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Teaching Kids How to Wash Their Own Laundry

From hamper to washing machine and dryer to neat folded piles (or hung up on hangers in the closet), it's an important basic life skill. Here are tips to help.

The odds of your kid coming up to you and saying, "I need you to show me how to do the laundry" may be slim. But, if there's one key skill they'll need to survive on their own as adults, it's how to wash their own skivvies!

So gather your little ones and some grubby garments, and head to the washing machine. Granted, you don't want to throw your child into a "spin cycle" all at once. The most effective way to teach the laundry process to kids is in steps – and to always make sure you provide supervision.

Here are a few tips on showing children the basics, including proper prep, ensuring they know their way around a washing machine – and, with a little luck, maybe even avoiding the "missing sock" phenomenon.

1. Prepare the clothes

First and foremost, teach your children to turn their clothes inside out before tossing them into the hamper. You also might want to get your kids in the habit of checking pockets, as well. Lip balm and crayons going through the wash aren't a pretty picture.

2. Sort things out

At some point, many of us have turned a white garment into a pale shade of pink – thanks to accidentally tossing it in with something red. Teach kids early on how to avoid this textile catastrophe: Reds and the rest of their bright-colored friends get their own special pile. Same with whites and darks. Always check the labels, too: Some items may need to be dry-cleaned or hand washed, or perhaps washed in a mesh laundry bag, to prevent damage.

3. Basics first!

With wee kids, begin with simple loads, such as towels, jeans, shirts, socks and undies. Delicates, silks and other gentler materials are more prone to problems, so hold off on those lessons until kids are a bit older.

4. Set it up

That washing machine is marvelous – but can be intimidating. So break it down. First, assess your load. "Use hot water for light-colored items that are especially dirty or smelly," suggests the popular For Dummies series; "use cold water for dark clothes (especially new ones) whose colors are more likely to run." Cold's also a good bet for cotton, which is prone to shrink.

Sizes matters, too. Is it a small, medium or large load? To find out, answer the For Dummies' simple question: Is the machine one-third full, hall-full or three-quarters full? That's your guide. "Never stuff the machine," it warns, "because you need room for the water."

5. Layer and detergent

Once the load settings are good to go, activate the cycle. Consider adding the clothes after you start the water, layering them loose and evenly – "to allow the detergent to dissolve in the water," an eHow tutorial explains. Consider fabric softener, too, if you want fluffy towels, For Dummies adds. With supervision, kids can add the proper corresponding amount of detergent or softer. Just expect occasional initial "spillage" as kids learn how to measure.

6. Spin and dry

Now, close the lid and let technology work its magic! But, when that cycle is complete, remind kids: Laundry duty still entails a few more steps. First, it's dryer time. Again, check labels; some clothing might need to be air-dried, depending on its material.

As for the dryer: Again, so many settings. Which to pick? Taylor, the Midwest mom blogger behind Household-Management-101, says, in general, "If clothes were able to be washed in hot water, they can be dried on the hottest setting in the dryer" – usually "regular" or "heavy high." If you washed items in "permanent press" or with cooler water, "those clothes will most likely need to be dried on a lower setting," she says, labeled "medium," and set to "permanent press." Again, caution kids not to over-fill the machine. And, when the buzzer goes off, be sure to clean the lint trap!

7. Fold it up.

Kids can absolutely help with folding up the freshly dried load – or neatly popping garments on hangers. Even if the towels don't exactly fit in the closet when they're through with them, give kids props for lending a hand. (Remember, they're well on their way to unlocking a mystery that some college students have yet to figure out.)

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