Laundry Kaizen

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

Laundry KaizenWith my wife trying to focus on our newest family member I decided to do the laundry this past week. It’s been awhile since I’ve done the laundry and some things have definitely changed.

Before Kaizen

Before, what I’m calling laundry kaizen, we used to throw all of our dirty clothes into a hamper in the closet.

Then, when it was laundry time we’d dump all the clothes out and sort them as needed – colors, whites, delicates, etc.

After sorting we’d carry a load to the washing machine for the first load. While I didn’t do any formal time studies, I think it’s safe to say this “sorting to first load” process took at least 20 to 30 minutes (more when the kids tried to ‘help’ out).

After Kaizen

Well, as I’ve written before, my wife really gets this lean stuff. As such, she identified much waste in the “before” process. Specifically, there was a tremendous amount of wasted time associated with sorting clothes. Also, there was a lot of excess motion/transportation as she walked back and forth from the piles of clothes in the closet(s) to the washing machine.

So, to improve the system she purchased a clothes sorting contraption (see picture). When we’re ready to place our dirty clothes into the hamper we put them into the correct bin. We have a bin for colors, whites, and delicates/towels. You can’t tell from the picture but these bins are also on wheels, an often forgotten aspect of lean equipment design.

Now, when it’s time to do laundry, all we have to do is wheel the whole cart to the washing machine – bringing it to point of use. This eliminates all those trips back and forth.

But the biggest advantage is the fact that we don’t need to do much, if any, sorting of clothes. Instead, we can dump the bins straight into the washer, add soap, and get on with our day.

The Benefits

There are many benefits as a result of this laundry kaizen.

For one, we are now able to level load (pun intended) the process a bit more than before. When we see a bin almost full we can do a load of laundry. It’s far more visual than before when all we saw was a huge mound of mixed up inventory – I mean clothes – piling up.

And as it relates to time savings… I estimate my wife has cut out at least 30 minutes of cycle time from the weekly laundry process.

When I mentioned this to her, she said this is being far too conservative and that when you add in all the kids clothes (they also have similar bins to pre-sort their clothes) the time savings are much more.

Anyhow, staying conservative, 30 minutes per week times 52 weeks equates to 26 hours per year. With 4 kids this is a huge benefit!

How about you?

What about you? Do you have any laundry or home kaizen tips you can share?  Or do you have any thoughts as to how we could further improve our existing laundry process?

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  1. Sue Dempsey

    August 3, 2008 - 12:47 pm

    My husband reads your blog and he shared this post with me. I love the advice and would like to know where your wife bought this laundry sorter. Also, do (or your readers) you have any advice on folding as this is my least favorite part of laundry. Do you fold a load and bring them to the correct place or wait until all folding is done and bring it all at once?

  2. Ron Pereira

    August 3, 2008 - 1:17 pm

    Hi, this is Ron’s wife, Genni. I bought the sorter (which actually comes with 4 sorter bags) at Walmart. I needed a bigger slot for colors so I jimmied it a bit. I have no idea what the “lean” way to fold clothes is but I try to do all my laundry in one day a week. By doing this it forces me to keep the laundry going. Because my main priorities (the kids) don’t always allow for me to sit and fold right away sometimes the loads are just thrown all on the couch until I have a minute. Ideally, I like to fold them as they come out the dryer minimizing wrinkles and sorting into bins for the kids to take up and put away when all their clothes are folded. As for mine and my husband’s clothes I try to put these away as I fold them (as well as towels, sheets, etc). My next step as the kids get a little older is to hang the pretreater by the hamper and have them spray stains before they throw in their sorter.

    • Jaime

      September 16, 2014 - 2:42 pm

      I have adopted this same pre-sort hamper process at my house and it is so wonderful! As far as folding and putting away… I dread this part. I’m super strict when it comes to the laundry and the clothes get folded as soon as the load finishes drying, therefore no wrinkles. However, I have multiple loads of the same types of items, so I drag the unfolded laundry to the livingroom and have designated piles for each type of clothing items, divided by each room, etc. I always wash and dry those loads consecutively and keep adding to the piles of folded clothes until I’m finished. THEN I start to put each pile away. I grab one child’s shorts/pants/undies/socks etc and head to their room. Come back and grab the next child’s piles, etc. I dread putting away laundry so this is my least wasted time version of doing the laundry at our house! It works! So long as the kids and dog don’t invade my piles for a few hours while waiting for the next loads to finish! Occasionally, I have a little re-work from tipped over piles… occasionally our living room is a football field, what can I say?!

  3. Dirk Van Goubergen

    August 3, 2008 - 3:26 pm

    As I am building a new house, I redesigned the layout to minimize the waste of transportation and motion caused by the flow of laundry.
    Most dirty laundry comes from either the bathroom or the sleeping rooms, so I reserved one space on the same floor (2nd), next to the bathroom, where I will put the sorter, washing machine, dryer, wardrobes and everything needed for ironing.

  4. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    August 4, 2008 - 2:13 am

    Loved the post, but as a Black Belt I would have worries about capability (6 Sigma) regarding sorting. As a male, I think I would have a slight problem with my whites, lights and darks, but “delicates”????
    The post reminded me of W Heath Robinson whose name entered the language for reasons which become obvious when you see his cartoons. I’m not sure if, “a bit Heath Robinson” has crossed the pond, but he still brings a smile, and I do believe he was one of the forgotten/unrewcognised heroes of the Lean movement.
    Take a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heath_Robinson and enjoy. And remember Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

  5. GrahamC

    August 5, 2008 - 4:03 am

    One suggestion is that each laundry type is right-sized to match one laundry load so you are automatically triggered to run a wash whenever you hit the optimum level. The more they are spread out, the eaiser it should be to hang them up for drying or shoving in the tumble dryer (cycle time mismatch between washing and drying? 😛 ) and fit them into smaller windows of time rather than having to set aside a day or whatever.

    It would also be a good visual indicator for Ron to put stuff in the washing machine whenver he sees it’s full, rather than leaving it as a specialist task for one individual. (you could even add the washing instructions to the back side of your tag – “delicates” etc)

  6. John

    August 13, 2008 - 7:04 am

    I’m impressed. I found this site a few days looking for introductory info on value stream maps, and it was very helpful. This article jumped out at me because my wife implemented a similar system sometime last year. However, instead of the labels she put swatches of fabric and string on the outside of the bins so our kids could sort their own clothes: http://john.rozmaryn.googlepages.com/Laundry.jpg

  7. Ron Pereira

    August 13, 2008 - 10:36 am

    Very nice, John! Thanks for the kind words and for sharing the picture. All the best.

  8. Cornelio Abellanas

    June 22, 2011 - 11:02 am

    Have you given some thought to the size of the laundry hampers?
    If they are larger than the machine capacity there will be some cloths left over for the next washing. But don’t forget that the hamper is a LIFO: the last thing you put in is the first that will be washed. This means that some items may stay at the bottom of the bin for ever!
    Obviously you can sort this out by always emptying the bin even if you do not fill the washer (waste).
    Maybe a second derivative of your clasifying hampers would be to make them FIFO!

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