Catching Up On a Mountain of Laundry
Are you buried chin hair deep in a pile of dirty clothing? Worried that you’ll never figure out how to catch up on laundry?
It’s possible this is your norm – that you’re always trying to play catch-up when it comes to dirty clothes. If you don’t have a good system, a towering dirty laundry pile can be a constant in your life.
Or maybe you’re normally pretty good at getting laundry done with a decent laundry routine. But even if you do have laundry mostly well in-hand, sometimes it only takes a life blip to get behind. You blink and suddenly you have SO MUCH LAUNDRY.
If you’ve been…
- Away on vacation, or
- Dealing with a broken washing machine
…the washing pile may loom over you like a starving cat at dawn, staring hungrily down at your sleeping face.
If this is you, know that you’re not alone. While writing this post, I got a comment from a reader who’s afraid of being buried under her “Mt O Laundry with its own zip code.” She was lying awake at 2:15 a.m. trying to figure out how to dig out.
My heart goes out to her.
My friend, I wish I could say there’s a magic wand (or shovel) to level that mountain of laundry. And also to feed the cat without leaving the embrace of your warm, cozy comforter.
But there’s not, so let’s work on getting you caught up.
Because if you’re awake at 2:15 a.m., you should be binge-watching Netflix. Not worrying about laundry.
Here’s how to get a lot of laundry done fast.
How to Catch Up On Laundry
When my dirty clothes pile gets out of hand, I use one of two methods to get caught up on laundry. I’ll detail them below, plus a bonus sub-method I’ve never used but heard good things about.
Method #1 Tackle Your Laundry Pile At the Laundromat
When there’s just too much laundry to get done in a day at home, consider hauling all your dirty clothes to the laundromat.
I had to include this because it just makes catching up on laundry so much easier. Depending on your local laundromat’s skeeve-ability rating, it’s the next best thing to that magic shovel.
If you haven’t used a local laundromat before, check out reviews online to find a clean one with good machines.
Then pack a magazine, a box of Cheez-its, and your earbuds and have some “me” time while all your dirty clothes get cleaned at once. Assuming you don’t have to take the kids with you.
If you do, God bless you and save you. But it’s still manageable if you prepare right and find the right laundromat. Especially if you’re usually a strict mom but are willing to break some electronics and/or snack rules just for this occasion.
If you’re headed to the laundromat to speed through cleaning your family’s dirty laundry, I’m working on a post for that. [UPDATE: This post is now live with a downloadable packing list. Click here to read “How to Use a Laundromat“]. It’ll have a packing list, some prep ideas, and tips to come out of the other side of the experience alive and on top of the world.
Or at least on top of Mt. Washmore.
Pros of the Laundromat Method
The best things about conquering your laundry using the laundromat method are:
- You’re forced to focus.
- You can use multiple machines to slash the total laundry time suck. So you’ll be done in a fraction of the usual amount of time it takes to get to the bare floor of your laundry room.
- And with all those lovely baskets of clean, folded, and sorted clothing arriving back in your driveway at one time, putting it all away becomes a one-time project. Instead of all-day drudgery.
So if you have…
- A non-gross, non-scary laundromat available to you,
- A block of time to spend out of your house, and
- A little money to throw at the problem,
…I highly recommend a solid laundromat session. There’s just such a feeling of relief in arriving back home with a huge pile of clean, already folded laundry.
Just a note here, though. If you follow the laundromat method, be strict with yourself about unloading your car when you get home and putting everything away. You do not want to be driving laundry around all week.
Or worse yet, fetching underwear out of the back of the van at 6:00 AM in subzero temperatures.
Come to think of it, it’s probably best not to be fetching underwear out of the back of a van in any temperature. Ever.
So plan unloading and putting-away time into your total time budget.
Sub Method #1 Wash and Fold Drop-off Laundry Service
This is the bonus sub method I promised. If you try it, let me know how it goes.
Dropping dirty clothes off at a wash-and-fold drop-off laundry service isn’t a laundry catch-up method I’ve used. However, I’m mentioning it in this section because it also involves a laundromat.
I can’t say much about how a wash and fold service works, but this is definitely an option. If you’re super pressed for time or energy or just completely out of it mentally right now, taking at least a few crucial loads to the local laundry drop-off service could keep you afloat a little longer.
I’m pretty sure they charge by weight. To save money, consider doing towels and jeans at home while dropping off the other stuff.
Of course, if you are completely out of laundry and the laundry drop-off service isn’t same-day, you’ll want to hold back anything you need in the next couple of days.
The only thing worse than having no clean undies is having no undies at all.
Before we talk about catching up laundry in your own home, I recently made a Quick Reference Guide to Catching Up Your Laundry At Home to summarize the steps below. You can download it here for free.
Method #2 Divide and Conquer Your Mountain of Laundry
On the other hand, if:
- A trip to the laundromat isn’t on my horizon,
- My family has no clean clothes, and
- The laundry pile is looming,
I like to break a big laundry-catch-up into two phases.
Phase 1, Emergency Laundry Catch-Up, ensures that no matter what other distraction or catastrophe happens later today, everyone will still have clean underwear. And Bubba’s T-ball uniform will be clean for tomorrow night’s game.
If you get distracted or don’t entirely finish 100% of your laundry, you won’t be caught in a major bind.
Phase 2, Catch Up All the Rest of Your Laundry, will knock out the rest.
So let’s get started on Method #2, Divide and Conquer Your Mountain of Laundry.
How To Catch Up On Laundry – the Pregame Show
Before you begin, make sure you have enough laundry detergent to do at least 2-3 loads. Preferably enough to tackle all of your dirty laundry.
Once you’re ready to start, plan to stick around for the next 90 minutes to two hours if at all possible so you can get at least one load all the way done and another into the washing machine.
See my warning at the end of this post about leaving clothes in the dryer when you’re out of the house – it’s a story about me being a bad mom so…the usual.
If you do need to go out (to buy more detergent or for other urgent matters) set an alarm to remind yourself to come back.
Phase 1 Emergency Laundry Catchup
Step 1 Gather Just the Basics
- First, as tempting as it may be to gather everything up to face it all at once and get it over with, don’t.
Resist the urge to make a huge dirty laundry pile in the middle of your laundry room floor. At least for now.
- Instead, take a basket around to all the dirty hampers, floor piles, and wadded up towel caves under your kids’ beds.
- Oh, and if you have a sports hero, Scout, or ballerina in the family, don’t forget to check the car. In case they de-uniformed in the back seat on the way home from their last sportsball event/camping trip/ballerina-a-thon.
- As you make your rounds, pick out just enough clothing and towels for your family to get by over the next 2-3 days. This isn’t the time to worry about dirty sheets (unless someone was nasty sick and you don’t have sheets on your beds).
- If you have any towels that are dry, don’t worry about towels just yet. Even if you only have damp ones, sniff ’em and, unless they’re all super crusty and smelly, hang a few up to hold you over.
Don’t worry, you’ll be hitting the towels later. But if your laundry is so far behind everyone has gone commando for days, let’s just start with clothes.
Things to Consider While Gathering Dirty Laundry
- Think about what uniforms or work clothes or dire necessity clothes (like PJs for the obligatory elementary school Pajama Day) need to be clean first.
- Don’t forget socks and underwear.
- Find the lightest (i.e., fastest drying), most minimal stuff for now.
Step 2 Prep and prioritize
- Check all the pockets and pre-treat stains for these 2-3 loads before you begin.
- Prioritize which load goes in first.
My family wears all colored socks and underwear so I wash everything together. But if your family wears white undergarments, meaning you must do them separately, start with a load of socks and underwear.
Then if nothing else goes right all day and laundry gets moved to the another day, you’ll at least have clean undergarments.
Hooray for clean skivvies!!
Be sure to set a timer so you can be sure to get all 2-3 loads through the process without ending up downstairs scrubbing baseboards or asleep and drooling in front of reruns of The Middle.
Step 3 Start Washing the First Load
Put your first load in and set a timer.
If and only if you have time to catch up most or all of your laundry today, you can begin Phase 2 while your first load washes.
While you’re waiting for emergency laundry Load #1 to finish, scroll down to Phase 2 (below) of laundry catchup day
If you’re not sure how many total loads of laundry you’ll be able to get through, just concentrate on Phase 1 for now. Phase 1 will ensure you have enough clean clothes to get you through at least the next 2 days.
If you decide to start Phase 2 while waiting for this first load in the washer, definitely make sure your timer is set to go back and move the clothes to the dryer. Phase 2 might distract you and you don’t want to forget to get through the first few necessary loads.
In either case, as the first few crucial loads of laundry finish, move them immediately to the dryer.
As Loads 1-3 come out of the dryer, fold them and put them away immediately. No matter what.
I’m usually a put-laundry-away-in-batches person, but this is important. At least for these first 2-3 loads of VIP laundry, make sure they’re taken care of fully.
The last thing you need is more laundry overwhelm right now.
Step 4 Start the Next Load of Laundry
Move Load #1 to the dryer and put in the second load.
Set a timer and continue on Phase 2 or whatever else you were doing.
Step 5 Complete the Current Clean Load in the Dryer
Once Load #1 is dry, fold it immediately from the dryer so it doesn’t wrinkle. If you’re in the middle of something and need a few extra minutes between taking it out and folding it, drape it across a chair back. This works wonders in keeping it wrinkle-free until you can get it folded.
As soon as it’s all folded and in the basket, go put it away. I know I already said that and am probably annoying you, but it’s worth repeating.
And I don’t mind being annoying. It’s kind of my specialty.
I know I know I know! It’s tedious to put away laundry one basket-load at a time, especially if you’re washing clothes from all over the house, but just this once it’s necessary.
So pretty please?
Step 6 Repeat
Then repeat Steps 4 and 5 until you have the 2-3 necessary loads done.
If you have time to keep going today, then continue (or begin) Phase 2.
Phase 2 Catch Up All the Rest of Your Dirty Laundry
Step 1 Gather All the Dirty Clothes In One Place
- Clear a sorting spot in your laundry room or a room nearby if your laundry room is teeny.
- Gather up all the dirty laundry in the house.
Step 2 Sort
- Sort by color or by person into piles. I sort by location (where clean laundry gets put away) to make the end of the process easier, since by then I’ll be tired and bored.
- If you have any hampers or totes or boxes or baskets available, sort into them. Even if it means a sea of baskets. This is MUCH better than leaving the piles on the floor to meld with each other, plus it’s good for your morale.
Instead of rolling hills of laundry with ragged edges, you have an area of organized, neat-looking laundry ready to go.
- Keep prioritizing anything that needs to be done sooner than later.
- Try not to start any laundry today that you’re not sure you can finish. Especially washer loads. You don’t want to go to do more laundry later only to find a musty, possibly even mildewed load waiting for you.
- By the way, if you ever do find musty clothes in the washer, pour in a cup of white vinegar and rinse them with that before drying. It should take out the funk.
Step 3 Prep Everything At Once
Check pockets, pre-treat stains. Get the clothes ready.
Step 4 Fold Clean Clothes As You Go
Continue feeding clothes through the washer and dryer, folding them as you go.
This is the most important part to avoid getting overwhelmed again. Fold clothes right as they come out of the dryer or at least drape them over the back of a chair to avoid wrinkles.
Don’t let anything other than underwear, socks, and towels sit unfolded in the laundry basket even for a little while. This keeps wrinkling to a minimum.
Step 5 Put Away Clothes If Possible
Like with the 2-3 catchup essential loads, continue putting away each dryer load as it comes out. Set a timer for 5 minutes and race to do this. This is a smart practice for the rest of today’s clean clothes during this big push to get caught up on laundry, even if it feels inefficient and monotonous.
Step 6 Repeat
Keep going, repeating Steps 4 and (hopefully) 5 until you’re either done or you need to wrap it up for the day.
Step 7 Finish Up
If you managed to get everything washed, dried, and folded (yay!!), make sure you put it all away. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a couch covered in ransacked baskets from family digging for clean clothes.
If you didn’t totally finish, and you’re not 100% sure you can tackle more dirty laundry tomorrow, neaten up the area and put the piles back together in a hamper.
Please don’t try to save two seconds worth of effort tomorrow by leaving it all out tonight if you’re not sure tomorrow will be another laundry day. You do NOT want to live for the next week with baskets of dirty socks floating around your dining room.
Re-sorting them tomorrow will be easy-peasy so don’t shoot yourself in the foot when it turns out you can’t get back to laundry this week, after all.
Quick Reference for How to Catch Up On Laundry
This is a long post, I know, so I’m creating a one-page quick reference with all the steps for catching up your laundry at home. I’m fighting my perfectionist side that wants to have it done before I post this. I promise it’ll be available soon. [UPDATE: Here it is! To download the quick reference guide of how to catch up on laundry step-by-step (shown below), click here.]
I’ve also summarized the steps below.
Recap of How to Catch Up On Laundry
- Decide whether you want to take your mountain of dirty laundry to the laundromat, drop it at a wash-and-fold service, or tackle it at home.
- Gather supplies to make sure you have enough detergent, etc.
- If you plan to tackle the overwhelming laundry pile at home, divide it into phases to ensure you have the clean clothes you need for the next 2-3 days, even if you can’t finish it all today.
- Gather up the most crucial laundry ONLY – enough dirty socks, underwear, towels and necessary outerwear to make it through the next couple of days.
- Prep the crucial laundry by pre-treating stains and checking pockets.
- Put the first load in the washer.
- While those clothes are making their way through the laundry process, begin a big sort of all the other, nonessential laundry, pre-treating and checking pockets as you go.
- Once all 2-3 loads of the most important laundry are completely washed, dried, folded, and put away, then begin methodically making your way quickly through the remaining washing pile
- Use timers throughout the day to ensure you stay focused on getting everything through the washer and dryer as fast as possible.
- Fold laundry as it comes out of the dryer, or at least drape it over a nearby chair to prevent wrinkling.
- For at least the 2-3 loads of crucial laundry, get it put away immediately as soon as it’s clean, dried, and folded. Even if it seems inefficient to do it this way.
- Do not start any laundry you can’t complete today.
- Don’t leave laundry in progress when you go to bed. That way you don’t end up with a washer-load of smelly stuff you forgot about three days from now, a mess to deal with when you wake up, or, God forbid, a dryer fire.
Important Warning When Trying to Catch Up On Your Laundry In One Day
Speaking of dryer fires…
One big thing I want to make sure I say here is please, no matter how far behind you are, resist the urge to catch up on drying while you’re asleep or if you have to leave the house. If you think this is overkill on safety, here’s why I’m stressing this. *Bad mom story alert*
I used to make it a point to never dry laundry when my kids were home alone. Once they were old enough to stay home alone, if I was doing laundry and had to run out, I’d turn off the dryer before leaving.
Until one day I tempted the God(dess?) of Dryer Lint. I allowed the load in the dryer to keep running while I ran out to the store.
All was well, and knowing my faulty logic, I may have started doing this more often. After all, if it didn’t catch on fire this one time, then it never would, right?
This is the same logic I’ve heard from older people about seatbelts. “We didn’t use seatbelts when our kids were young and they all lived.” You can see the wobbly logic line here if you look closely enough.
However, the next day, the dryer caught on fire. While I was home (thankfully).
On fire, people!
And, yes, the lint trap was CLEAN. Even the hose to vent it from the house had been recently cleaned. But, apparently, lint can get down into the motor area and build up, where you can’t even see it or vacuum it up.
Totally not fair.
Luckily I was home and smelled smoke. I took it as a sign to not tempt fate again.
So yeah, never leave a dryer running if you’re not around and awake to shut it down and put out a fire.
Final Thoughts On How to Catch Up On Laundry
There are always going to be life glitches like sickness and broken washers, so it’s good to know how to catch up laundry in a pinch.
But if you can avoid laundry overwhelm in the future, that’s the brass ring we’re trying to grab on the nauseating laundry carousel.
Getting a good system going is the best way to avoid a boxer-less hubby and the need to use beach towels to dry dishes. I’m working on a post to talk about my system which has kept my laundry boat afloat since 2013. I won’t admit to this in public, but nowadays, I even like doing laundry.
If you ask me in front of people I know, though, I will still claim to hate doing laundry.
Thanks for keeping my little secret…
If you have any of your own laundry (or other) secrets, share them with me below. I promise I won’t tell anyone.
And if you have any of your own tips on how to catch up laundry or want to share how these steps worked for you, I’d love to hear that too.