How to Teach Your Teen to Do Laundry

Basket with laundry and detergents
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Laundry is a fact of life for everyone so it’s a good idea to get kids involved in the process as early as possible. The time to start is when your kids are toddlers because at that age they want to do everything adults do. Sure, they’ll make some mistakes—we all do—but you will be teaching a life skill they will use forever and getting some help for yourself.

Toddlers Learn Laundry Skills With Games

To a very young child, household chores are fascinating. That big pile of laundry holds all kinds of possibilities for fun. This is the perfect time to talk to a child about why we need clothes and why they need to be washed. 

Involving the child when he or she is young will build a rapport that will hopefully transition into continued laundry skills when they can actually take over doing the laundry for themselves or the family. As always, it is imperative to keep a small child safe in the laundry room and away from machines and laundry products.

When you are doing laundry, use clothes to play games like:

  • Matching colors (great for pairing socks!)
  • Identifying and matching shapes
  • Counting
  • Folding skills - start with washcloths and small items that are easy to fold

How to Get Grade School Kids to Help With Laundry

As children get older, their attentions are not as focused on "being just like Mom and Dad". There are many other things they'd rather be doing than helping with laundry. However, you can do your part by explaining the laundry process and making its execution as smooth and simple as possible. Try some laundry themed books for elementary school readers or you can even try some laundry riddles and jokes to make it seem like more fun!

  • Place laundry baskets or hampers in every bedroom and bathroom. Divided hampers are useful for sorting colors and whites.
  • Give each family member a mesh bag for socks. The bags can be thrown in the washer and dryer preventing lost socks.
  • Show children how to hang up clothes and install closet rods low enough so kids can reach them.
  • Label dresser drawers with words or pictures so children can put away clothes.
  • Explain the difference between dirty clothes and those that have been worn but are wearable again. 
  • Clip clothespins to the side of every hamper. Teach family members to use them to mark stains.
  • Ask each family member to be responsible for returning clean clothes back to his bedroom or storage area.

Teaching Kids to Do Laundry

Only you know your own child's ability to follow directions and handle the equipment necessary to do laundry. I started doing laundry for the whole family around the age of ten. I made some mistakes including tossing my mother's wool sweater into a washer load. It shrank very small and I learned a very hard lesson!

When you feel your child is ready, use these basic steps to teach your pre-teen or teenager how to do laundry.

Get Teens and Dirty Clothes to the Laundry Room

Getting your teen and his or her dirty clothes to the laundry room may be the trickiest step in how to teach your teens to do laundry. You'll probably endure some eye-rolling, pouting and complaints, but you'll be teaching an essential skill that they'll use in college and for the rest of their lives.

Help Them Find the Labels

Show your teens how and why to check the labels. The labels will tell them whether an item can be machine washed. Place all clothes that are labeled “wash separately” or "hand wash" into separate piles. As a novice launderer, teach them if it says “dry clean only,” believe the label and place in a bag to take to the dry cleaners or teach them how to use a DIY home dry cleaning kit.

Clothing care label
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Teach Them Their Colors, Again

I know, you already taught them their colors years ago. But it's time to review. Have them sort their laundry by color. Whites, pastels, light gray and white background prints will go in one pile. Deep colored clothes—black, red, navy, brown, dark gray—go in another pile.

Now, have them sort each pile one more time by type of fabric. For instance, in the pile of whites separate towels and sheets from apparel. In the dark colors, separate t-shirts and jeans from lighter weight items like blouses and dress shirts. Washing by fabric type allows you to use the correct water temperature and keeps drying cycles simple.

Once they've mastered this skill, you can share that if there are not enough items to make a full machine load of each type and you are in a hurry, you can wash all of each color together. Just be sure to choose cold water, the correct load size and the washing cycle that matches the most delicate item in the washer. But, you may want to save that information until they get a little more experienced.

Remind them to check that all pockets are empty – even tissues and paper. Remove any accessories such as belts and jewelry. Close all zippers and buttons.

What About Stain Removal?

Stain removal is a bit more complex to explain. Start by asking them to read the 10 Rules for Stain Removal.

And encourage teens to pre-treat stains with a commercial stain remover like Zout or with a bit of liquid detergent. And, until they learn a bit more...when in doubt, ask for advice...or at least look it up!

Limit Choices in the Beginning

Remember when your teens were small and you offered limited choices to two—"Grape or Cherry?"—to move things along. Do the same thing when teaching first laundry skills and choosing the right water temperature. Unless their clothing is caked with dirt and heavily stained, washing in cold water will serve their needs and prevent most laundry disasters. Bed linens and towels need to be washed at the highest recommended temperature at least every other wash to sanitize. Always rinse in cold water—there’s no need for a hot or warm rinse on any fabric.

Give them an all-purpose laundry detergent and show them the directions to determine how much to use. Using a single dose packet makes measuring simple—just be sure they know how to use the packet.

If you have a washer with a detergent dispenser, show them where it is and how to fill it. If not, teach them to add the detergent to the washer before loading to prevent residue on clothing.

Whether you have a basic model or one of the latest washers with dozens of cycles, show your teen how to operate the machine. Again, with a beginner, limit choices and give them a cycle that will work for almost everything. Explain a bit as you go, and remind them that not all washers are alike but what cycles to look for in the future.

Ready, Set, Load

Finally, it's time to load the washer. Have your teen load the items one at a time, making sure they are not in a wad. To protect fabric finishes and reduce the “washed out” look, turn knitted items, corduroy, textured fabric, and sweatshirts inside out.

Teens love gadgets so have them program their iPhone, Android phone, or laptop to remind them when the cycle is finished—15 minutes, 20 minutes. That will prompt them to come back to get the clothes out of the washer.

Go From Wet to Dry

Teach teens to promptly remove wet laundry from washer to lessen wrinkles and prevent mildew. If they did not separate loads by fabric type and they are using a dryer, have them do it now and dry all lightweight items together and then all heavy fabric items. This will prevent shrinking and protect their clothing. Also teach them what delicate items should never go into a dryer and how to load the dryer.

Show them the basic cycles on your dryer and, again, have them program in the cycle time into their electronic gadgets as a reminder to come back for the dry clothes.

It's also a great time to talk about the impact on the environment of using a dryer. Encourage them to use the clothesline and help them hang out that first load. It will give you some time together and they may appreciate your concern about the earth's future and theirs.

The Final Wrinkles

If ironing isn't a top priority in your house, you can still teach a teen how to handle laundry to reduce wrinkles.

But, there comes a certain point when looking sharp may take a priority (usually when trying to impress someone important). So be sure to take time to review Ironing 101. You'll be glad they know how to iron when you're in a hurry!