Ask Unclutterer: Laundry tips for apartment dwellers

Reader Diane submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I live in an apartment without a washer or dryer in my unit. Unclutterer is rich with laundry advice, but none of it gives specific tips for regular laundromat users. How can I make the process suck less?

In a strange set of circumstances, the next day I received an e-mail from reader Hannah that directly answered Diane’s question. Spooky.

The tips that you guys have given about laundry routines tend to be oriented (understandably) toward home-owners who have whole rooms for their laundry-related paraphernalia. As an apartment-dweller (with roommates), I just wanted to pass along a system that’s been working well for me in terms of the four laundry factors specific to apartment buildings:

  • general lack of space
  • lack of privacy (not being able to leave stuff in the laundry room between washings)
  • having to tramp up and down stairs (often ice-covered), lugging hampers or bags of laundry
  • having to hunt up quarters

The magic thing that has changed my life and enabled me to stop procrastinating about doing my laundry: a “laundry tote!” I’m using a shower caddy (this one happens to be a soft-sided waterproof vinyl bag with pockets, but those square plastic ones would work as well) to hold:

  • various detergents decanted into Gatorade bottles (which hold enough for multiple loads but aren’t as big and heavy)
  • stain remover
  • dryer sheets
  • quarters
  • delicates bags

This way, when I finally get the gumption up to traipse down the stairs with a giant hamper in 2-degree weather, I don’t get bogged down searching for coins and juggling bottles and dryer sheets and my keys. And when I’ve got quarters hanging around, I know where to stash them.

I also use a couple of the pockets to hold the extra buttons that come with clothes, patches, elastic, etc.

And, to chime in at the end here, be sure to check out our post “How to use the laundromat to get our laundry routine under control” for a few more ideas.

Thank you, Diane and Hannah, for being a part of our Ask Unclutterer column. A solid question and an informative answer!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

46 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Laundry tips for apartment dwellers”

  1. posted by Jay on

    For when you need to dry stuff in the apartment: forget the radiators, use a dehumidifier (and maybe another fan). Better still:

  2. posted by Tabatha on

    i need to add my two cents here. i have been living in apartments a long time and usually dread doing laundry b/c i hate hauling it around, especially in cold weather. but i bought a Wonder Wash from this website

    it is awesome, and the best money i have ever spent. i got a cheap drying rack to dry the stuff when its clean and i don’t have to go to the laundry mat unless i want to or need to catch up if i get behind on laundry. although not something that would work well for someone with a lot of kids.

  3. posted by Tabatha on

    and that shower caddy looks just like a bucket boss

  4. posted by Barbara on

    One suggestion that may cut down a LOT on laundry supplies is a product that I just started trying last month: soap nuts. I was very skeptical of this product (and let me note: I do not work for any company that sells, produces, or advertises soap nuts, I am completely unaffiliated), but they not only save space in terms of storage, they are eco-friendly and get laundry clean. Stain removal may necessitate oxy clean, but otherwise, I have been really happy with them.

    There is no need for softener sheets and you can reuse the soap nuts 3-5 times. 1 lb bag can wash about 150 loads of laundry.

  5. posted by Carolynn on

    Hannah is clearly a genius. Hannah, I hope you are making lots of money somewhere that can be converted into endless quarters.

  6. posted by TheGreenCat on

    I was just about to say the same thing as Barbara! Soap nuts are the best! No more bottles of liquids or powders, no measuring cups, no softener sheets. I have 2 bags of soap nuts prepped to go at all times (one for cold wash and one for wash wash). I toss them into my pocket along with my quarters, pick up my laundry bag and away I go to the laundromat! Soap nuts don’t put chemicals into your clothes or the environment and are completely compostable when you have used them up. (Nope, I don’t sell the things, I just love them!)

  7. posted by Peg Bracken Fan on

    I second the comment about using a smaller container for the laundry detergent. We kept a small Tupperware container with a lid in the giant box of detergent in our closet. You don’t actually need to use as much detergent as the detergent box recommends, either–the washing machine agitation is what actually washes the clothes.

    Our laundry went into an IKEA laundry hamper on wheels. When it was laundry time, the Tupperware container with detergent went into the hamper, and it all zoomed down the hall into the elevator to the laundry room.

    As far as time management, I used to get up really early in the morning on the weekends, drop my laundry into the washers in my apartment building, go for a run, come back, put it in the dryer, and go take a shower. By the time I was clean and dressed, my laundry was dry.

  8. posted by Marsha on

    I’ll add one more tip: forget laundry hampers or baskets. For the past few years I’ve been using IKEA’s giant blue plastic bags (59 cents each) for my laundry needs. The bags are squishable, so they fold flat when not needed and take up almost no space. In-the-process-of-being-filled-with-dirty-laundry bags can be easily squeezed under beds, in closet corners, or places much–much easier than trying to fit a rigid container in a tight space. The bags are also waterproof and durable, and they have both short and long (over-the-shoulder) handles for carrying ease. And did I mention how cheap they are?

  9. posted by Jason Rehmus on

    Here’s a tip I read in a book about living in your rv fulltime. Use canvas (or otherwise washable) bags for each load of laundry. Add your detergent right into the bag before you leave the house. When you get to the laundromat, add your clothes and the bag to the load. You can then dry everything and load your folded laundry right back into the bag for easy transport home.

  10. posted by Louise on

    We live in our 300 sq ft RV, so space is really tight. Here’s my strategy for laundry. I visit a laundromat about every 2 weeks (always a different one, since we travel constantly.) In our closet we have 2 laundry hampers, one for lights and one for darks. Each hamper will fill a large double or triple front-loader commercial washer. 2 hampers, 2 washers. Easy.

    Since we rarely can park right next to the laundromat, I have a nifty folding cart that easily schleps the hampers. Photos here:

    We no longer own anything that can’t be washed and dried in commercial machines. No dry cleanables, either. Stores are full of thousands, if not millions, of clothing items that are easy-care. Why choose something difficult to wash? I don’t need any special detergents. Stains are treated with a Spray-N-Wash stain stick before they go into the hamper. Works great even if the item then sits for 12 days before washing.

    As for quarters, I don’t think of them as money anymore: they are Laundry Tokens. Using them is better than playing a casino slot machine. Clink clink clink, and 30 minutes later, I win clean clothes! Woo hoo! Jackpot!

  11. posted by Megan on

    YES! This is perfect – I am about to move from an apartment with a W/D to an apartment where I’ll be going to the laundromat.

    I do find myself wondering how Diane’s system works with limited storage though – the large bottles still need to be stored somewhere, in addition to the small bottles/caddy. It seems like she would be constantly refilling her quarter stash and small detergent bottles?

    But I suppose any good uncluttering technique does take a little maintenance/habit forming?

  12. posted by Laura on

    By the way, many pill bottles are just the right size to hold quarters. (Film canisters also work, if you remember what those are!)

  13. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    I love all these comments because they give us such great collective wisdom.

    When I was in college and had to drag my laundry down three flights of stairs and down the street to do my laundry (no laundry facilities in the actual dorm) I dreaded carrying everything. I ended up getting a three bag sorter and carrying 1 bag down about every 3 days to do a load while I read a book for class. I used it as mandatory study time. In about a week and a half I would wash all my laundry, one bag at a time.

  14. posted by Scott on

    I second the dehumidifier suggestion. The Wonder Wash and spin dryer from The Laundry Alternative work well and help me save money and cut down on trips to the laundromat too: I’m a big fan of Charlie’s soap as well:

  15. posted by Amphritrite on

    I live in 375 badly-laid-out square feet with no washer and dryer. We DO have a laundry room in the basement, but it’s cramped, poorly lit, and nothing is secure down there. Here’s a handful of MY tips to exemplify how I keep myself in clean undies and socks:

    1. When I first moved in, I realized what an abysmal laundry situation it was. Since then, I have utterly refused to use the laundry room and its gross, dark-cornered, badly-lit dungeonesque equipment. I found a professional laundry service that doubles as a laundromat in a nice part of town near coffee shops and grocery stores. No quarters necessary – it transfers cash or debit card credit to a smart card that works in every machine.

    2. I often send away for samples of various detergents. Those little two-load pouches are PERFECT for a Saturday wash run.

    3. I chose a laundromat close to several places with Wifi. After tossing in my whites and darks loads into two separate washers, I walk away with my laptop and go sit in the coffee shop while the machines do their jobs. I’ve written many, many of my novels this way.

    4. I second the Ikea-bag theory. They’re fantastic and easy to cart; my laundromat actually will give you one if you’re a new customer because they’re so fantastic.

    5. I only dry in a dryer those things that must be. Socks and undies do fine on a drying rack at home, so into a plastic bag they go. Towels, on the other hand, don’t seem to be as soft and lovely when they air dry, unless they’re air-dried on a line in the sunshine (unfortunately, I don’t have the option unless I want to hang the line between two parked cars outside.)

    6. I use dryer sheets but like my mother before me who raised five kids on a soldier’s salary, I always rip them in half, using one-half dryer sheet per load. It doesn’t seem to make a different and dryer sheets rip cleanly in half down the center like paper towels do (note: i use the same trick for paper towels).

    7. I use a gift-wrap upright storage container as a laundry hamper in my apartment. It’s ultra-slim and fits in the eighteen inches between my commode and corner shower in my 6×6 poorly-laid-out bathroom.

    8. Instead of a fancy-schmancy drying rack that takes up valuable footprint space in my apartment, I grabbed a large grid from one of those Target modular cubes that they use in dorms and hung it over the hallway, parallel to the floor, on a little pulley that’s hidden in the corner. I just drop it down and use simple clothes pins to hang my delicates and etc from.

    9. I keep those stupid hangers from stores with the two clamps (one on either side). With some of my nicer work shirts, when hung by the bottom hem, it keeps everything wrinkle free and dries out all the kinks, saving them from bottom-of-the-bag folds after a dryer run. Like my socks and undies, these particular shirts do not ever see the inside of the dryer.

    10. If I’m doing a wash of blankets, pillows, or sheets, I take a thin sash with me. When I’m done drying at the laundromat, I fold them as compactly as possible and bundle them up with the sash for easy carting.

    I hope these ideas help someone out there! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. posted by Amphritrite on

    Oh, one last tip – if you have a friend with a washer/dryer in their home or apartment, it never hurts to ask if you can bring your wash over to their house and in exchange…watch their kids while they go shopping, or sit in for a cup of tea and catch up, or even offer to do their wash, too! You’d be surprised how many people HATE laundry and would love for someone else to do it.

    It’s a great opportunity to strengthen a friendship while getting the dirty deeds done.

  17. posted by Roslin on

    I did the same as Hannah – had a bag with coins, detergent etc. My laundry basket & bedroom were the furthest from my door, so I put my laundry bag and supplies in an IKEA trones unit (still available) by my front door. When I’d forgotten something it was nice not to have to schlep to the bedroom or linen closet.

  18. posted by awurrlu on

    I love the idea of decanting detergent into smaller bottles! Brilliant!

    For many years I lived in an apartment that was under 300 square feet, with small closets. Here’s how my system worked:

    Dirty clothes went into a canvas bag that was on a folding wooden rack that had a footprint of a little more than 1 square foot. I kept it in my closet below my hanging clothes. I kept detergent on the floor under the bottom of the bag.

    Quarters were in a drawstring bag in my top desk drawer.

    On laundry day, I just grabbed the bag, put its straps over my shoulder, took the detergent and quarters, and off I went!

    Now I have laundry in my building but less closet space. As a result, I put a small collapsible cube on top of a file box in my closet, and when it’s full, it’s laundry time!

  19. posted by Matt on

    For carrying stuff down to the shared apartment block laundromat, I have a a bag that I got free from Comic Con for carrying free posters and schwag.
    I have a pot for quarters by the door, next to the big bottle I put change in.
    Here’s the bit that makes my girlfriend roll her eyes: I measure the detergent liquid from the huge CostCo dispenser into the measuring cup, then put the filled measuring cup in an old butter pot (round and yellow with a red lid – can’t remember the brand). It doesn’t matter if it spills inside the butter pot, I can throw the whole lot in the machine, cup, pot and lid.

  20. posted by adora on

    Maybe not so spooky, but rather that more people are using laundry mat at this economy. (Where can I invest in laundry mat?)

    I live in an apartment with limited space, but I finally bought a small vertical wash and dry unit in the kitchen last year. I like how I can do laundry late at night without worrying about safety.

    Before I have the machine, I put all my clothes in a mesh tote. I really like Purex tab detergent as they are easier to transport. I also have a Clorox bleach pen and a small pre-treater pen. A little coin purse for all the change. I put them all in a small mesh bag, and hung it in my closet. It goes back into the closet when I’m done.

    If you prefer liquid detergent and softener, you may put small amount in shampoo bottles. As they are leak-proof.

  21. posted by Christine on

    Ditto on NOT lugging big bottles of detergent. What I do is “recycle” a clear plastic water bottle, fill it by measured-out capful, and mark lines with a permanent sharpie marker on the outside so I know exactly how much detergent to use per load. That way I can do 3-4 loads from one bottle with the correct amount of detergent, and when I refill the bottle, can use the lines as a guide.

    I also recycle a salsa jar to hold laundry quarters; once a week I dump all the change out of my purse, quarters in the jar and other coins to be rolled. Keeps me from lugging coin-clutter around, too! I have a great little coinpurse with a wrist-strap that I use to carry quarters to the laundrymat.

    My hamper is a canvas laundry bag hung from a gorgeous wrought-iron frame, so easy to transport, whether to the basement or up the street in various apartment situations.

    I’m also about machine-drying as little as possible: socks, linens, jeans, sometimes t-shirts.

  22. posted by Louise on

    @Christine “I have a great little coinpurse with a wrist-strap that I use to carry quarters to the laundrymat.”

    Brilliant! I’m stealing that idea ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. posted by Rue on

    I wish I’d had this post when I was lugging laundry up and down stairs! Will make note of it in case I ever again live in an apartment with no W/D.

    As far as quarters – my husband and I used to just get $10 rolls and would use as many as we needed for laundry. The rest usually got spent on other things, and next laundry day we just got another $10 roll. ๐Ÿ™‚ The good thing is that getting them by the roll keeps them all together and you can just pull out as many or as few as you need.

  24. posted by Krisha on

    when payday rolls around, i usually go to the bank and get 2 rolls of quarters. a BIG laundry day for me is 4 loads, which is about $11, but of course, that’s not the norm. a quarter dispenser was a bit indulgent (and a unitasker), for $2/3, but it saves me from having to dig through all the change in my purse to find enough coins to get the job done.
    ikea’s big blue bags are my go-to for toting laundry. at less than a dollar, you can’t go wrong.
    (unless, of course, you’re not near an ikea, in which case, get a buddy to grab some and mail them to you. they’re great!)

  25. posted by Jane on

    The detergent in smaller bottles is a great tip, but here’s another method I used when I used laundromats.

    While you’re still upstairs, measure out the detergent (I’ve done this with both liquid and powder) and pour it into a sock, one sock per load. (Just make sure it’s a white sock for white loads!) Then, put the socks full of detergent on top of the basket and heave it downstairs. It doesn’t really mater if some spills out- it’s just soap. Claim your washers, throw a sock in each one, and start separating out the clothes on top. Then you don’t have to carry bottles at all- the laundry does the work for you.

    I also used to wear sweatshirts with kangaroo pockets in front for holding quarters and keys while I needed both hands for carrying/separating.

  26. posted by L. Hernandez on

    My powdered laundry detergent is in a clear Rubbermaid container, and stays in the trunk of the car, along with the dryer sheets. I also have a ton of plastic hangers that I keep in the car so that I can hang things right at the laundromat.

  27. posted by Laura on

    Takes me back to the days when we were first married and lived in a tiny New York apartment. We decided we were willing to give up the coat closet and bought stacked washer/dryer set. It was a God-send, especially since baby #1 came along 13 months later. ๐Ÿ™‚

    For us it was a worthwhile investment, because when we moved it was a great selling point. (Our home was actually a condo.)

  28. posted by Laura on

    Forgot to mention that powder detergent lasts much, much longer than liquid detergent. I have an HE washer and I use 1/3 less detergent than recommended and everything comes out clean, clean, clean!!

    I recommend you stay away from liquid detergent.

  29. posted by Dan on

    Can’t believe that no one is mentioning outsourcing the whole effort. I use a Fluff’n’Fold service that knocks it out of the park. Here’s the tale of how this came to be (mildly salty language ahead):

  30. posted by Sue B on

    When I lived in apts I had a month’s worth of underwear and whatever other clothes I needed for my job life. Bras and shirts could be handwashed and hung up to dry when needed. A month’s worth of clothes means the laundry run only took 2 hours once a month. And no matter how much laundry you have, a laundromat only takes 2 hours.

  31. posted by Julie on

    I love, love, love this post! Thanks to everyone for sharing their tips. I recently moved into my first place that doesn’t have a washer and dryer in the unit. At first I was frustrated that I couldn’t wash things as I needed but over the past few months I’ve become fond of the laundromat for many reasons. Some of my favorites…

    1. Time saved, 2.5 hours at the very most for all of the laundry my husband and I create.
    2. I can multi-task because the laundromat I go to has a water machine and free wifi.
    3. Going to the laundromat forces to me to fold my clothes when they come out of the dryer. No more baskets of clean clothes to accidentally get mixed in with the dirty clothes because I didn’t take the time to fold them. This also reduces my ironing drastically.
    4. I love the feeling of coming home and having a day when ALL of my laundry is done; it creates a sense of accomplishment. I know it’s nerdy but my to-do list is never done and it’s nice to have something completely done.
    5. My husband cleans the bathroom at home while I do laundry! What a deal?

    Thanks again everyone for sharing your tips. Oh, I am curious about the quarters thing. Don’t your laundromats have change machines? I just bring some form of cash and then get change there. Any leftovers go in my wallet for parking meters.

  32. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Back in the day when I had to schlep to a shared laundry room or a laundromat, I had a couple of tricks that made it easier for me:

    – Used powdered detergent (it’s lighter than liquid). Measure out one load’s worth into a plastic zipper bag; make as many bags as you have loads. Reuse the zipper bags (mine usually lasted at least a year).

    – When you empty your change from your pocket or purse at the end of the day, separate the quarters from the other change and put them in a separate container. You may still have to get more change at the laundromat, but you’ll at least have some already.

    – If you can, pick an off-peak time to go to the laundromat. Nothing worse than finding one open washer on a Saturday morning when you have five loads to do. Go when you can start up as many washers as you need all at one time.

    – If you have a car, try out different laundromats, rather than just defaulting to the one closest to you. Some of them are quite nice now, with WiFi or lounge areas or even bar service. Find one with an atmosphere that makes that two-hour time block tolerable.

  33. posted by Vicki Winterton on

    I have been a professional organizer for a number of years now and love the simplicity of the solution offered by Hannah in relation to Diane’s concern with community laundry rooms.
    A shower tote is genius! Another option is to buy a cleaning tote. I always prefer those which are compartmentalized. It too will allow easy transport. Thanks to all for enlightening a pro!

  34. posted by John of Indiana on

    I have to drive 35 miles round-trip to get to the laundry. I’d think I’d died and went to Valhalla if there was laundry room in my apartment building.
    It’s a really unpleasant task, but here’s my routine:
    Laundry bags. one for whites, others for shirts and other things that get washed in cold water. Some of those big blue totes from IKEA for everything else (blankets, throw rugs, etc.)
    A basket to carry the detergent, supplies and potions, stain sticks, hangers, laptop.
    I built one of those shirt folding things from foamboard and fold up the t-shirts that way. I used to do the “Japanese 2-second fold” but it doesn’t work well w/a XX of XXX shirt. Shirts come out of the drier barely damp and go on hangers. Most the wrinkles fall out of them that way, ditto for jeans.
    Load the whole schmeer back into the truck and drive home.
    Luckily the wash-a-teria I use has free Wi-Fi and my laptop battery lasts long enough to finish the job.
    Makes the job a little less unpleasant, being able to read this site while the stuff’s tumbling round and round…

  35. posted by Aliza on

    After spending way too much of my free time doing laundry and gathering enough quarters and finding space in my smallish apartment for laundry supplies I decided that it was just easier for me to bring my laundry to a wash and fold laundromat and have them do it for me.
    It costs a bit more, but as it’s my only splurge I don’t mind too much.

  36. posted by Jasi on

    I’m with Dan. Geez. Super – uncluttering.. don’t bother with any materials. Just pay by the pound to drop off at the mat. Ultimately, less of a hassle.

  37. posted by Gillian on

    Carrying the dirty stuff can sometimes be a nuisance too. If your dirty stuff is roughly folded, it will actually take up less space. Even fold the sheets till you get there. Of course, it doesn’t weigh any less.

  38. posted by Adrienne on

    The Stuffel at Container Store is good for apartment dwellers. It allows you to carry your clothes on your back and there are pockets for detergent, coins, fabric softener, ect.

  39. posted by Eric on

    As an apartment dweller myself, I find that “dropps” brand laundry detergent save me some work. They are prepackaged in little dissolving packets and that saves me from lugging huge containers of Tide around, and the quality seems good.

  40. posted by Tammy on

    I was forever forgetting to grab detergent and fabric softener, etc on my way down to do laundry until one day I had a fabulous idea albeit so obvious that I wanted to smack myself for not thinking of it sooner – My building’s laundryroom doubles as a storage room with each apartment having their own locked “cupboard” – I now keep all my laundry supplies in my cupboard and store the key in my change jar.

  41. posted by Louise on

    @Tammy, that’s a great example of “put it where you use it.” I often have those “well, duh!” moments when I realize that simply moving an item from one room/cupboard/shelf to another would make a huge difference.

    Sometimes it’s hard to see around our own habits, though.

  42. posted by Tony on

    As a condo dweller, I have relegated my existence to the Laundromat to DRY clothes only. I pay 25 cents for 10 minutes of drying! Not too shabby.

    It’s amazing how you look at things when its pay-per-use.

    You see, I have a perfect washer in my apartment, but my dryer is uncooperative. My electric dryer has declared war on my gas connection. :-(.

    But crazy as this sounds, I like going to the Laundromat, taking care of business, and leaving with so much savings in my pocket.

    My dryer’s fixed overhead + electrical consumption (at my prior apartment) costs more than the variable cost of drying clothes at the Laundromat.

    Going to the Laundromat and saving money is like an alternative form of retail therapy.

    By the way, I use either a suitcase or the IKEA hamper to transport my clothes depending on volume.

    Also, I currently don’t have a gas account/bill for my condo. Thatโ€™s $0 a month. I shoot the moon.

    Anyway, a large part of my laundry is underwear related. All of my underwear & socks is gray or black!

    ONE LOAD = 50 cents for a 20 minute dry! {cash register ring}.

    Standardization reduces costs and color bleeding concerns.

    The other clothes I wash at home and line dry despite international cleaning care labels. Line dry ==> shoot the moon again with $0.00 costs to dry.

    If the garment is too delicate ==> dry clean.

    Also, I iron the air-dried clothes to the desired crispness whilst watching C-Span and political shows Sunday morning.

    Thereโ€™s my routine.

  43. posted by Mander on

    I used to do my laundry at a place several blocks away. It was too close to bother driving down (not to mention finding and paying for parking) but too far to carry a normal laundry basket. I used a big 3-compartment backpack, like you would use for hiking. Powdered soap in one pocket, small decanted bottle of softener (when I bothered to use it) in the other, a book, and some quarters. It was much easier to carry all those clothes on my back than lugging a bag.

    A family down the street used one of those giant plastic sterilite-type tubs which they set on a kid’s wagon.

    I would image a standard wheeled suitcase would work pretty well, too.

  44. posted by Ben Norman on


    Thanks a lot for sharing these wonderful Laundry tips… This guide is very much helpful for me… ๐Ÿ™‚

  45. posted by Rebecca on

    The laundromat across the street from my apartment does 8 lbs of laundry for $5. I store the laundry there until I’m ready to bring down another bag. ๐Ÿ™‚

  46. posted by Linda on

    I bought a 3-tier drying rack from this website

    It is really great because it has wheels to move it around the room and folds flat to fit in the closet or slide under the bed. I do not have to wait for clothes to dry in the laundry room. I can hang them to dry and go about the millions of other things I need to get done. They have other drying rack options as well.

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