Cleaning Up the Laundry

Do thoughts of laundry conjure up images of mismatched socks, clothing shredded by the dog as he sneaks off with items from the sorting piles on the floor, or enormous heaps of laundered clothing waiting to be pressed? If so, you’re not alone.

For many Americans, laundry is high on the list of most dreaded tasks, and the laundry area is the least organized space in the home.

We’ve gotten serious about creating kitchens and baths that are efficient, comfortable to be in and pleasing to the eye. It’s time to elevate the laundry room to the same status.

Today’s homeowners increasingly mention that they consider the laundry room to be a key part of the home. So, what do we do about it? The answer is to rethink the laundry room entirely, carefully considering every inch of space and how it can be better utilized to create a more efficient workflow.

If we take a moment to stop and ponder the actual amount of time we spend on laundry related activities and the inefficiencies that are built into most laundry areas, we would simply be appalled. In many homes, the laundry area is tucked into a remote location, typically the basement. How efficient is that? Clothes are stored, put on and taken off near the bedrooms. If the laundry is in the basement, or some other far-removed corner, we’re wasting precious time walking
back and forth.

That doesn’t mean the laundry area needs to be in the master closet or near the bedrooms, but one shouldn’t spend a great deal of time sprinting across the house to change loads. More and more laundry areas are now being located near the kitchen. This makes sense as the majority of time spent in the home is in the kitchen, making it easy for the homeowner to keep an eye and ear on the laundry.

Are laundry rooms glamorous? Certainly not, but they are necessary. So, if it’s something every American household partakes in, why not optimize this work space to make it one of the most, rather than least, efficient areas of the home? Laundry areas don’t need to cost and arm and a leg, they simply need intelligent planning.

The Fundamentals

To take a fresh approach to the laundry area, reject the familiar, inefficient routines and embrace a new outlook. Start first by examining the fundamentals. Where is it located and what does, or should, take place in this space? In general, a laundry room serves as a space for the following:

  • Preparation and sorting of dirty laundry.
  • Storage of laundry supplies.
  • Wash station – including the washer and laundry sink.
  • Drying station – including a dryer, drip or damp dry areas.
  • Folding counter space.
  • Pressing station – which may include an iron, ironing. board, hanging area and possibly a television.
  • Sorting area for delivery to bathrooms and closets.

On top of that, we want the laundry area to have some sort of aesthetic appeal… including color.

Design Considerations

So, what do you take into consideration when planning an efficient laundry area? Let’s start with the location.

  • Locate the laundry away from high traffic areas. One shouldn’t have to step over laundry baskets to get to the garage or other areas of the home.
  • The laundry area should not be located in the kitchen or pantry. Laundry areas produce humidity, dust, lint and vapors from an abundance of water, cleaning solutions and noise. You don’t want any of these things mixed in with food or food prep, nor do you want grease all over your clean clothes.
  • Try not to make this a multi-purpose room. Its sole purpose should be laundry care. Why? When sharing with sewing or hobby room activities, you have all of the same concerns as you would with the kitchen, plus it will require much more counter space, as much will be taken for other uses, thus eating up your folding space. Some other functions such as pet care or a service entry may be appropriate if enough space is allocated for efficiency and traffic passage.
  • Separate bath and laundry areas. Imagine tryiing to take a nice relaxing bath with piles of dirty laundry if clear view calling, “Clean me, Clean me!” So much for relaxation, not to mention ambiance.
  • Consider placing the laundry near the bedrooms. This is convenient from a proximity and storage standpoint. At the same time, you also need to determine if it will be efficient from an actual task standpoint. This will depend on the layout of the home. In some cases, it may make more sense to locate it near the kitchen where more time is spent on other activities. If the bedrooms and kitchen are near each other, the ideal location would be between them.
  • If the master suite is in a separate area of the home from the other bedrooms, consider a stacked washer/dryer in one area and a larger laundry facility near the other. This makes it convenient to service both.

    Next, let’s look at such tasks as sorting, hanging and storage.

  • Consider cubby storage for laundry baskets. This area can have multiple functions; family members can bring their individual baskets to the laundry room and place them in their assigned cubby, then, on laundry day, the items are consolidated and sorted, instead of leaving piles on the floor and reprimanding the dog for shredding the socks. Place the whites in one basket, delicates in another, etc. and return the baskets to the cubby area until all are washed. Folded items then get placed back into their appropriate baskets for family members to take and put away in their own spaces.
  • If a laundry shoot disperses items to the laundry room, provide an appropriate sized storage receptacle in which the clothes can collect. In this scenario, you might include cubby storage for laundry baskets that are labeled: hand wash, permanent press, whites, cold wash, colors, etc. for easy sorting. You might even include bins for dry cleaning, mending, giving to the local shelter, etc.
  • Provide cabinetry or shelving over or near the washer/dryer for soaps, detergents, bleach, fabric softener, stain removers and other chemicals. If placing these over a top-loading washer, be sure there is adequate clearance when the door is open.
  • Detergents and chemicals should be kept out of the reach of children and pets. If children are not present and you have the newer washer/dryer models that mount on top of drawer pedestals, this is a perfect location to store supplies.
  • Provide hanging areas for delicate wet items as well as freshly pressed items. These may be in the same or different locations, depending on the size and arrangement of the rest of the room.

Rods for drip dry/damp items are best placed over the sink/laundry tub, or if a human or pet shower will be located in this area, a retractable clothes line is a great solution. Recommend plastic hangers as they won’t rust and are not as apt to tangle as wire hangers.

If there is a shower, consider placing rails on either side to hold sliding/removable mesh shelves for sweaters and other items that should be dried flat.

If a shower stall is not an option for flat drying, there are drying centers on the market to handle multiple drying needs.
Include a space, perhaps the back of a cabinet door, for a cork board to keep care labels organized. Add in drawer for the extra buttons that come affixed to new clothing so that users can actually locate them if needed.

Washers, Dryers & Sinks

When planning the best configuration for a washer, dryer and sink, consider the following:

  • Provide 48" of clearance in front of each appliance to allow adequate room to walk around the open doors and also to prevent them from swinging into traffic paths for passage doors.
  • Front-load washers and dryers mounted on pedestals provide great ergonomic positioning, enabling the user easy access without bending over. By contrast, top-load washer require users to lean over and into the top of the machine. The disadvantage of having the washer and dryer mounted on a pedestal is that the tops of the machines are too high to use as counter space.

The controls on most front-load machines are mounted on the front of the unit where they are convenient and accessible even for someone working from a wheelchair or who otherwise has trouble reaching across the top. Another advantage to front-load washers is that there is no center agitator, allowing more clothes to fit in a smaller space. Larger items such as blankets and rugs can easily be washed in most front-loading machines.

Additional advantages of a front load washer include the following:

  • They typically use 40% less water than top-loaders. Their tumble action uses water movement to clean rather than an agitator, requiring much less water.
  • The spin cycles extract 35% more water due to higher spin speeds. Clothes come out damp rather than wet.
  • They typically use up to 75% less electricity as the continuous rotating action requires less energy that alternating agitation.
  • While more expensive up front, they typically have a longer life expectancy. Many units are still running strong after 20 years. In the long run, their longevity plus the savings in water, energy and detergent more than make up for the initial investment.
  • If space is limited, consider a stacked washer/dryer. They take up considerably less floor space, however they tend to be more expensive. Keep in mind, as with front loaders on pedestals, the top of the appliance is now too high to be utilized as counter/folding space.
  • Consider the future. Keep in mind you will replace your washer and dryer someday. You may not want to customize the room to the extent that it will only accommodate the type of units you now own. If you have a front-loading washer, it may be best not to enclose it under a permanent counter. If you move, the next owners may have a top load washer and won’t be able to install it without making countertop and other modifications.

    The laundry sink is another key facet of this space. This provides a place to for hand washables, soaking, a drip dry station and other clean up jobs.
  • Consider a Jentle Jet Laundry Sink for the family with a lot of hand washables and other small cleaning jobs. This whirlpool sink features a washboard front, recessed soap dish, three micro-jets, 1HP pump, light draw suction with filter, air volume control and pneumatic on/off button. The whirlpool action can be adjusted from a gentle swirl for lightweight items to vigorous action for heavier ones. The basin holds up to one large, bulky sweater, two blouses or five piece of lingerie, hosiery or swimwear. Some even use it for a doggie whirlpool.

Folding & Ironing

For folding, ironing and other prep work, consider the following:

  • You’ll want to include a spot for a waste receptacle. Whether it’s in a cabinet or under an open counter, this is key to an efficient laundry space. An ideal location is a pull-out waste cabinet between the washer and dryer for easy lint disposal.
  • Counter space is always at a premium in the laundry area, so provide as much as possible. A space in front of a window is ideal. The folding space is best kept away from the inevitable loose lint near the dryer.
  • If you do decide to include a sewing machine in the laundry area for quick repairs, make certain to provide adequate ventilation to keep humidity from damaging the machine. Provide enough additional counter space to leave the machine out and still have a folding space.
  • Don’t neglect the ironing board. Ironing is making a comeback as the era of wash-and-wear gives way to the era of specialized fabrics and finishes. If using a built-in ironing board, either in a drawer or dropping down from the wall, leave adequate space to walk around it when it is open. If utilizing a freestanding ironing board, consider a tall cabinet or wall bracket to house the board when not in use. Include storage space for the iron and an outlet placed for convenience. Ensure adequate space is available to set it up and maneuver around it.
  • Consider adding an entertainment feature to facilitate multi-tasking. A television may be the perfect motivator to prevent piles of laundered/wrinkled clothing from accumulating. Who knows, one might actually look forward to ironing as a chance to catch up on favorite TV shows.

Technical Considerations

When creating the perfect laundry space, you need to address technical considerations as well as functional ones. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Adequate lighting is critical. In addition to making the space more cheerful, it will help prevent against black and brown socks being mismatched. Include a light over the sink and over any additional work areas, as well.
  • Include a floor drain to protect the home from water damage in the event a washer hose breaks, or the laundry sink/tub overflows. Typically, the drain is centrally located in the room with the floor sloped to it.
  • You may want to consider an automatic shutoff valve to avoid costly water damage from burst hoses. An automatic shutoff valve senses when the washing machine is on or off, and then opens or closes the inlet valves as needed to allow or prevent water from flowing to the washer. If a leak is detected, both the hot and cold water valves immediately close.
  • Place the washer, laundry sink/tub and, if possible, the shower in close proximity to minimize plumbing expenses.
  • Consider insulating the walls and floor of the laundry room to minimize noise and vibration in adjoining rooms
  • Keep the dryer vent as short and straight as possible to promote airflow.

Adding Aesthetic Appeal

Once you’ve taken care of the functional and technical requirements, you’ll want to consider how you can add aesthetic appeal to this area. Since laundry isn’t the most desirable part of anyone’s day, you may want to consider incorporating an outside window, preferably overlooking a back yard play area or garden.

A pleasant view takes some of the drudgery out of this task. As an added benefit, the additional light can have an enormous impact on elevating people’s moods.

You’ll also want to consider the impact of color in creating a friendlier, more appealing laundry space. Of all places in the home, this is the perfect location to experiment with a favorite hue. Clients are often more conservative with their color choices in the living/entertaining areas of their home.

However, in the lesser-visited laundry area, walls in an intense orange or pink may be just what the doctor ordered to make the client smile when walking into this space. Or how about painting whimsical images of laundry blowing in the breeze on an outdoor clothes line? There’s plenty of opportunity to get creative here, so have a little fun!

Manufacturers have also raised the bar in terms of washer/dryer colors, so today’s choices now include brilliant reds, blues and silvers to help create sophisticated or simply bright and cheery spaces. Help your clients break out of their conservative routines by adding a little spice to their laundry room.

If your clients are on a quest to keep socks matched, clothing intact instead of in shreds, and items pristinely pressed and stored, take this insight to heart. Utilize the same principled approach you use when creating beautiful, functional kitchens and baths and apply it to the laundry.