3 Easy Ways to Help Your Au Pair Use Your Home Appliances Correctly

by cv harquail on October 10, 2014

American appliances have too many options.

Having endless options is great for getting just the right setting for a specific task, but it becomes quite a problem when you’re forever trying to remember which combinations of buttons and levers to press.

Between our vacuum cleaner (5 attachments, 3 wands and 5 buttons), our washer (23 different combinations of settings) and our dryer (Can I dry towels on the setting that says ‘jeans’?) there is simply too much too much going on.

Sometimes I just whack the washing machine panel with my hand a few times, and take whatever water temperature comes up. I mean, really.

So I get it when an au pair (or a cleaning person, or a mother-in-law) can’t figure out how to use an appliance. Rather than being annoyed that s/he can’t figure it out and irked that I can’t remember either,  I’ve found three strategies for helping someone else use the tools the right way.

1. Get out your labeler.

wash machingI got mine at Costco, and it was $17 very well spent. I printed out labels for my dryer, using the main categories of stuff that runs through my laundry.

(If you want to get more specific, you can have more types of clothes and loads, but these four categories fit the bill for us.)

I have also used labels on the shelves in my pantry. Then again I am somewhat obsessive about being able to find things.

2. Translate the manual.

My washer, dryer and vacuum manuals came printed in English, Spanish and French.

Okay, so some of our au pairs have been Estonian, Lithuanian and Afrikaans. Wherever your au pair is from, you can translate the key parts of the manual together, and s/he can write notes on the manual in an additional language.

3. Make a video for your au pair’s smart phone.

Here’s the high tech version, for you 2.0 kinds of host parents:  You could have your au pair video you as you explain how to use the appliance.

Even better, you could make this a family affair by asking one of your adorable kids to do this with you. Once you’ve made the video, you can stick it on the family computer (or YouTube channel) for the next person who needs it.

Other ideas?

dryerMy washer and dryer each came with a one page graphic chart with basic instructions– I’ve hung these on the wall by the machines to make it easy to refer to them. And of course, I’ve got the manuals nearby too.

I know I’m not the only mom who cycles between frustration and empathy when people can’t figure out how to use tools to make the job easier.

What have you done, in your house, to make it easy for your au pair to use home appliances more effectively?

Or, have you just given up chosen some other battle?


See also:

Can you guess what prompted this host parent tip?



Didis October 10, 2014 at 4:51 pm

This is a good post!
My Host Family had a huge list on a fridge with reminder how it all works. With all changes that are happening in first months as au pair, I liked having not to many information on hand, because it was too much at the moment.
If laundry was mostly done cotton/war water – my hosts would write what to press and that is it. After several weeks when I got adjusted, they started bringing more variations.

Also, I never saw slow-cooker before, that thing that drains salad, George Forman, etc.. and if you will need your au pair to use it, I recommend to show it to her upfront. I was too embarrassed to admit I have no idea what was that for at the moment. :)

old au pair mom October 10, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Yes, there are some things I have given up. We have had only one AP who liked her meat rare. She understood about saving the au jus remains from those pricey steaks I made the night before. I loved her. We have had many others who sadly have cooked things to death and removed all leftover sauce or delicious wine au jus before serving, even after I have requested, beg, pleaded for them not to. I treat this is a cultural issue (shared by many cultures) and avoid having APs cook or reheat any meat. Our APs make wonderful veggie plates and fruit trays which are a huge bonus to our whole family so everyone does their part. And I am always happy to cook someone’s steak, roast, etc more fully if they prefer it medium or horrors! well done

Summer B October 14, 2014 at 2:25 am

I’ve heard a few ideas. Leaving separate ‘how to’ instructions by each appliance. Having the Au Pair shadow the Host Parents using the appliances for the first few days. Older kids are great at using some of these appliances and they make great teachers too. Or there is the more hands off approach – invite the Au Pair to work the appliances while the Host Parents are home and to have them ask for help if they need it.

Cali hostmom October 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Our au pair had no idea how or why to use a dishwasher, and she hand washed everything (mediocrely) and left it all to dry stacked up in impossible piles on our quite small drying mat.

I gave her dishwasher lessons, and she was still unconvinced, so I told her to try it for two weeks and if she still didn’t like using it, I’d buy a better dish drainer (and then would have had to give her lessons on how to thoroughly hand wash dishes).

She got used to it right away… but she still can’t load it efficiently. Oh well. She runs and empties it at least half the time so if she wants to run a load every day, I’ve decided to let it go.

One thing I’ve realized about our washing machine is that she has been using way too much laundry soap. She would fill the cap 3/4 full even with a very small load. I wondered why we were burning through it so quickly! So that’s something that I’ll be clear about right away with a new au pair (if we ever have another one).

hOstCDmom October 16, 2014 at 1:38 pm

LOL! re ” if she wants to run a load every day”…. we run our dishwasher AT LEAST 2x/24hours..!! Often 3x… So I’m smiling at the thought that running it daily would be “a lot”. :)

But, we are 9 people, and homeschool, so there are kids home for lunch every day using dishes just like for breakfast and dinner, and we have one of those euro size/counter depth dishwashers (they are about 2-3″ less deep than US made models, which makes a surprising difference in capacity, but looks nice when the dw has a cabinet door and is flush with all the other cabinets.) But most days I seriously wish we had TWO dishwashers! :)

No AP in her right mind would ever want to hand wash dishes in my house. All our APs have grown to worship the gods of the dishwasher and clothes dryer with our clan!

HRHM October 15, 2014 at 6:13 pm

It’s amazing to me how variable “getting it” is. Our current AP, I showed her once with each appliance. I’ve been “observing” her now since July and she does it exactly how I showed her, without fail, no questions asked. I’ve had one AP who I showed, left written notes, left manual, repeatedly corrected, who still couldn’t get it right. Not sure if this is an issue of intellect or just stubborness. A warning to stubborn APs, your HM probably will just assume you’re not very bright! LOL I know I did…

4th time lucky?! October 16, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Totally agree!! I did the same, hand written instructions, manuals, check lists, demonstrations, more lists, post its… to no avail – the AP just didn’t get it (and esp. didn’t get why it was important for us that things were done/ used a certain way).

Had the same issue with laundry powder as mentioned by Cali HM – always used way too much and going through it like nothing else in the world.

My problem is that I always start the year off with the ‘benefit of the doubt’ attitude, i.e. I don’t want to presume they are stupid (maybe I should?) and hope that with handbook and demonstration and verbal explanation it’s all good. Then I find I’m running out of laundry powder – again, so I assume it’s the AP who is using too much (and doing way too much laundry, loads of small loads). If I ask them how much they use, they are usually telling me what I want to hear or being understanding and apologetic and often just continue doing it their way anyway. So I continue having to buy way too much laundry powder.

What next? “show me how you do it”? I feel awkward watching over them as they load the washing machine.
Can I demand that they wash all their whites and coloured stuff in the same load just as we do, so that the machine is used to full capacity?

American Host Mom in Europe October 17, 2014 at 4:05 am

“Can I demand that they wash all their whites and coloured stuff in the same load just as we do, so that the machine is used to full capacity?”

Personally, I wouldn’t do that — but I won’t wash my whites with colours.

HOWEVER, this sounds like a great reason to request your au pair do the kids’ laundry with her or his own. I too get irritated seeing half-full loads run, so when I notice that, I’ll mention “when you haven’t filled the machine with your laundry, please remember you can do the kids’ laundry (which I keep, sorted, in a stacked basket directly next to the washer/dryer), or add towels, or change their sheets that day.”

HRHM October 17, 2014 at 8:20 am

We tell our AP she “can” do their washes together, and all of them have. I can’t see any AP wanting to do extra loads if they can get it all done at once. I do have them separate into whites, mediums and darks but between her, 2 girls and sheets, towels, bath mats etc , it’s easy to come up with 3 pretty full loads. This won’t stop them from using a full cup of soap when I’ve asked them to use 1/4, but at least the number of washes goes down…

Should be working October 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm

We had an AP who was extremely careful about her clothes–she had grown up with very little and bought her clothes all herself with scraped-together money, and her style and appearance were important to her (maybe too important, but that’s another story). She did all her own laundry separately, resulting in some tiny loads of her own stuff. I didn’t begrudge her this because she didn’t put them in the dryer AT ALL (she was suspicious of dryers), and ironed everything she wore. I figure if she is that committed to her clothes–we never even had a functioning ironing board before she came–I am not going to make demands about her washing strategies.

Should be working October 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm

And for Xmas I bought her a bottle of expensive “delicates” detergent, she was overjoyed.

Mimi October 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Our handbook has instructions with step by step pictures and was edited by my 10 y/o, so our APs know that if he can run them all, they have no excuse. Since the twins also love to clean and help out, they know all the settings on all the appliances, too.

We have had APs break things, so I always demo things first and stress the importance of asking for help rather than risk breaking an expensive appliance.

cv harquail October 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Realizing: I’m a little disappointed that no one mentioned the label at 2 o’clock. Just saying.

Should be working October 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I have absolutely mentioned it–to everyone in my house!! I love it! It is SUCH a category! Why doesn’t Bosch print it this way? Sequins!!

Mimi October 29, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Those of us surfing on phones don’t see it as easily! :(

cv harquail October 29, 2014 at 8:07 pm


OpinionatedHM October 29, 2014 at 7:51 pm

The sequins? Probably because I thought that of course you needed to have a label for sequins!
We have an elaborate process for sequins because they are on everything! (Dance costumes are my nemesis) I have a love/hate relationship with sequins. Sort by color, then fabric, turn inside out, place in mesh fine linens bag (one item per bag please), wash on hand wash cycle using special delicates detergent that is different from the other detergent, remove from machine, remove from protective mesh bag, turn right side out, smooth out the sequins, hang to dry.
Most of our AP’s think all clothing can just get shoved into the machine at once with an abundance of detergent and things magically turn out just fine. Just picture me trying to explain why our machine has a “hand wash” cycle. Sequins get their own special training session in my house!

Mimi October 29, 2014 at 7:55 pm

I’m so glad 75% of my brood is male…

cv harquail October 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm


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