Be honest: Who really enjoys doing laundry? It’s not the worst chore on the list but it’s generally not anyone’s idea of a good time. However, when you add in arthritis to the mix, laundry day can go from annoying to downright dreadful. Pain, stiffness, reduced mobility, weakness, and balance issues can all make each aspect of the laundry routine — from sorting socks or adding fabric softener — a challenge. It’s enough to make you do a double sniff of that shirt and consider whether or not the odor is really that bad.
“Arthritis has a way of making the simplest daily tasks so much harder,” says Tom Ryan, a physical therapist who works with arthritis patients at the Panorama Orthopedics Center, with locations throughout Colorado. “It takes time, patience, and some creativity to find ways to do your chores while minimizing pain.”
A lot of it comes down to finding what works for you and your personal limitations, he explains. “For instance, for clients with weakness I often recommend using a small hand steamer instead of a heavy iron for getting wrinkles out of clothing,” he says.
Need more ideas? We talked to people with arthritis about what they do to make laundry easier.
Get a laundry cart
Wheeled laundry carts aren’t just for laundromats — you can get them in smaller sizes (and without the anti-theft bar) for home use. They can be a lifesaver for people with arthritis, says Jennifer D., 31, of Washington D.C., who has psoriatic arthritis. “I have one that looks like a little laundry basket with a collapsible handle and wheels,” she says. “I use it to move wet laundry to the dryer and to take the laundry back and forth to the laundry room.” They come in many sizes but be careful of getting one that is too tall or deep as it may be too painful to bend over that far, she cautions. “For me, smaller is better. It’s easier to load and unload, ensures the loads don’t get too heavy, and it stores between my washer and dryer when I’m not using it,” she says.
Use a pump dispenser for liquid laundry detergent
Many laundry detergent bottles are heavy, may come with a pump that must be pushed with fingers, and are otherwise hard to use for people with arthritis, particularly if your hands are affected. “I buy Method laundry soap specifically because of the bottles,” Jennifer says. They’re smaller, so they aren’t difficult to lift, and they have a large pump on top that she can press easily with the palm of her hand. If any pushing is too painful, you can also use an automatic soap dispenser that is activated by motion.
Upgrade your scoop
If you prefer dry laundry detergent, one of the best things you can do is buy an ergonomic scoop to replace the cheap plastic ones that come in the box, says Patty P., 71, who has osteoarthritis. “I got a sturdy one with a rubber handle that’s easier to hold and doesn’t slip,” she says.
Use laundry pacs
Perhaps the easiest solution to the detergent dilemma is to purchase laundry detergent pacs that can simply be dropped into the washer with your laundry (or put in a special compartment, depending on your washer). “They are more expensive per wash than other types of soap but on days where every little thing feels hard, they’re worth it,” says Robin B., 38, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has lupus.
Set up a soap station
Lifting a heavy bottle while simultaneously pouring liquid into a cup can be tricky even for people without arthritis so simplify the process by using a laundry soap station. “I have a lot of weakness in my hands and wrists so this has been a lifesaver,” says Peter R., 52, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Use a grabber tool to reach deep inside the washer
Have a top-loading washer? If you’ve got any type of hip or back pain, changing the laundry can feel like an impossible task. “I get what I can off the top and then I use my grabber tool to reach what’s left on the bottom,” says Allison T., 52, of Baltimore, Maryland, who has rheumatoid arthritis. “I got a heavy-duty grabber with rubber tips so the clothes don’t slip out.”
Wear compression gloves
“Cold, damp clothes feel like a shock to my hands when I pick them up,” says Allison, who also has Raynaud’s disease, which makes her hands very sensitive to temperature changes. She swears by wearing compression gloves when she does laundry. Not only does this help prevent the cold seeping into her hands but the extra support from the gloves feels nice when lifting and sorting, she adds.
Put an anti-fatigue mat on the floor
“Laundry takes me a long time and standing for that long can be difficult,” Peter says. One thing that helps him is standing on a gel-cushioned anti-fatigue mat while he sorts and switches his laundry. “It takes some of the pressure off my legs and feet so I can stand longer,” he explains.
Pre-sort your clothes into a sectioned hamper
One tip for simplifying your laundry is to sort as you go, Jennifer says. “Instead of just throwing something in a laundry basket, I have a hamper with three sections — one for whites, one for darks, and one for towels and sheets,” she says. This saves time in the laundry room and pain from standing and picking the clothes apart. She’s even taught her children to do this. “They think it’s a fun game,” she says. You can also get sectioned hampers with wheels on them so you can roll the laundry into the laundry room instead of carrying it.
Be picky about what you hang and fold
“Growing up, even our underwear had to be neatly folded before we put it away but getting arthritis made me really rethink why I did a lot of things, including that one,” says Jayme A., 30, of Melbourne, Australia, who has rheumatoid arthritis. Now she says she only hangs or folds special items that need it to prevent wrinkling or damage. “Socks, underwear, tank tops, shorts, bathing suits — all get thrown into separate plastic tubs on a shelf in my closet,” she explains.
Pairing and folding or rolling socks together can be an arduous task with painful hands. “I just don’t,” Jayme says. “I buy all the same type of socks so I don’t worry about matching them and throw them all in the same tub.”
Ask someone to carry your laundry up or down stairs
Friends and family often want to help people with arthritis but don’t know how. It can be hard to think of something they can do. However, if your laundry room is on a separate floor from your closet, asking them to carry a load up or down is a very useful and simple way for them to help you, says Alesandria Y., 23, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who has reactive arthritis.
Store your clothes in your laundry room
People who struggle with stairs have another option. “Okay, this is going to sound crazy but hear me out: Nothing says you have to keep your clothes in your bedroom closet,” says Brianne F., 32, of Redding, California, who has ankylosing spondylitis. “I bought a hanging rack and some drawers for my laundry room and I just keep my clothes in there,” she explains. “I get dressed and undressed there and it keeps everything simple.” She doesn’t have to worry about carrying heavy baskets and can just throw her dirty laundry straight into the washer.