Setting up room properly will save time
By Harriet Schechter
March 7, 2004
Nowadays, every day is wash day for most
More than 1,100 loads of laundry are started every second in the
United States – up to 35 billion loads per year, according to
Procter & Gamble. Annually, the average citizen generates a
quarter-ton of dirty clothing, and that's not even counting towels,
bedding and all the other stuff that needs laundering.
No wonder the laundry room is now one of the most-requested
features in new homes (as indicated by a survey from the National
Association of Home Builders). Yes, the lowly laundry room, once
relegated to the basement or garage like a poor relative, has at last
come in from the dark.
These days, so-called "gourmet laundry centers" have
become status symbols in fancy homes. Some homes even boast multiple
laundry rooms, helpfully located on different floors.
Such lordly laundering domains may be out of reach for those of us
who are simply grateful to have a working washer and dryer. However,
that doesn't mean we can't have a pleasant, well-ordered space in
which to do the wash.
No matter how modest your home, it's possible to create an
efficient laundry center that will make your life easier. Since the
average American woman – who does 80 percent of the nation's wash
– spends at least seven to nine hours a week on laundry (according
to Proctor & Gamble), anything that helps make the process go more
smoothly is worth considering.
Little room, big difference
Until I moved into a house with a laundry room, I had no idea what
a difference such a seemingly minor room could make. Since getting my
first apartment over 20 years ago, my laundering life had progressed
from "fluff 'n' fold" services and Laundromats, to coin-op
machines in a shared condo garage, to an old washer-dryer in the
garage of my husband's house. By then I was happy just to have access
to machines I didn't have to share with strangers or ply with
Having a laundry room inside the house was never an option; there
wasn't enough space, and besides, it didn't seem necessary. True, it
was kind of a hassle having to carry laundry across the open patio,
into the gloomy garage, and then back – especially when it rained.
But that's just the way it had to be – or so I assumed.
Then a couple of years ago, we moved into an even smaller house, a
975-square-foot cottage, built in 1927. Miracle of miracles, it
included a tiny sliver of a laundry room, just off the kitchen. Less
than 4½ feet by 9 feet (including an 8-inch-deep cabinet), it was
still big enough to have an enormous effect on my sense of well-being.
I never realized how much time and energy I'd spent trudging back
and forth between where we generated the most laundry (the bedroom and
bathrooms) and where the stuff was actually washed. Now, with the
washer and dryer just steps from bed and baths, what had always felt
like drudgery has become a much more pleasant chore.
Despite its doll-house dimensions, our laundry room luckily
includes certain elements that experts say are essential for effective
laundry-room design. If you are thinking of creating or refurbishing
your own laundry center, these are the essential elements:
Good overhead lighting – You need to be able to see stains on
clothes before you launder them. It's also a lot easier to match socks
when you can see the difference between black and navy. Incandescent
lighting is preferable to fluorescent. Having a window is desirable
(and it's now one of the most-requested laundry-room elements),
especially since natural daylight reveals color variations most
Comfortable-height surfaces for sorting and folding – It's OK to
use the top of your washer and dryer as a sorting and folding surface
(assuming you clean the surface before placing clean clothes on it).
But if you have room for a counter or even a collapsible table, so
much the better. Whatever you use, the most important element is to
have a surface that is the optimum height for the chief launderer to
comfortably perform pre-and post-laundering tasks.
Drying rack – For the inevitable pieces of laundry that need to
be air-dried inside your home, there are some cleverly designed,
space-saving, foldaway or retractable racks available. I found one
that functions as a wall-mounted towel bar but unfolds and expands
into a clothes-drying rack. (Available from Frontgate Catalog,
Frontgate.com or (800) 436-2100). When I only have one or two items to
air-dry, such as damp dish towels, I just use the towel bar. To dry
more pieces, the rack pops out like magic and later retracts just as
Cabinets, shelving, and/or storage system for supplies – The
typical American has an average of eight laundry products in the
laundry room, including three types of detergent, two kinds of bleach
and various fabric softeners and stain removers. So storage space is a
"A mixture of cabinets, shelves and cubbies is the best way to
go in a laundry room," advises home-design expert Chris Casson
Madden. She also recommends drawers for storing things like sewing
supplies and clothespins. However, when drawers aren't an option, I've
found that having a small utility basket on a cabinet shelf works well
for keeping little things together and handy.
Here's another tip for making the most of your cabinet space: If
you buy detergent and bleach in discount jumbo sizes, decant them into
smaller containers that are easier to handle and take up less room.
Store the excess elsewhere (if you have another room or area with more
space than your laundry room).
Moisture-resistant flooring – Vinyl flooring, wood laminate or
tile are all good possibilities. You might also want to have a
comfortable standing surface in front of the machines. A spongy mat or
a foot-friendly throw rug with a non-slip backing are inexpensive yet
Laundry machines appropriate to your household's needs
– Last but
not least, having the right washer and dryer is key. "Seriously
consider stretching your budget to buy the highest-quality washer and
dryer you can afford," suggests Madden. "Top-of-the-line
appliances will take care of your clothing and linens with more
efficiency and care."
Of course, it also helps to use them properly, but many people
don't. Procter & Gamble claims that fewer than 50 percent of
Americans know how to load their washers correctly: water, then
detergent, then items to be washed.) Also remember that proper
placement of the machines can save you time and effort. Make it easy
to transfer clothes from washer to dryer, and from dryer to folding
surface or basket.
Features that are nice to have but not essential include: floor
drain; sink (helpful for hand-washing delicates and pre-soaking
heavily soiled items); wall-mounted, flip-down ironing board; cordless
steam iron; stacking bins (for sorting) and rolling laundry cart with
hanger bar. The desirability of such items depends on your needs and
your available space.
Harriet Schechter has helped thousands of people get organized
since 1986, when she founded The Miracle Worker Organizing Service in
San Diego. Now a Santa Barbara resident, she is the author of three
books. Her online advice column is at www.MiracleOrganizing.com.