Toward a Lean Laundry (Part 2)

In the last post, I explained that we are using lean production principles to improve our personal laundry procedures because our old way of doing laundry was full of wasted time, effort, money, motion and defects.

After noting where the seven wastes of lean production showed up in our laundry process, we started our improvement efforts. Here’s how our new lean laundry process works:

  1. Getting dirty clothes in – All laundry (adults, kids, casual, formal, whatever) goes down the laundry chute. No exceptions. Clothes requiring special attention (stain remover, etc.) are tied in a loose knot to indicate this.
  2. Sorting – Every single day, I sort the clothes in the bin at the bottom of the laundry chute into one of five laundry baskets next to the washer (colors, whites, toddler clothes, towels and sheets, and reds). It takes just a minute or two.
  3. Washing – As soon as the daily sorting is done (it takes just a minute or two), I look over the baskets. If any of the baskets is full, the clothes in that basket are loaded into the washer and it is run. If multiple baskets are full, I load whichever basket seems fullest at the time. If none are full, no laundry today!
  4. Drying – After I put a load into the washer, I move a magnet to indicate this on a simple chart I drew on our kitchen whiteboard. At lunchtime, I check the chart and if the magnet for “Washer” is on “Full,” I move the wet clothes over to the dryer and run it. (I update this chart as I finish tasks to keep me from forgetting where things are in the process.)
  5. Folding – In the late afternoon or after dinner, I pull one piece of clothes at a time from the dryer and fold it at the folding table nearby.
  6. Putting away – As the clean clothes are folded, they go into a collapsible mesh laundry basket. I carry this basket upstairs, put the clothes away, and fold the basket up into its tiny flat storage shape. Then I toss the basket back down the laundry chute, where it’ll be waiting for the next morning’s sorting.

I’ve been using this system for a few months now, and it has greatly improved the ease and success of our laundry. Let’s see how it stacks up against the seven forms of waste I identified in our old laundry system:

  • Defects – Only doing one load a day, I am more able to get the laundry done completely and with fewer mistakes than when I was doing laundry infrequently.
  • Inventory – Instead of piles of clothes in various states (dirty, clean, folded) all over the house, there are only three places for clothes to be: In the chute, in the washer or dryer, or in the closet. With baskets being dropped down the chute after clothes are put away, there are no more clothes baskets lying all over the house, either. All of this makes for a tidier house and and no more confusion about whether the clothes we see are clean or dirty or what.
  • Movement – There are no more pointless trips up and down the stairs to find clothes baskets or to figure out where the dirty clothes ended up. Every trip down to the basement or up to the second floor accomplishes something.
  • Overproduction – Our laundry demand is much more level than before: We do one load a day, every day. That’s always enough and never too much to get done in a day. There are still some problems with it our production levels, though; more on that in moment.
  • Overprocessing – Clothes almost never get washed more than once; I rarely neglect to treat them properly beforehand or fail to switch them to the dryer and let the get mildewed.
  • Transportation – There’s less unnecessary movement of clothes from place to place now. They go down the chute to the sorting baskets, to the machines, to the folding table, and then back up to the closet. That’s it.
  • Waiting – Clothes get done quicker and more regularly than before. Any article of clothing is likely to get washed within a few days or at most a week, never multiple weeks later like before. This has actually caused a problem by exposing our overproduction of clean clothes: When almost all of our clothes are clean, we can’t fit them all into our closets! Time to do some thinning out.

Taking steps to make a leaner laundry process has paid a lot of dividends, and I have no intention of going back to the other way. After creating this system, I discovered that Bill Hanover at Throughput Solutions had independently created exactly the same system, so I figure I must be on to something.

However, the lean production perspective includes the concept of kaizen or continuous improvement. You are never done trying to find ways to eliminate even more waste from any process (and some almost always remains even after a big push to be leaner).

In our case, weekends are a problem. If we skip doing laundry on weekends, loads begin to back up and it takes all week to get rid of the backlog. The simple answer is to do a load EVERY day, even on weekends, but everyone takes weekend trips sometimes. We could do double loads on Mondays and Tuesdays, but it making our process less level is unsustainable. I am still looking for solutions to this problem.

Another problem is dealing with clothes requiring special treatment. Our current system of tying a knot in clothes that require special measures may be hard on garments and doesn’t give any information about what treatment is required. A better solution, hopefully not requiring pens and pins and those kinds of things, is out there somewhere.

Laundry was my first attempt to create a lean everyday process, and it has inspired me to create many more in the future. I will write about them here when I do.


About adbenking

A journeyman sociologist living in Chicagoland.
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3 Responses to Toward a Lean Laundry (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Kanban and Fine-Tuning | Everyday Lean

  2. Pingback: Dishes and Laundry AGAIN? | Everyday Lean

  3. Pingback: The Seven Types of Waste #6: Transportation. | Everyday Lean

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