Relief comes for university kids who don’t know how to do laundry

A few years ago, I spent every Wednesday in a state college student center with a sign that said “Conversations 50 cents.” If a young person sat down to let me talk to them about their life, I gave them two quarters. More than a few noted that Wednesday was laundry day for them and the quarters would come in handy.

The University of St. Thomas wasn’t on my list. Too bad. It could’ve been an instructive conversation, judging by yesterday’s news release story that dry cleaning is coming to campus.

In a ordinary news release TommieMedia story announcing a “partnership” between the University of St. Thomas and Laundry Doctor, which will install drop-and-go laundry lockers, it’s this paragraph that’s gotten the attention of the kids who know how to do laundry after hitting couch cushions for change.

“We’ve had parents who’ve said, ‘Well, my son or daughter has never learned how to do laundry,’” said Bryan Helminiak, Residence Life associate director. “‘What do we do? Is there any service you have or can provide that people will do their laundry for them?’”

The easy answer, of course, is “teach them how to do their laundry,” but the “we’ll do it for them” faction has held sway.

There’s a scholarly issue here, the story says. If you’re doing laundry, you can’t be studying.

Bonnie Hanson, the vice president of marketing and client relations at Laundry Doctor, said St. Thomas wanted to find a way for its students to spend more time studying and less time waiting for the washing machine to finish its cycle. Doing laundry on campus can be stressful and time-consuming, she added.

“It’s really enabling students to do the things that they need to be doing and want to be doing,” Hanson said. “They’re paying for an education. And this frees them up to reap the benefits of their education.”

Unless laundry has changed, that half hour of washing, and another half hour of drying, has traditionally been the time to crack open a book.

“Let’s be one of the first in the country to offer laundry services via an app because that’s what really matter to a well rounded liberal arts degree,” one commenter, an alumnus, said.

Said another:

As if we needed to perpetuate the stereotypes of spoiled children being the majority of the student population. I get that the University can’t control the fact that there are students that were raised without knowing how to do laundry, but they certainly don’t need to enable this behavior.

Jeff Gardner, the president of The Laundry Doctor, did not back down:

In a 2003 article the Minneapolis Star Tribune published on outsourcing The Laundry Doctor was one of the featured services, writer interviewed over a dozen of our customers. One of the quotes that has driven the our business over the years came from Tim Welsh, a Director at McKinsey & Company, and a Harvard MBA. Tim said “I value the time with my family not the time with my laundry” the Welsh family have been Laundry Doctor customers for over fifteen years.

Outsourcing laundry for many professionals is mearly a tool to manage time. Our most consistent customers are successful professional. UST is mearly joining the ranks of many of University like Brown, Duke, Havard, MIT, Notre Dame, and Yale to name a few who have been partnering with companies like mine for decades.

But commenter Melanie Kraemer leads us to look inward, and ask whether we’ve taught our kids how to do the laundry.

I understand how some working professionals would want a service like this when they have job because they can spend their money however they want but for this to be offered to a small and very expensive university’s students is just ridiculous. I don’t understand why parents wouldn’t teach their kids how to do laundry and instead of solving the problem they just want to pay for their problems to go away. And this is not an issue of millennials’ “all about me” lifestyle. In hindsight, no one should be saying that because this service was not requested by students but parents and faculty.

This is also has nothing to do whether or not we “value our time.” Doing laundry as a college student is not a waste of time. The washing machines literally take 34 minutes. That’s it. There is a place and time for services like this. I highly doubt this college is one of them.

There’s no real proof that UST kids don’t really know how to do the laundry; the laundry-deficient wing didn’t show itself in the article nor the following discussion.

And, as the New York Times pointed out in an article last month, even if they say they can’t, they probably can.

All of that said, for many children, acting incompetent is simply a practical strategy: They know from experience that if they stall, delay or refuse to do something they don’t want to do, someone will eventually do it for them. I know I’ve done this; my child is fumbling about in an attempt to finish a task, it’s taking too long, we have to get out the door or I just want to get the dishwasher started, and before I know it, “Here, just let me do it” or “maybe your work partner could complete that part of the project” has escaped my lips, and I have become, once again, a master educator in the skill of learned incompetence.

For the record, I can’t recall ever teaching either of my kids how to use the washer-dryer. So far, they’ve stayed out of prison.

(h/t: Dan Murphy)

  • Gary F

    The Laundry Doctor. Do they have a doctorate in the laundry sciences?

    • Remember, the laundry Doctor knows more than you do.

      Disclaimer: The Laundry Doctor is not a real doctor, although he DOES have a Master’s degree…in LAUNDRY!

      • Jerry

        Next your going to tell me that the machine that cleans my carpets isn’t a real doctor as well.

      • 212944

        Loves me some Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre.

  • Jack

    Really? It’s that hard to teach a kid how to do laundry? Most of my colleagues will tell you that I was bummed when my kid left for college as laundry was the one chore he did for the household. Our son took that as his job while in middle school.

    I dated my spouse over doing laundry the real way – bucket, bar soap, and scrub brushes while in the Peace Corps. Nothing says I love you quite like being invited to a house that has running water to get the clothes washed. Must have worked, we are still together 25 years later.

    Take that St. Thomas – you are robbing the kids of a life skill that could come in handy. Says the flaming liberal who went to a public university. 🙂

    Have a great, clean laundry day!

  • BReynolds33

    The implication that if students aren’t doing laundry, they will be studying is a cute thought. Much like when many districts in Minnesota switch the start time for high school kids back an hour. You know, to give them an extra hour of sleep.

    Give college kids more time, they’re going to go hang out with friends, go to the bar, go sit outside in the sun… give high school kids a later start, they’re just going to stay up an hour later.

    Are adults really so far from being kids that they can’t remember being kids?

    • Lois

      Are adults (parents & presidents) so far from being adults that they can’t see what’s right in front of their faces? When did adults start seeing kids as peers who decide what’s best for themselves?

  • Gary F

    With all the microagressions and trigger warnings and political correctness I don’t think these kids have the emotional strength to handle laundry or the even the criticism they are taking from this post. Easy Bob.

    • Whether they do laundry or they don’t do laundry, I suspect the kids will be just fine.

      • mjs

        I guess it depends on what your metric for fine is. Their current 1.2T debt load begs to differ on them being fine. Maybe this is a teachable moment where they can learn to spend some time, instead of some money solving a near trivial problem.

        • I’ve not met a single student who has a $1.2 trillion debt load.

          They get a choice; no one is forcing them to send their laundry out.

          I don’t usually wash my car myself; I have someone else do it and I pay them to do it.

          • Jen

            Yes, but do you use loaned money to wash your car? Probably not.

          • I presume that’s between parents and their children. What business is it of ours?

    • MikeB

      This is a supply and demand problem, the demand created by helicopter parents

  • Let’s all be honest and accept that this isn’t a tragedy. Just like real life, not all of the students are going to do their own laundry, heck some won’t even launder their clothes at all until they are forced. I haven’t seen any indication that UST has removed their other laundry facilities for students who can’t afford a laundry service or choose to launder their own clothes. This is simply for the students who can afford it, think they can afford it, or whose parents can afford the service.

    At the core this must be a business venture for UST to generate a little pocket cash for some program somewhere down the line. Unless UST failed to require the laundry service to “rent” space for it’s lockers.

    • Melanie Kraemer

      UST just spent a lot of money on re-branding the university. I have a feeling the money generated from this won’t go towards any programs that would benefit the current students (because they didn’t use all of that focus group and PR firm money for lowering tuition, paying maintenance staff more, etc.). Also, laundry on campus is completely FREE which adds to the confusion of students, faculty, and staff as to the necessity of this service.

  • Ben Chorn

    I’m guessing this isn’t a free service? If it costs a considerable amount of money my guess is it’ll force some students to learn how to do it just to have more beer money (although those whose parents pay for everything and don’t work during college probably will never know).

    Fun story- I once had to teach a roommate in college how to change a light bulb since they never had to change one and didn’t know how.

    • Melanie Kraemer

      This is a free service for this semester but after that it will cost roughly $75 a month.

      • If any St. Thomas kids would like me to do a few loads of their laundry for them, I’ll take that $75.

  • Rob

    Laundry isn’t stressful and can, to the contrary, be an almost zen-like experience, as Zippy the Pinhead can clearly attest. And any parent who hasn’t taught their kids how to do laundry before the precious ones head off to university deserves a dope slap.

  • Sue

    As a parent of university student who happens to do his own laundry, I can say that they can handle the simple chore of doing their own laundry. If you let them, that is.

  • Kassie

    When I lived in Boston (for a very short time) I was complaining that I was working so much I didn’t have time to do my laundry. Pretty much everyone looked at me like I was crazy and told me to use a “fluff and fold” or “wash and fold” service. So, the idea isn’t new, and definitely didn’t originate in the Midwest. It was a standard service in Boston 15 years ago.

  • Lindsey

    While it is true that my mother did my laundry before college, it is definitely a skill a child can learn and should learn.

  • Jeff C.

    The Laundry Doctor uses a quote from a director of a global firm with more than 10,000 employees to justify providing a fee-based laundry service for students. I’m sure the director has more money than time. When I was in college I had way way way more time than money. It is sad that UST has sipped the Doctor’s kool aid and believes their stories. Or does UST get a cut of the cash that the kids pay for this service?

    • Jeff G

      Hey Jeff, we actually responded to and RFP UST put out last summer they were looking for the service, we didn’t approach them. As far as Tim Welsh is concerned we have customers from all economic levels that use us for many reasons, I used Tim’s quote because it was published and people could possibly still find it if they wanted to. I understand that Midwestern folks are a bit more do-it-your-self that the rest of the country as seen in many of the comments. Our service is only an option, no one is holding a gun to students telling them this is what they should do. It very well might not work in MN, However, private and public collages all over the country offer this service and for what ever reasons it is well received. UST is just the first in MN to offer it.

      Jeff Gardner, President
      The Laundry Doctor

      • Jack

        Collages – yikes, check the meaning. Spell check can be a bear. 🙂

        • Jeff G

          Yep, I miss that, you got me. 😉

          • Jeff G

            I did it again, missed

  • Bonnie Hanson

    I am parent of 2 boys currently in college (and part of the Laundry Doctor). I have taught our boys to do their laundry, and they still come home with big piles and I point them to the laundry room (much to their dismay). Most of the challenge isn’t around the time it takes to actually DO their laundry, it’s the challenges with a shared laundry facility (this also occurs in apartment buildings). As I recall from my college days – way back when – many kids flock to the machines at the same days & times – whether it be Wednesday, as Bob mentioned, or Sunday, as often happens. So it becomes checking and waiting for a machine to become available or for someone to actually move their stuff from the washer to the drier. There are other issues too – like your stuff being removed before it’s done, things disappearing, someone leaving a red sock in the machine… It’s not great, and honestly it’s annoying, even as an adult. Did most of us have to do it? Yes we did. Is there a better way? Yes.

    It is sad, that the days of boys in pink T’s and undies may be fading however… ; )

    • Dark colored underwear is the best invention. Ever.

      • Bonnie Hanson

        True that!

    • BTW, a friend on Twitter passed along this COOL solution to the problem of “laundry rush hour” at Hamline.

    • jon


      I started doing my own laundry at home when I was maybe 13…. kept my socks and underwear from getting mixed up with my siblings…

      At college doing my own laundry was something I tried to avoid until I was able to go home, so I didn’t have to deal with the public washing machines, quarters and other non-sense…

      When I did have to do laundry at school (couple of times a semester between breaks) I did it ridiculously early in the morning when I could get in use a machine and get out…. not exactly conducive to studying…

      I should add that I don’t do my own laundry now, my wife took that over slowly back when we were dating (and she used my machines rather than the public machines at her apartments) started with tossing a pair of pants in with her dark loads and ended with her doing most of the laundry… I occasionally try, and usually get yelled at for using the the wrong temperature water, or wrong drying setting…. so I pretty much gave up on it.

  • MarkUp

    I wonder how many Laundry Doctor employees are college students.


    if a child is too stupid to learn to do laundry in less than five minutes , what is he doing in college. unbelievable . next thing they should start spoon feeding their meals to them.

    • People go to college to learn how to do the laundry?

      • Jasper

        No, they go to college to learn, period. Learn lots of things,not just the ones specifically on the syllabus; life lessons.

        • Exactly.

        • Do they learn how to make a decision on whether they want to do laundry themselves or pay someone to do it for them?

          Or is that someone else’s decision to make?

  • Jim in RF

    Febreeze would be a cheaper solution

    • John O.

      Or profuse amounts of Axe, Old Spice, Aqua Velva, Hai Karate, etc.

  • During my freshmen year of college, one of my friends didn’t do laundry until Thanksgiving break. He wore his clothes inside out when they got too dirty. College!

  • Jay Sieling

    I am guessing this will be fodder for some new cheers (jeers) at the next Johnnie / Tommie football game!

    • BReynolds33

      Do your laundry! clap clap clapclapclap

  • nikki

    My mom did my laundry regularly until Thanksgiving break during my first year of college and periodically afterward. In order to use the laundry facilities, you had to get your card activated. I didn’t bother doing that until after break. When I presented my card for activation, the front desk worker exclaimed I must hold the world record for pairs of underwear if I didn’t need to do laundry until then. Wish I could say that incident changed my ways, but my mom did my laundry periodically for the remaining years I was in college (and maybe once or twice during graduate school, too). I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this since it’s horribly embarrassing. I guess I’m just chiming in for the laundry deficient wing 😉

  • Mike Worcester

    God Bless Capitalism? 🙂

  • Madison Pierce

    As a student at St. Thomas, this is simply embarrassing. What these parents are really saying is: “Hi I didn’t adequately prepare my child for the real world. How much can I pay you to further coddle them when I can’t be there?”

    I understand professional laundry services (when you have a job interview and want your best duds pressed to perfection) but you can walk two blocks from campus and there are multiple cleaners. It disgusts me that the university is likely getting a cut for these services when they could just EDUCATE students if they’re lacking the knowledge (something I did many times when employed by Residence Life at St. Thomas) or advertising cleaning services that are steps from campus.

    This is also very limiting to students who can’t afford it. Is the study time of students who can pay for their laundry to be done more valuable than those who cannot pay? If the university truly valued what they say they do in this article, these services should be included in the already exorbitant fee students pay to live on campus and have access to laundry rooms.

    This just perpetuates the stereotype that St. Thomas already carries as a student body of spoiled rich kids.

    • lindblomeagles

      I have to agree with you. There’s nothing really complicated about washing laundry. Soap cups from laundry detergent bottles and boxes themselves have a fill line written in them. Don’t know what temperature to wash your clothes on? Just hit Cold, or Wool. Nothing shrinks or fades in cold water. Concerned about the dryer? Dry your clothes on low, or medium heat. This is not rocket science. It’s actually easier than learning a foreign language, including Spanish. As for making time to study, most laundry mats HAVE WI-FI. Studying there is just as easy as studying in the dorm.

      • // Dry your clothes on low, or medium heat

        That’s not the way I remember college. I remember being poor and only having a few quarters. If we really want kids to learn the art of a budget, you put in your quarter, you dry everything on high, and you learn to live with stuff that doesn’t fit quite right.

      • Jack

        Use the pod version of soap and you don’t even have to measure.

  • Jerry

    I know it sounds crazy, but I have heard that if you are willing to pay for it, the university will also cook food for you.

    • Lois

      Yes, because it’s cheaper than providing all those kitchens…

  • Tim

    I find this more amusing than horrifying. It seems silly if it’s already free to do the laundry anyway, and the needing time to study argument is odd since that’s what I usually did while doing laundry in college; it’s not like you can’t do other things during this time. But, as others have said, it’s no different than paying people to do other things for you, like cooking meals.

    • Lois

      The reason for food service was that it’s cheaper than paying for burning down the dorm and providing a kitchen in every room.

  • Jack

    I highly recommend reading the comments on the linked PR piece above. They are priceless.

    BTW – what are they kids going to do when they graduate and move to apartments? Will their parents demand the service there too? Can’t pay for the service with a student loan then.

    Still happy to have running water, washer, and dryer. It could be so much worse.

    Thanks for a good chuckle tonight. Stay clean and sort the colors!

    Proud mom of a U of M son who does his own laundry on campus.

  • Jen

    Whatever happened to the “looks good, smells good ” pile?

  • tfkreference

    The first time I came home from college, my mom asked, “where’s your laundry?” The second time I came home, laundry in tow, she said, “oh, you expect ME to do your laundry?”

    The joy of being Scandinavian.

  • Lois

    So the students at St. Thomas are so utterly helpless that they can’t figure out laundry? They can’t manage to look it up on their expensive laptops and iPhones? I’m pretty sure the directions are on every container of laundry soap sold in the U.S., but the college students at St. Thomas need help figuring it out? The last I heard was that you put the laundry in a machine and it does the work. It probably takes less than 2 minutes to do that. The students at St. Thomas are studying SO HARD that they can’t take those few minutes? SERIOUSLY? The president of this university should be ashamed. If there’s one thing you can learn in college, if you haven’t learned it in the last 18 years at home, is how to do laundry. Just checking… is there anything else we can do to help them out? Perhaps a car service or maid service? Grocery delivery? Wake-up calls? Paper writing? If you didn’t learn how to write a paper in high school, don’t worry, we’ll write one for you? “College is hard, man, you don’t understand!!”