Nobody really wants to handle other people's clothes in the laundry room, but many apartment residents view it as a necessity. At least that's the consensus of the e-mail and mail responses to my column about laundry room etiquette.

Apartment residents agreed that giving their neighbors a five-minute grace period to pick up their laundry is reasonable, but most do not want to wait too much longer.

That's because they have noticed that when they give a long grace period, they end up having to remove other people's clothes anyway, because their laundry predecessor either forgot or is trying to monopolize the machine.

Renee Tillery of Arlington said: "I think tenants need to be more mindful of actually tending to their clothes in a timely manner. We have only three washers and dryers per three buildings in my complex. And I often find people leave their clothes to 'reserve' machines for sometimes more than an hour at a time. I used to give at least 30 minutes before I took clothes out. (Not that I wanted to; I agree touching other people's clothes is gross.) Now I just go to the laundromat. Prices are similar and it's a lot faster."

Tillery identified the bottom line in most opinions on sharing a laundry room: being on time to pick up your clothes. It seems the etiquette really boils down to watching the clock to make sure you are present when the machine's cycle ends. Some even said that although it gives them the creeps when other people throw around their clothes, they expect it if they don't show up on time, or a few minutes early.

Setting a timer or alarm to remind you when to be back to the laundry room works best, said Frances Korb, who lives in the District.

"A good suggestion for the laundry room problem is when you put your clothes in the washer and/or dryer, on your return to your apartment, set your kitchen timer for the appropriate time it takes to wash and dry. Ours is 30 minutes to wash, 45 minutes to dry. I do this each and every time I wash and dry," Korb said. "It keeps me from forgetting that I am using the washer/dryer, and I can get my clothes out in a timely fashion. If people would do this it would preclude anyone handling their laundry. It works."

A more high-tech idea mentioned by Jacquilynne Schlesier of Toronto is to have the washing machines hooked up to a building Web site so residents can check online to see if washers and dryers are free or how much longer they're scheduled to be in use. But even if the system was high tech enough to show whether clothes have actually been picked up from the available machines, chances are if people don't check their laundry on time, they may not check the Internet either.

Because seasoned sharers of laundry rooms don't believe that everybody will get their laundry on time, other solutions may work better.

Schlesier observed one such arrangement that worked well.

"I had a friend who lived in a building that had a metal laundry basket permanently affixed to the wall above each washer and dryer," Schlesier said. "The standing etiquette in that building (explained by the building manager on move-in) was that moving people's laundry was fair game. If someone left their stuff sitting in a machine, you moved it to the basket above that machine, where it would be clean, and obvious, and not in anyone else's way. And then you carried on with your laundry."

Anyone who thinks this sounds like a good, practical idea should discuss the possibility with their landlord. Having a policy in general might encourage better laundry room behavior.

Just make sure that policy isn't too strict, said Mary Elaine Theriault, whose laundry room situation is not good. The Silver Spring resident regularly gets aggravated at her unfriendly, overcrowded laundry room. Because there are only two washers and two dryers for roughly 20 apartments on her floor, she often has to go to laundry room on a different floor. But she still said, "A schedule for the laundry room? No, no, no. Never. Please not that."

However, Schlesier, who now lives in a house and shares a laundry room with only one other person, said she still has laundry-related difficulties.

"It's not that hard to clean the bloody lint traps out. . . . It's not likely to lead to the downfall of Western civilization," she said.

Another key to laundry manners, said Kathy Lisiewicz from Los Angeles: "People shouldn't use other people's detergent. If you didn't bring it to the laundry room, it isn't yours."

On a similar note, don't steal clothes or laundry baskets. It seems some apartment residents don't think pilfering their neighbor's favorite pair of jeans is wrong.

So remember, the standards of etiquette for apartment laundry rooms are based on common sense and respect. They are:

* Be on time to tend to your laundry.

* Give your neighbors five minutes of leeway before taking their laundry into your own hands.

* Clean the lint from the dryer after you're done.

* If neighbors are not playing fair, talk to your building manager to come up with a better solution, even if it is just posting a sign in the laundry room outlining these expectations.

QIn your opinion, how long should one roommate's guest be allowed to stay on the couch before they should start contributing to rent? I live in a three-bedroom apartment. I wouldn't split the rent four ways evenly, and make the guest pay an equal share, because they are, after all, just getting a couch. But at some point, they should offer us something. What do you think that time threshold is? Two weeks? Three?

AWell, you could start by defining whether your guest has overstayed the time limit imposed by your landlord. Consult your lease and any other community rules and regulations to see what the guest policy is. Landlords like to distinguish between a guest and someone who is really living in the apartment for reasons that include exceeding occupancy limits, unauthorized subleasing or guests causing extra wear and tear or other trouble in the apartment complex.

Not surprisingly, landlords would also like for the person disguising himself as a guest to be held accountable for regular rent payments. They would rather treat such people as sub- or co-tenants so that they have the ability to hold that person responsible if there's a problem.

Once you find out if your guest has exceeded the time limit set by the landlord, you could use that as a basis for discussing contributions to rent. You should discuss the issue with the people already on the lease as well, because having an unauthorized guest may bring penalties if your landlord finds out and decides to enforce the guest policy.

You may also want to factor in personal issues, such as friendships and whatever circumstances brought the guest to your couch. However, you are probably within bounds to begin the discussion after two weeks, or however long guests are allowed to stay in your building.

Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at gebhardts@washpost.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.