Adventures in Laundry: How to Do Your Washing in Urban America

A wall of dryers in a local laundromat: a common sight in U.S. cities. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

Whenever I arrive home, there’s this stink. But only now, seven months after moving to Brooklyn, have I worked out what it is. Or rather, what it isn’t: laundry.

Back in London, I was constantly washing clothes or hanging them out to dry, which meant cloying, floral detergent dominated every inhalation. Laundry smell, it seems, is crucial for masking other signature domestic scents: gym trainers, fridge rot, and that frying pan you meant to wash up last week.

But in urban America, laundry (here “washing” is something you do to your body or vehicle) generally gets done outside the home. And without an in-house Hotpoint to pump out perfume, the food ‘n’ feet funk is unrelenting. It’s like when they banned smoking in pubs. Suddenly, our much-loved boozers stank not of nutty, delicious tobacco but of stale yeast and urine. Ladies and gentlemen – welcome to my apartment.

Some lucky U.S. city-dwellers get to live in smart buildings with giant washer-dryers in the basement. But if your place doesn’t have facilities, you’ll need to find somewhere that does. Locating your nearest Laundromat won’t be hard; they’re everywhere. If possible, visit early in the day so that you can snaffle a machine that’s not gummed up with everyone else’s soap sludge and escaped socks.

Once you’ve chosen a venue, your biggest challenge will be transporting your unmentionables from your apartment to a washing machine. Likely, you’ll only want to do this once a week, but a human can generate a disturbingly large mound of filthy fabric in that time. Buy yourself a shiny nylon sack from the 99 Cents Store, and stuff it until the stitching looks like it’ll pop (it won’t). Hoist it onto your shoulder where, if you can learn to walk with a compensating tilt, it will stay. For added amusement, don a Santa hat and glare at small children.

Everything that comes after is easy. You’ll need a handful of quarters (or a pre-paid laundry card) and some washing liquid, which you’ll be able to buy onsite. Insert the coins and detergent into your machine making sure to select the appropriate holes.

As long as no one steals your stuff (the tumble dryers don’t lock, so beware), you won’t need to interact with the other customers. Sitcoms will tell you otherwise, but Laundromats are not friendly places, so pull up a plastic chair, read a book, or get neck ache watching one of several TVs suspended from the ceiling. Deploy eye contact only to let others know this is your laundry cart (used for transporting wet clothes from washing machine to dryer) and you will kill to keep it.

If you don’t fancy the schlep, paying a professional to cleanse your threads is an expensive but popular option. They’ll pick up and drop off, and your sheets will arrive home stiff, bright and wrapped in plastic. Mmm. But actually, I’ve begun to quite like my DIY laundry adventures. I think it’s the smell.

Expats, are you lucky enough to have an in-house washer/dryer? If not, do you do your own washing or just drop it off?

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

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