees and seats of shorts and trousers. Regardless of treatment you use, have it clearly labeled and show your child an adequate covering.

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3. Check pockets. That can be an easily forgotten but vitally important step. Give a small dish or basket to hold the contents of pockets.

4. Fill the washer. Teach your child to fill the washer no longer than 3/4 filled with clothes. Assist her to understand what that looks like. Don’t jam everything in closely; make sure there is space for the detergent and water to freely move around the clothes.

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5. Add detergent. When you have a top loader, you might want to undo the order of clothes and detergent. Show your child the appropriate amount of detergent and anything else you use. I suggest keeping it simple and sticking with only detergent, particularly if you’re teaching a younger child. As she gets older, and her clothes become more precious, you can teach how to deal with and wash delicates, but in the beginning, keep it as simple as you can.

6. Choose settings. In the interest of saving money and utilities, many recommend washing only with cold water. I use cold for a few darks but for the interest of hygiene I wash everything else in warm and, occasionally hot, water. Explain to your kids what to use when, and again, keep it simple. I have taught Eden to select cold for black and jeans shirts and trousers and warm for everything else. She sticks to the normal cycle for every load.

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7. Clean the lint trap. Once we transfer our heaps in the washer into the dryer, a part of our routine is to clean the lint trap. For some reason my children always liked this, which made setting the habit natural.

8. Fold. That is another task your kids can be helping with when they’re only a couple years old. Start off with washcloths and allow them to work up from there. Don’t be a perfectionist, and be sure to lavish them with praise. By the time they do their own laundry, then they will be quite adept. Obviously some children will skip this step and you’ll need to be OK with this.

Hint: Jump folding underwear. Teach them to put it into neat flat batches.

9. Put away the clothes. Even obviously organized people can fall prey to the “later” believing when it comes to putting away laundry. Teach your kids to do this immediately, even while they’re still doing extra loads.


This may seem like a lot, and it’s. Gradually permit your kids an increasing number of autonomy. If they ask questions, answer cheerfully, even in the event you’ve advised them “Warm! Normal cycle!” What seems like a thousand times. As they start to take over, praise them to be responsible.

Phase 2

Depending on your personality, you could be surprised to find that the next step is actually harder. This is how you stop doing your child’s laundry.

1. Stop doing it. Before you do this, give your kid a fighting chance by loading up on underwear and socks but not too many. You could run Phase 2 at the same time that you’re teaching your child all the elements of how to do laundry. If it occurs to her she is running out of clothes, state, “Seems like you want to do a load! Let me know if you want any help.” If you’ve gone through the steps several times, allow the child initiate sorting and only offer to help when asked. Again, this is only after you’ve modeled it for the several times.

2. Don’t cringe at the results. Do not forget your child is studying a lifelong skill that many adults struggle to do consistently. You could grab her sporting stained or wrinkled clothes since she forgot to pre-treat or failed to fold her clothes promptly. This can seem like an unlikely cause for celebration, but it’s just the same. Celebrate her burgeoning independence and your glorious freedom.

More: The Best Storage Keys for Clothes

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