The average American woman spends seven to nine hours a week doing laundry. That's a full day's work sorting dirty white T-shirts from dirty red ones, pairing up countless odd socks and folding, folding, folding. The piles will never go away completely, but you can make it easier to deal with them by using the latest washing, drying and stain-fighting technologies.
Choose a high-tech washer and dryer
Upgrading your machine? Keep an eye out for the latest washers and dryers, which get clothes cleaner and cut utility bills. If you can afford to replace your washer, consider a front-loading, high-efficiency model. Some are quite expensive (more than $1,000), but their smart features are beginning to show up in better-priced models that start at around $680. Today's dryers are also more efficient, so your clothes will last longer.
Review new washers
Front-loading washers have no center agitator, so they:
* fit larger loads (as many as 24 towels at a time)
* wash clothes with less wear and tear and remove stains better;
* are much more energy efficient―you'll use less electricity and water―for savings of up to $110 a year (look for machines with Energy Star labeling to be sure the one you pick will help you reduce costs in the long run);
* fit under a counter or can stack for better use of space;
* have faster spin cycles that extract more moisture, so drying takes less time; and
* offer a variety of options for different cycles (such as a preset cycle for blue jeans).
Look at new dryers
Dryers are now quieter and larger, which means that they:
* work faster, so you can dry a full load in the same amount of time it takes to wash one; and
* have sensors to determine the dryness of items, so you don't dry clothes for too long, shrinking and weakening fibers.
Make your towels more absorbent: If you want your towels to soak up moisture and dry better, skip the fabric softener in both the washing machine and the dryer.
Keep clothes smelling fresh
Fake a line-dried scent with fragrant iron-on sprays and perfumed dryer bags.
* Iron a light scent on to sheets or clothes. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Iron Spray, $5; www.mrsmeyers.com.
* Use perfumed, reusable dryer bags. Essencia dryer bags, $8 for a set of three; www.essenciaonline.com.
Find the right washer for your budget
These models really stack up:
Kenmore: The HE4t has a king-size capacity and can clean as many as 23 bath towels at once. Starts at $1,450.
Whirlpool: The Duet uses 68 percent less water than traditional washers. Starts at $999.
General Electric: The Extra-Large Front Loading Washer offers similar features at a lower price. Starts at $679.
Gather, sort and fold clothes faster
Create simple systems for each member of your family to make preparing and putting away laundry quicker and easier. No device will magically get your kids―or your husband―to toss their dirty clothes into the hamper. But there are tricks and products that make it less of a hassle to collect, lug, sort and fold laundry.
Gather it all up
* Give kids an incentive to pick up their clothes with a hamper that turns putting away dirty laundry into a game. Basketball Laundry Shoot, $17; at Wal-Mart.
* Instead of awkwardly lugging a big plastic basket or hamper up and down stairs, use a canvas one that has loop handles, making it easier and more comfortable to carry. Crunch Oval Laundry Basket, $15; at The Container Store.
Sort and fold it
* Organize your laundry room and make it easier to sort and fold―get an all-in-one table that has washable canvas sorter bags and a lift-up surface for folding clothes. Whitmor folding/sorting table, $58; at Lowe's.
Get rid of wrinkles in clothes that were left in the dryer too long. Just throw in a damp towel and run the load again for 10 to 15 minutes on a warm setting.
Solve your laundry problems:Tackle stains, fight fuzz and fold like a pro.
Zap stains: This futuristic-looking device removes stains with sound waves and a special cleaning fluid. Tide Buzz ultrasonic stain remover, $29; at Wal-Mart.
Get rid of lint: Toss a few Velcro-like lint balls into your washer to trap lint and hair, prevent drain clogs and dissolve stains. Reusable lint balls, $6 for a set of 12; at www.mileskimball.com.
Fold perfectly: Keep drawers and closets neat and tidy by making sure that all of your clothing is folded and stored properly. Flip Fold Laundry Folder, $10; at The Container Store.