How To End Passive-Aggressive Laundry Fights — According To An Expert

Let’s talk about laundry: No matter your wash-and-dry situation, getting it done is a pain in the ass. Simply trying to reload on clean underwear for the week can become a breeding ground for heated disputes and confusion.

From fighting with rowdy college students over the shared dorm basement’s appliances to dropping our lace thongs in front of strangers at the corner laundromat, doing laundry is yet another item on our list of dreaded adulting to-dos. The task can feel like a western standoff where anything goes and only the merciless finish first. Dryers get hogged, wash loads left a second too long get hauled off, and there’s lint and liquid detergent everywhere.

To put an end to this madness, we decided to consult an expert to help us unlock the unofficial code of communal laundry. Yes, we’re ready to air our dirty laundry in the most literal sense. Ahead, Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, answers our most pressing questions about how to handle dirty clothes in a public space. So the next time you feel like throwing your neighbor’s wet towels out the window, check yourself with the following guide.

When (if ever) is it appropriate to move someone else’s laundry?
“You definitely want to give people time. A reasonable amount of time depends: For some people, that’s two minutes; for some people, that’s five minutes; for some people, it’s half an hour.”

“Any time you have a living facility attached to the laundry room, you have a better chance of understanding people’s preferences and getting to know the people who you interact in this communal space with and what they feel is appropriate. When it’s a laundromat, either you have to deal with whatever the rules that they have at the establishment are or, absent of the facility taking care of it, you want to do your best to first see if there’s any other option available to you.

“I would also be careful, once I actually do take someone’s stuff and move it, of making sure that all of it is really there and that it’s not just being piled up somewhere where it’s going to sit and fester. Find one of those baskets to put it in and get a little more air around it, especially if it’s wet.”

If you move it, then what?
“If you move it, try your best not to pile super wet laundry on top of a hard solid surface. See if there is some kind of a basket to put it into.”

Fold it?
“If it’s dry, I would definitely not start folding someone else’s laundry. I would not fold it because it is someone else’s clothing and you don’t have a responsibility to do that — I also think it makes other people feel uncomfortable.”

Put it inside the next machine?
“I would not put it inside the next machine because you’re not aware of how this person cares for their clothing. You don’t know what someone else’s preferences are.”

Leave a note?
“Leaving a note is really nice — just saying, ‘I moved your laundry, hope you aren’t upset. Needed to move through, thanks for understanding.’ Also, it’s not ever a bad thing to leave a note on the dryer that says, ‘If this finishes before I get back down, please feel free to put my stuff in the basket.’ You can always leave a note letting people know what you’re willing to have happen with your clothing when you’ve run back up to your apartment or room…These notes have to be polite and nice, not Xs and exclamation points and red underlines.”

Is it rude to do back-to-back washer or dryer loads when other people are waiting?
“Your laundry is your laundry. Imagine trying to get all your laundry done on Sunday and running a load of darks and a load of whites. It’s just the same way if you were at the laundromat and someone did a half hour of drying time versus an hour of drying time — you just don’t know what they’re going to need. But, I would not recommend that someone go beyond two [back-t0-back loads]. We all should be looking toward the direction that we’re doing things in good spirit.”

“A good guideline is to think about one or two loads as being appropriate and ask if anyone else needs it before you start doing more. It’s really nice to let someone know if you plan on using the dryer a second round, or hanging things on the clothes line that’s in the space. That way people know what’s getting used when.”

Do you need to empty the dryer lint tray when you’re load is done?
“I wouldn’t call it rude, but I think it’s not helpful. It is very helpful to empty it — and that should be a common practice that you just empty it afterwards.”

“Sometimes there’s just not much on it…But when you’ve got cotton blankets and big sweaters and flannel shirts and two cats and a dog, you get a lot of hair and lint. Take the care to clean up and make it ready for the next person to use — that includes spilled detergent. People never clean up the actual machine. Not saying you have to wash it out, but if you spill detergent then wipe it up.”

If you do a late load, is it okay to leave your clothes overnight in the washer/dryer?
“Yes, but be prepared for someone to move your stuff if they decided to do a late load as well. The best way to ward off any awkwardness in this case is to leave a note.”

Is it inappropriate to ask a roommate to throw some of your clothes in with their load?
“It’s not inappropriate, it just depends on how willing you are and how much [space] you can accommodate. To ask is fine, and they can always say, ‘It’s already pretty full,’ if they need to. And when someone asks you, you can always say, ‘Well how much do have?’ That allows you to then look at the amount and make a decision, rather than saying yes before determining how big of an impact it is going to be.”

What items are okay to throw in?
“A shirt or pants. I probably wouldn’t throw my dirty gym clothes in with their stuff just because that feels like too much. But at the same time families are throwing each other’s clothing in together and a lot of roommate situations are very much like family.”

Is hanging your clothes to dry in a shared/common space a no-no?
“I wouldn’t advise hanging it in the common room of a dorm. If it’s the laundry room of an apartment building or dorm, I would just make sure that it’s okay with the policy. Within an apartment, you want to check with roommates on what feels appropriate — whether it should be a bedroom, or living room, or somewhere else.”

Drop-off or dry-cleaning: Should you tip when you pick-up?
“You don’t typically tip for dry-cleaning. For laundry drop-off, it might be someone you choose to tip during the holiday season. If you’re unsure, ask — that’s our advice always. If you’re unsure of whether or not to tip, just call up the company and ask whether they either expect OR accept tips.”

A final communal laundry tip to live by?
“Communicate — whether you’re communicating with the people working at the laundromat and the other people using the machines, or you’re communicating with the people who are your neighbors or living in the same building with you. If you come at things with a friendly and positive attitude, people are likely going to give you answers that help both of you work it out easily.”

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