Should you do the laundry?

In order to decide whether to outsource laundry, you need to calculate base costs and the cost of your time.

Laundry is forever. Whether you love it or hate, it needs to get done.

Even if you are neutral to positive about it, you may be running thin on the mental and physical energy necessary to get it done. You can easily get drained in the endless loop of planning and doing.

The endless cycle of laundry

In an effort to break the loop, I ask:  

Should you or someone else do the laundry?

You already know the answer.

It's annoying. But truly, it depends.

There are 5 considerations summarized below when figuring out the answer:

A summary graphic of should you do your laundry?

Decision making part I: the logical

So do it yourself or outsource it? Consider the logical axis of decision making: time and money.

Time ⏳

How much time should you dedicate to laundry? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2018, approximately 1.3-2 hours/week is spent on laundry.

If that sounds like it’s low balling it, it could be due to a sample size that is broadly spread over individuals ages 15+.

Realistically, for two career families with household size of 3+ likely the estimate is anywhere from 5-10 loads of laundry a week [1]. Now with all the time spent obtaining detergent/softeners, gathering, hauling, sorting, soaking, washing, drying, ironing, folding, putting items away and organizing (this excludes the mental and physical time cost related to task), it is estimated to take anywhere from 95 - 130 minutes per load [2].

Time spent doing laundry

Subtract the average time of washing and drying done by the machine at 80 - 85 minutes, and you spend anywhere from 15-45 minutes per load of manpower.

Some people include the time of washing and drying into your personal time of doing laundry, but for simplicity sake we will exclude it since theoretically you could be multitasking while the machine is working.

In a week that is somewhere between 1.2 - 3.75 hours/week doing laundry at the low end and could be as high as 7.5 hours/week if your family size if 4+.

Money ☘️

How much should you spend on laundry? Let’s look at the costs associated with one load (excluding opportunity costs).

If you combine some of the fixed costs (according to the personal finance blog The Simple Dollar) as well as the supply cost of detergents (based on 50 oz. leading brands of Clorox and Tide at average price of $14.24, with 32 loads of laundry that can be done in one container, costing about $.045/load), then overall costs are roughly outlined in the following table:

*even higher depending on where you live and if you use laundromat's detergent

What if we were to factor in the labor and opportunity costs? We can now see a column for outsourcing...

TV(x)= time value or the cost of your time multiple by the number of days

*even higher depending on where you live and if you use laundromat's detergent

** to wash, dry, and fold and including average delivery fee of $5-$25

***based on median price including delivery at an average variable load

Note: According to American machine standards, roughly 1 load of laundry is about 10 pounds in these calculations. Laundry load and weight are typically calculated from machine capacity.

Decision making part II: the illogical

Time/money logic is only one part of the equation. You need to be honest with yourself about your emotional pain points.

What about the resentment you feel doing the majority of laundry that affects your marital and family relationships?

Women take on the lion share of laundry responsibilities. Especially working women.

The age old "he earns more than I do, so I should make up for it by contributing to the household" is really at odds with the modern times of women out-earning men.

So we are generally not shocked by:

Women who earn less than men, do more chores.

But what about when they make the same amount of money or even more money?

Significant data shows that women still do more chores irrespective of their income.

The more she outearns her husband, the more likely she is to do more laundry!

American surveying and polling of domestic life reveal that men's chores also tend to be more finite. They are more likely to take garbage out once a week then doing the never ending cycles of other chores like children's health care management, cooking, and laundry.

Laundry is simple, right? It's just about cleaning clothes.

Then why do so many strong feelings revolve around the subject?

I feel guilty…

Why would I pay someone to do something I can do myself...

I want to be seen as capable…

It is important to acknowledge that there are heavy and extremely powerful cultural forces that are at direct odds with your mental health and sanity. Even in as simple of a task as laundry.

Your decision making should incorporate all of the emotions that you feel around the topic and being honest about what matters to you.

To outsource or not?

Once you factor in the logical and illogical decision making axes, you'll see that the answer is still annoying: it depends. Your salary, opportunity cost, convenience, and overall values determine the answer.  

If you have budgeted some discretionary spend, then it might make sense to look into laundering services, either through local or national sources. Emergence of laundry startups are present in many metropolitan areas. For example, Seattle laundry service Loopie will do your laundry for $35 for 2 loads. Which based on the math above, looks to be on average with pricing on national standards.

But it's not clear if they are going to meet your quality standards (they just wash all clothes together and don't sort out anything). This may prevent you from going down that route altogether because you value quality over time.

You can be creative and get your childcare helper (e.g. nanny, au pair, babysitter) to augment their responsibilities to do household laundry. The costs associated with this can be difficult to bargain. I personally wouldn't try to lowball the cost with a domestic worker because it can lead to a lot of problems with quality and other kinds of resentment.

Pro-outsourcer Emma Johnson suggests giving the gift of housekeeping to someone when there is a special occasion. This helps absolve women of the expectations continuously placed on them.

Next time think about what the gift of laundry could do for a mother you know.


[1] It’s hard to get this data in a straightforward manner but if we look at laundry from a water conservation standpoint, then it according to the National Park Service as of 2018, the average American family washes 300 loads of laundry per year and other random sources of data from interest groups and consumers puts the average closer to 8-10 loads/week.

[2] This estimate is according to various laundromat blogs and machine time calculated off of major washing brands as of 2020.

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