LAUNDRY, GUYS. It’s all I can think about. Riddle me this: how is it possible to wear the same few pieces every day and STILL amass piles of things to be washed? Did I break a time-space barrier? Is this physics? Did my spring cleaning unlock a black hole of clothing that’s been sitting, un-laundered, for millennia? Is this what you talk about in science class?
Like a lot of apartment dwellers, laundry day is a whole THING for me. I wasn’t #blessed with an in-unit (or even in-building) washer or dryer, so once a week, I load up a sack and haul my clothes, towels, sheets, and other unmentionables down the block to the laundromat. It’s the only place in the world where I can simultaneously turn my life savings into quarters and spend 2 hours testing the structural limits of the 10-load washer. Honestly, I don’t miss it much.
But now, since I’m trying to avoid any unnecessary schlepping, I figured HEY, what better time to finally figure out how to do laundry — and do it WELL — at home? I wasn’t sure where to start, but guys, after some trial and error I FIGURED IT OUT and I may never go back.
So if you’re like me, overwhelmed by an overflowing laundry basket, or if you’re a parent just trying to make it through the now-daily loads (“we’re going out LESS, how are you wearing MORE?”) here are some tried-and-true tips on getting everything clean from the comfort of your own home. (I promise if you are one of the people #blessed with an in-home laundry situation, there are still some tips for you too. And if you have any advice — or if you’re just drowning in cups of detergent and want to commiserate — let’s dish down below.)
Alright, let’s get started. Manual laborers are up first.
Yep, all you need are those three things. But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the plunger. From personal experience, I promise that it makes this process so much easier. But first, let’s talk a little more in-depth about all of the tools:
- Detergent: Because, duh. And some good news — your regular liquid detergent will work just fine for almost everything (be careful with your delicates since normal detergent can easily break down their fibers — I recommend this laundry bar for those)! If you’re nervous about touching detergent, a friend swears by this Dr. Bronner’s, but any liquid Castile soap will clean you AND your clothes safely.
- A bathtub, a sink, or a container: I used my tub, but you can also make this work with a large plastic storage box, a bucket, or a (clean) garbage can.
- The plunger: I learned from trial and error that this is really a lot easier if you have what I now know is referred to as “an agitator.” Details below.
- Bonus items: Vinegar, tea tree oil, spot treatments, or specialty detergent for delicates like this crowd favorite are great additions for “those extra attention jobs.”
EASY PEASY. You probably have most of these things in your home, and if not, they’re super affordable. (Cheaper than all the quarters I haul around the laundromat every week, at least.) I was able to safely pick up liquid detergent and a new plunger at my local Walgreens. If you want to get really fancy, you can buy something like this instead of a regular plunger, but come on…look at it. It’s basically the same thing.
- Place the plunger: Plop that plunger right into the middle of your tub and make sure it’s sealed tight to the surface.
- Add in clothes: Place anything you’re ready to launder in the tub. Some people choose to run the water first, but I found that you can waste less water by just dumping your laundry basket in first.
- Pour in your detergent: You can use the same amount as you would normally — and fill with water till everything is submerged. Using cold or lukewarm water is fine as you’re about to let your clothes soak in this for a bit to loosen up the dirt.
- Let them soak: You know how sometimes you’re just not in the mood to do dishes, so you just let them soak? That’s ACTUALLY relevant here. Take a break and do something else — you can let them rest for as few as 10 minutes and for as long as 2 hours, depending on soiling — and then come back for your workout.
- Put the plunger to work: “Finally, it’s plunger time,” said no one ever…until today. You know how your washing machine tosses your clothes around? Start pushing on your plunger and it will agitate the water in your tub in the same way. Sure you can avoid the plunger and just swish everything around with your hands, but here’s the truth, I tried that and it made me miserable. Larger items are heavy when they’re soaked, I have a bad back, and I’m not particularly interested in leaning over a tub and getting water all over myself and the floor. Just plunge it. Channel your inner colonial woman churning butter and go to town for 5-10 minutes. (You know yourself and how dirty your clothes are. If they’re lightly soiled, you can just swirl them around. If they’re gross, throw in a teaspoon of tea tree oil (natural way to prevent fungal and bacterial infections), then pop on a podcast and try to make it 10 minutes with plunging. Feel the bicep burn. I believe in you!)
- Time to scrub: Once you’re done, you can hand-scrub any extra dirty or stained areas with a bit of soap. Hit those hot spots real quick!
- Drain the water: If you’re using a tub, drain it. If you’re using a plastic storage bin or trash can, you can dump the excess water down the shower drain.
- Rinse it all out: Now, onto the easiest part: rinsing. Pick your preferred water temperature and location (the tub? A shower? The sink? A hose outside? The world isn’t your oyster at the moment, but the water sources in your home sure are!) so go to town. You’ll actually be able to feel when the items are detergent- or soap-free (who knew?!).
- The end: YOU’VE DONE IT YOURSELF. Your clothes are clean. Congratulations! It’s time for phase 2.
If you choose to use something skin-safe like Castille soap, you can replace a plunger or agitator with your children's (clean) stomping feet. They'll have fun stepping on clothes in the tub and shockingly, they'll get them cleaner, faster. A win-win!
Okay. All your clothes are SPARKLING. But that’s because they’re still soaked — you’re just looking at water droplets, you silly goose. You’re going to need to wring everything out, which is admittedly the least fun part of the process. Wringing out underwear? Easy. Wringing out sweatpants? Not my favorite hobby. You can skip this, but everything will take WAY longer to dry.
Once you’re finished with the wringing, you can finally start hanging your laundry out to dry (or laying it out flat, if it’s something like a sweater). I sped up the process a bit by rolling my heaviest pieces in a clean towel, which absorbed some extra water before putting them out on a drying rack. (Where’s the Shamwow when I need it? Do you remember those commercials, too?)
Another confession: I’m a recent drying rack convert. The first time I tried washing laundry at home, I just laid things out over my shower rod (effective), over chairs (kind of effective) and over open doors (not effective AND not recommended). Drying racks store almost flat and promote airflow. Just invest in one — even a cheap one, like I did — and save yourself the headache. I’m lazy and I’m telling you that it’s worth it, so you know that means something. Jess, who is a hardcore air dryer (like 80% of her wardrobe), also very much agrees and loves hers.
Now, if you’re in a pinch — like, for example, if you opened your underwear drawer and saw that you only had your FANCY and uncomfortable underwear left, and you really wanna speed up the drying process of your newly-cleaned comfy pair — you can hit your lighter-weight items with a blow dryer. T-shirts, tanks, and undergarments are fair game. I know it sounds nuts but I have done it and it works. For anything else, set up your drying rack near a fan or heater to promote air circulation.
And if you’re washing sheets (guilty as charged), it’s worth looking into something like a hotel-style clothesline. I “installed” (read: somehow got it to stay up) something similar on my balcony, but that one’s only $15 bucks and seems like it’d save a lot of hassle. (If anyone has any additional tips on hanging sheets for those of us without outdoor drying spaces, I’d love to hear them!) Here are some of our favorite current indoor options:
1. Real Simple Adjustable Drying Rack | 2. Bamboo Wooden Clothes Rack | 3. Gold Retractable Clothesline | 4. Trenton Laundry Drying Rack | 5. Wall Mounted Unfinished Drying Rack | 6. Folding Drying Rack | 7. Silver Retractable Clothesline | 8. Folding Sweater Drying Rack | 9. Hanging Laundry Drying Rack
And Some Hacks for Everyone (YAY)
You didn’t think I’d leave my in-home washer/dryer owners out of this, did you? Let’s close strong with a few pro tips to get the most out of laundry day, whether you’re rockin’ it by hand or running loads through a machine.
- Vinegar: A half-cup of distilled white vinegar can boost softness AND brightness while destroying lingering odors. (Perfect for things like sheets or workout apparel!)
- Chalk: Chalk can absorb grease stains. Just regular old .79 cent chalk, you guys. It’s super-absorbent, so grab some to keep on hand for kitchen spills (or if you’re just a messy eater, like me).
- Shaving Cream: If you’re out of stain remover, try blotting some shaving cream on the affected area instead. (Transparently, I didn’t think this would work…until it did.)
- Baby Shampoo: Baby shampoo can help remove sweat stains. Let it soak in for a half-hour before washing. I don’t know WHY this works — or who figured it out — but it can help extend the life of those white shirts. Pit stains be gone!
- Shoe Drying Hack: If you need to throw shoes in the dryer but HATE the banging sound they make, shut the laces in the door — they’ll stay stationary AND get dry. (I learned this from experience because I’m a disgusting person who wears my Nike Flyknits barefoot, so I gotta wash them.)
- Laundry Balls: This is a personal suggestion and not a hack, but I got these laundry balls from Food 52 a few months ago and I LOVE THEM. If you’re lucky enough to have a dryer, these made my towels SO FLUFFY, made the drying process faster (they actually saved me money, y’all), and I dabbed some beautifully scented essential oil on them to replace dryer sheets altogether. They’re incredible and the earth will thank you.
As it turns out though, I’m not alone: Em actually said that she’s also now racking up piles of laundry at unprecedented rates (HOW? Oh right, kids). Anyway, she was thinking that getting a pretty basket (instead of her plastic one) sounded like a easy way to make her wash and fold process a little more enjoyable. Em’s aware that sounds kinda crazy (especially now) but hey, we are a design people working for a design blog. It’s these little things that make us happy 🙂 I mean, if not here, where?! Let’s introduce our favorites if you’re also in the market…
1. Cotton Twill Laundry Bag | 2. Medium Mobile Canvas Bin | 3, Slim Rolling Hamper with Wheels | 4. Grey Laundry Basket Set | 5. X-Frame Collapsible Double Hamper| 6. Round Weave Laundry Baskets | 7. Seagrass Hamper | 8. Snap & Separate Laundry Bags | 9. Pom Pom Canvas Hamper| 10. Tosca Laundry Baskets | 11. White Ash Baskets | 12. Foldable Laundry Basket
I think that’s it for me today. Do y’all have any other tips or hacks to share? Do you have a laundry system that you LOVE, or are you still figuring it out? Do you want to talk about how you’re super lucky to live really close to a laundromat, but that it’s also kind of a curse in that now you have to carry 40 pounds of laundry for a block instead of driving it to somewhere further away? (Spoiler alert: that’s what I want to talk about.) LET’S CHAT.