Laundry tips for the undomesticated man

Guys, here's how to handle the laundry when the wife is away or doing something else inconvenient, like having a baby.

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  • Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Rob Jenkin's book, "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility." It has been republished here with permission.

  • Like most guys, I learned to do laundry in college. Each week, I had to address the age-old question, "Do I wash clothes, or just buy new underwear?" At that time it cost about $2.50 to do two loads of laundry, whereas a three-pack of briefs went for $2.79 at the local Wal-Mart.

  • Clearly a no brainer. After five years (give or take), I left school with a bachelor's degree, $153.75 in library fines and 248 pairs of shorts.

  • Occasionally, though, I did have to wash clothes, usually when my jeans began to move around the room by themselves during the night. The system I perfected was to divide my clothes into two loads - merely filthy and truly disgusting - and toss each into a machine with as much detergent as I could beg, borrow or steal from whoever else happened to be in the laundry room.

  • When each load came out of the dryer, I immediately put the shirts and slacks on hangers to keep them from getting too wrinkled (moderately wrinkled was fine) and dumped the rest into an old pillow case. This seemed to work well. I never once had a woman turn me down for a date because of the way my clothes looked or smelled.

  • At least, that was never mentioned as a reason.

  • Unfortunately, the fact that this system worked just fine for me in college means nothing to my wife. In her world, laundry must be sorted into at least eight different piles, using some arcane formula that would befuddle Harry Potter. Each pile must then be loaded into the machine with exactly the right amount of detergent, fabric softener and bleach, all the myriad dials and switches turned to exactly the right setting. Afterwards, everything has to be folded or - gasp! - ironed and then put away.

  • That's a lot of work. Fortunately, most married men don't have to do laundry very often, for the simple reason that their wives don't trust them with it. This is compelling evidence that women are indeed smarter than men.

  • If, however, you find yourself doing a lot of laundry at some point, perhaps because your wife is out of town or has done something else really inconvenient, like have a baby, or because you're (ahem!) a sensitive guy, here are some useful tips for getting it done as quickly and as efficiently (read "with as little work") as possible.

  • First, divide your laundry into no more than three loads. Three small loads. Leave your wife's clothes in the hamper. If she's out of town or otherwise incapacitated, she doesn't need them anyway. Plus, many of the kids' clothes can be stuffed under their beds for you to pull out later while upbraiding them - in your wife's presence, of course - for not putting their laundry in the hamper. This will both lessen your work load and make you look like a concerned father.

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  • Second, be sure to wash everything on cold/cold, with no bleach. That way, if you did a poor job dividing your loads by color, you don't have to worry about anything getting too ruined. The clothes may not actually get clean, either, but as long as the faint odor of detergent is clearly perceptible, you can always blame the remaining stains and streaks on the machine.

  • Third, take any clothes that would normally be ironed out of the dryer as soon as it stops and put them on hangers (one trick from college that still works). If, say, you're in the middle of your afternoon cable talk show and don't get to the dryer quick enough, just run that load through for another 10 or 15 minutes. This will keep the clothes from getting too wrinkled, so that they may not need to be ironed at all, especially if they're children's clothes. I've always regarded ironing children's clothes as a waste of time, unless you plan to laminate the child, clothes and all.

  • Finally, take everything that's left - underwear, socks, jeans, T-shirts and divide it into baskets by family member. (Don't bother to fold any of these. They're either supposed to be wrinkled or else not seen.) Then place each basket in that person's closet, where with any luck, it will be emptied before your wife gets home.

  • If you follow these simple steps, you will win the undying love and respect of your wife, who will in turn become the envy of her friends. You might even be mistaken for a sensitive guy.

  • And if all else fails, you can always make a last-minute run to Wal-Mart.

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Rob Jenkins is a newspaper columnist, a happily-married father of four, and the author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility," available on Amazon. E-mail Rob at or follow him on Twitter .

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