How to Do Laundry in a College Dorm

Two laundry baskets with dirty clothes

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

College brings lots of changes, including potentially being the first time you have to consistently do your own laundry. And even if you're used to doing your own laundry, a college laundry room is a totally different experience from using a home washer and dryer.

The first step is to find out how much it costs to use the college washers and dryers. Some are free, some take quarters, and some allow electronic payment through your campus debit card or a paid laundry card. Be prepared with the correct payment method before you run out of clean clothes. You'll also have an easier experience if you have all the laundry supplies you need, such as a collapsible hamper, before you even arrive on campus. Then, it's all about establishing a laundry routine.

Here are eight tips for doing laundry at college.

  • 01 of 08

    Strategically Pick Your Laundry Times

    person using washing machine in campus laundromat
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    The absolute worst time to do laundry is when you are frantic, you have no clean underwear, and there's a line to use every washer and dryer. Every campus is different, but usually the best times to do laundry are on weekday afternoons or during big events, such as football games. Weekends and nights are typically when laundry rooms are the busiest. Some campuses offer apps that alert you when washers are available, so take advantage of that if you have one.

  • 02 of 08

    Sort Before You Go

    High-angle view of person putting clothes in washing machine at laundromat
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    Believe it or not, you probably have more workspace to sort laundry in your tiny dorm room than you will in the laundry room. In your dorm room, you have your bed and furniture on which you can sort laundry. But in the laundry room, any communal space might already be spoken for. So take the time to sort your laundry by colors and fabrics before you head to the laundry room.

  • 03 of 08

    Know the Load

    Close-up of clothes in laundry basket
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    Because washer sizes vary, learning how to gauge exactly how much laundry equals one load on a new-to-you machine is tough, especially if this is the first time you've ever done laundry. To give you a guideline, fill the washer with your dirty clothes without stuffing them in. Then, return the clothes to your empty laundry basket or hamper. (You can even snap a picture if you really want to remember.) This will allow you to see just how full your basket or hamper can be to fill a washer load.

  • 04 of 08

    Don't Let the Machines Surprise You

    Closeup of a laundry machine with clothes inside

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    Laundry can be full of surprises, especially in a communal laundry room. Before you set something on a surface in the laundry room, make sure it is clean. At best, you'll encounter sticky detergent residue. At worst, you'll find chlorine bleach that will permanently ruin your clothes.

    Look inside the machines, too. You never know what the last person put in the washer or dryer. If someone left a pen or a tube of lipstick or Chapstick in their pocket, the residue can remain in the machine and get on your clothes. If the appliance is messy, be a good laundry room user and either attempt to clean it yourself or alert the person who's in charge of managing the laundry room.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Keep Track of Time

    laundry timer app

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    As you start your first load of laundry, check the time. Stay with your laundry to time how long it takes for the washer to complete the load. Do the same thing when you load laundry in the dryer.

    Those numbers will be your guide for each time you do laundry. That way, you can leave your clothes while setting an alarm on your phone, so you'll know when your clothes are done. Some college laundry rooms even offer an app to alert you when a cycle has ended.

  • 06 of 08

    Label, Label, Label

    Clothes label
    Getty Images

    Items can easily get mixed up in a communal laundry room. For that reason, it's ideal to stay with your load to monitor things. But if you have to leave while your clothes are in the washer or dryer, at least make sure anything you plan to leave behind—such as your laundry hamper, detergent, or dryer sheets—is labeled with your name.

    It also helps to put a cellphone number on your labels in case something goes wrong and someone needs to reach you. This might just save your clean clothes from being tossed on the floor if they're sitting idle and someone wants to use your machine.

  • 07 of 08

    Know Dryer Protocol

    Clothes dryer

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    Before you start the dryer, make sure the lint trap is clean. You'll prevent fires, and your clothes will dry faster. Then, set the heat to medium. Many commercial dryers run very hot, and you can end up damaging your clothes if the heat is too high.

    Commercial dryers also are usually larger than home dryers, so you might be able to put two loads of wet laundry into one dryer. As you load the clothes into the dryer, fluff each item by giving it a quick shake. This will allow the clothing to dry more quickly and with fewer wrinkles. Also, be sure you get everything in the dryer before you start it. Opening and closing the door loses heat and time.

  • 08 of 08

    Take Time to Fold

    Clean folded laundry

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    If you fold as you go when clothes come out of the dryer, you'll get fewer wrinkles in your clothes. Final folding can be done back in your dorm room.

    Furthermore, if you have to go outside to get back to your dorm room, keep a couple of heavy trash bags in your basket or hamper to cover your clothes. That way, your nicely folded clothes will stay dry if it's raining or snowing, and they won't become disheveled or blow away if it's windy.