Doing Laundry With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Doing "simple" things like laundry can be a real challenge when you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or other physical limitations. It typically involves a lot of standing, hauling, bending, twisting and reaching, all of which can be hard on your body, quickly drain your energy, and make your symptoms kick up.

The two best solutions may not be options for you. They are:

  1. Get someone else to do it.
  2. Get a laundry service.

The first one assumes you live with people who are willing and able to take over that task. If so, hooray! Count yourself lucky and take a nap. The second one assumes you can afford it and live in a place where it's available. If that describes you, congratulations! Now go make a phone call and get that set up.

For the rest of us, there's a lot we can do to ease the strain of laundry. All of these tips may not be right for you and your situation, but even a couple of small changes can be a big help.


Ditch the Big Basket

mother and daughter doing laundry

PeopleImages /iStockphoto

The typical laundry basket poses some real problems for those of us with limitations:

  • It's awkward to carry
  • It's too heavy when filled
  • It's hard to keep things organized and easy to put away
  • It's big and always in the way

So ditch the basket and get several small ones, instead. Plastic and wicker are always options, but you can also find a lot of lightweight canvas totes with handles that are much easier to carry and can't hold so much that they get too heavy or disorganized.

Smaller loads aren't just easier to carry, they're easier to put away. That helps lessen the temptation of just sticking the basket in the bedroom and getting to it later. Or never. (We've all pulled our daily socks and underwear from the basket until it's empty, right?)


Bending and Twisting

It's just about impossible to do laundry without some bending and twisting. The key is to find ways to minimize it so you don't kill your back.

Sometimes, it might seem easier to just dig a load out of the hamper instead of sorting. Over the course of several loads, though, that'll mean a lot more bending and digging than if you just sort it all at the beginning. (Plus, you won't miss that one black shirt at the bottom when you throw in your darks.)

Next, look at how your laundry room is set up. Where do you keep your detergent, stain removers, fabric softener, etc.? If you have to bend, twist, or stretch to get them, find a solution. Maybe a shelf, table, or TV tray could go next to the washer, instead, to put heavy containers and frequent-use items at a convenient height.

When it comes to liquid detergents and fabric softeners, look for packages with a spout so you don't have to lift and pour.

Then there's transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer: Bend over, pull wet clothes out, twist, toss into dryer, right? Experiment with different ways of doing this, such as dropping the clothes onto the dryer door, then pushing them all in at once—which you can do from straight on instead of twisting. Or put the wet clothing on top of the dryer, or in a basket.

If you have a front-load washer, would a chair help?

When it's time to replace your washer and dryer, consider the height and configuration of different models. Would one mean less bending than another? Should you get pedestals that make them taller? Of course, we all have budget constraints, but make sure you get the best possible one you can afford so that you can use it more often.


Standing and Reaching

Folding and hanging laundry is physically demanding. Try to have a mixture of hanging and folding clothes in each load (which is one more reason to pre-sort) so you're not repeating the same motion too many times.

As you unload, put things to be folded in one of your small baskets or totes and get the hanging stuff taken care of first. Then, you can take the baskets to the couch or bed and fold them while sitting down. Then you can put them directly back into the baskets, and they're ready to put away.

The small baskets also come in handy at this stage—even small children can carry them, which means less hauling for you.

If the hanging clothes take too much of your energy, only fold what really needs to be taken care of right away. Socks, underwear, and pajamas can wait until you have the energy for them—who cares if they're a little wrinkly? (And if someone complains, they can help more next time.)


Getting Caught Up

Especially during flares, it's easy to get really behind on laundry. When it comes time to play catch up, a little organization is essential.

Think about what the priorities need to be, not just about lights, darks, and colors. Is one person in desperate need of work or school clothes? Do a load that's all or mostly for them. Is everyone out of pants? Wash a couple pairs for everyone. That way, you know the most important stuff is taken care of before you can't do any more.

Also, try not to do multiple loads of sheets and towels in a row, because they take a lot of folding energy. Alternate them with one or two loads of hanging clothes.

The biggest thing—and trickiest—is to not start a load you can't finish. We can't always predict when our energy will run out or our pain will spike, but by paying close attention to how you're feeling, you can get an idea of whether you'll be up to changing over yet another load. If not, rather than risk it sitting there wet and developing that funk, just don't start another load. And if you end with towels or underwear, as long as it gets dry, who cares if it sits in the dryer for a while?


Getting Rid of That Funk

No matter how careful you are, though, sometimes you're just not going to be able to get that last load out of the washer, and you're going to end up with a musty, funky-smelling mess—especially if your brain fog makes you forget you started the laundry in the first place.

Your best friend at that point? Vinegar. Pour some in and wash it again—at a time when you know you'll be able to dry it or you have someone to help—and it should take that smell away. If your washer retains the stink, leave it open to dry or run it with just vinegar and water.

Vinegar is also great for towels that sit a long time before they get washed.

Make it convenient for yourself and leave a bottle of vinegar in the laundry room.


Pace Yourself

As with everything, it's important that we pace ourselves when it comes to laundry. Some pacing is built in because of the time it takes the machines to do their jobs.

During that time, take it easy. Lie down and rest, or do something mental instead of physical.

To make sure you don't over-do it on laundry day, keep a close eye on how you feel and know how many loads you're able to tackle in a day.

A Word From Verywell

These conditions complicate everything. In the end, you can only do as much as your body will allow. Learning to accept that, rather than stressing about what you can't do, is the most helpful thing of all, no matter what tasks you're facing.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.