By Anna Hazard
Switching over to more senior friendly appliances in advance is another way to prepare the laundry room for aging in place. The major appliances within this area would be the washing machine and dryer with a main focus being on more user friendly brands and varieties that are easier to use for aging eyes and bodies.
In general, options should always be chosen that will minimize both the physical and mental effort needed when doing the laundry.
It's recommended that both the washing machine and dryer have a front loading style in order for easier access and less bodily strain (particularly for those who may have bad backs). These styles of appliances require less movement to load and unload and have doors that are easily reachable even while seated in a wheelchair.
In addition, the reduction of flexibility, range of motion & balance, as well as bodily strength that tends to come with the aging process makes using top-loading machines more difficult and dangerous as they require users to reach down into the bottom of the drum to lift clothes in and out. The repeated process of raising clothes from the washer and lowering it into the dryer can also throw off the user's balance and pose as a further falling hazard.
Both the washing machine & dryer (as well as any other related appliances) should have clear and easy-to-read controls on the front of the machine as rear controls can be difficult to reach (particularly if the user has a mobility aid such as a wheelchair). The controls should be clearly marked using print large enough to still be viewable from a distance.
Any control panels with back-lit or LCD displays should be brightly lit with good contrast between the background color & messages for easy readability and to reduce potential strain on the eyes. These screens should clearly display text, numbers, or graphics in large print. It would be optimal if the equipment also supplements visual messages with audible instructions for those seniors with more severe visual acuity problems.
Otherwise the settings should be easy to navigate and not overly complicated especially when it comes to basic washes that would be most commonly used. In addition, often used appliance settings can be further labeled using colored stickers, large print overlays, or other markings which would further help those with reduced eyesight or potential memory problems.
Controls that use buttons instead of knobs tend to be easier to manipulate for those with arthritis and other hand dexterity or strength issues. Otherwise, appliances that use knobs or dials should have controls that are large and easy enough to grasp and twist even for those with finger or hand issues.
Appliance Add-on & Specs
In general it's recommended that both the washer and dryer be elevated an extra 12" - 15" above the floor (putting their doors at approximately 15" minimum to 36" maximum above the floor surface) as this will greatly reduce the need to bend over while inserting or removing laundry. This is particularly needed for front loading washer & dryers that would require more reaching & bending than their top loading counterparts.
The appliances can be raised using built-in cabinetry in the laundry room or through the use of compatible laundry pedestals or pedestal drawers that are often sold by the original manufacturers of washers and dryers. These laundry pedestal drawers tend to come in a range of sizes from 10" - 15" tall and prop up the appliance's front loading drawer to a more convenient height.
In addition, during installation of the appliances, make certain that the layout of the laundry room allows for 1" - 3" of width on the sides of appliances for proper air circulation and 4" - 6" of clear space in the back for placement of vents, cords, and power plugs. There will also need to be a 21 - 25" clear space in front of the machines to allow their doors to swing open fully.
Both the washing machine and dryer should have appropriate expected capacity for the laundry loads that they will be cleaning. This means that those that live in a full house with multiple people will require machines with larger capacities while those who live alone or within smaller households can use more streamlined machines with smaller capacities (that will be both more inexpensive to purchase as well as having lower utility costs).
Otherwise, the more expensive option of a stainless steel drum (instead of coated or plastic drums) is recommended for both washers & dryers. These types of drums are far more durable than their porcelain or plastic counterparts and are less likely to chip, crack, rust, stain, or otherwise absorb odors. This means that they will require less maintenance, repair, and outright replacement in an aging-in-place household.
In general, it's also recommended that both washing machine & dryer be energy star certified. These types of appliances require less overall electricity to run thus lowering the expected utility bill which can be greatly beneficial when retirees are on a tight budget or fixed income. In addition, there are often many programs that offer further rebates for purchasing certified energy efficient products and appliances.
Another option that is recommended for aging-in-place are appliances that include allergy cycle or sanitizing settings. These settings often greatly reduce potential allergens found within clothes & other laundry which can be very useful for those with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems that often crop up during the aging process.
Washing Machine Features
When it comes to washing machines in particular, many seniors find helpful the smart varieties that can automatically determine water level, cycle time, and other features without further input from the user. This would make the machine particularly easier to use by those who may have cognitive, vision, or mobility issues that would hamper the usage of a more complicated manual washer.
When it comes to dryer options, it's recommended that a front loading dryer have a side opening door (that is either reversible or which opens to the side that has proper clearance space within the laundry room layout). While pull-down or hamper-style doors can be convenient for holding laundry during loading or unloading, that style of door often makes access to the back of the drum far more difficult especially for those who may have trouble bending over or reaching out.
Otherwise the dryer should have a large lint filter that easy to access & clean along with a steam cycle that can help with quick freshening, de-wrinkling of clothes, and removing allergens. Another helpful option would include removable racks to dry delicate items without tumbling (which would help negate the need to hang drying laundry).
In addition, the dryer should be set up to vent outside of the house (instead of venting into the laundry room itself) to help keep moisture and humidity down in the area. This would help improve air quality, reduce the growth rate of mold, mildew, and other allergens, as well as helping with any air drying that is being done in the laundry room.
View the Rest of the Series
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Exterior
Part 3 - Landscaping & Gardens
Part 4 - Patio, Porch, & Deck
Part 5 - Garage & Carports
Part 6 - Entrances, Exits, & Thresholds
Part 7 - Exterior Steps & Ramps
Part 8 - Threshold Lighting & Windows
Part 9 - Interior Doors & Halls
Part 10 - Interior Steps & Staircases
Part 11 - Interior Stairlifts
Part 12 - Interior Elevators
Part 13 - Interior Lighting
Part 14 - General Interior Flooring
Part 15 - Interior Flooring Comparisons
Part 16 - HVAC & Energy Efficiency
Part 17 - Power, Communications, & Other Interior Systems
Part 18 - Living Room
Part 19 - Kitchen Layout, HVAC, & Electrical Systems
Part 20 - Kitchen Lighting, Flooring, and Sink Faucets
Part 21 - Kitchen Countertops & Cabinets
Part 22 - Kitchen Refrigerators, Freezers, and Dishwashers
Part 23 - Kitchen Ovens, Ranges, Stovetops, and Cooktops
Part 24 - Kitchen Microwaves, Blenders, & Food Processors
Part 25 - Miscellaneous Kitchen Items
Part 26 - Dining Room Layout, Tables, & Other Furniture
Part 27 - Dining Room Flooring, Lighting, & Meal Serving Equipment
Part 28 - Bedroom Layout & Closets
Part 29 - Accessible Beds
Part 30 - Bedroom Furniture, Electronics, & Other Accessories
Part 31 - Bedroom Flooring
Part 32 - Bedroom Lighting
Part 33 - Bathroom General Layout
Part 34 - Bathroom General Tips for Showers & Tubs
Part 35 - Bathroom Accessible Tubs
Part 36 - Bathroom Accessible Showers
Part 37 - Bathroom Accessible Toilets
Part 38 - Bathroom Sinks & Vanities
Part 39 - Bathroom Cabinets & Shelving
Part 40 - Bathroom Grab Bars
Part 41 - Bathroom Flooring
Part 42 - Bathroom Lighting
Part 43 - Bathroom Ableware - Toilet Aids & General Accessibility
Part 44 - Bathroom Ableware - Shower, Bathing, & Grooming Aids
Part 45 - Laundry Room Location, Layout, & Spacing
Part 46 - Laundry Room Carts, Rolling Hampers, & Chutes
Part 47 - Laundry Room Dumbwaiters
Part 48 - Laundry Appliances (Washers & Dryers)
Part 49 - Laundry Room Cabinets, Shelving, & Countertops
Part 50 - Laundry Room Storage & Organization
Part 51 - Laundry Sinks, Lighting, & Flooring