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Setting up room properly will save time and energy

March 7, 2004

Nowadays, every day is wash day for most Americans.

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 quarters.

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 4 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.

Essential elements

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 accurately.

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, 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 easily.

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 necessity.

"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 effective options.

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

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