We have friends who live “off the grid”, with only an emergency propane tank for refrigeration, who have a hand-operated laundry tub. It’s a little more modern looking than the one in the picture below (from Grey Roots Museum in Owen Sound) but not much! That’s definitely not for me.
When we travel, we pack several items that are easily hand-washable in any sink – things like underwear and tee shirts – along with a few stainless steel clothes-pegs that have hooks on them so they can be hung over a shower rod. It’s a great way to get us through a couple of days between long-term accommodations, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. Among other things, hand-washing and hand-wringing fabrics can be hard on them, resulting in pilling and stretching.
When we look for potential places to stay, there are 3 things that are “must haves”: a kitchen, wi-fi/internet, and a washing machine. In hot countries we can do without a dryer, but if we’re staying somewhere for 2 weeks or longer a washer is non-negotiable for me in the same way that internet access is non-negotiable for Ted.
My personal preference is for places that have their own laundry facilities as opposed to communal laundry rooms (although the shared laundry rooms aboard the Viking ships on which we’ve cruised have been awesome). So far, we’ve been fortunate to be able to be picky – and yes, I know what a privilege this is in a world where running water, electricity, and single-family dwellings are not a “given” for most people.
In our experience, North American washing machines and dryers tend to be fairly big, whether side-by-side or stacked. Canada and the U.S. are geographically large land expanses, less densely populated than much of the rest of the world, so living spaces in all but a few of the largest urban centres tend to be roomier than elsewhere. Many of us have gotten used to the idea of single-purpose “laundry rooms”, even in condos, but that’s definitely not the case in many other countries.
In Berlin, Vienna, and Trieste our condos had European-style washers; the latter two condos had the laundry equipment in the kitchen – which seems to be the norm – but Berlin had the machine in the bathroom. (As an aside, automatic dishwashers in condos are rare in European cities – there’s only so much messing about with plumbing that can be done in buildings that are often hundreds of years old.)
Berlin was our first foray into Euro-style laundry, so I was curious as to how “dry” my clothes would get, since there are no options on the controls related specifically to drying, and the machines are ventless (i.e. there is no dryer hose/vent to take moisture out of the room). It turned out the answer was “not that dry”, but fairly wrinkle-free, so everything went onto hangers or the drying rack. We’d noticed that one of our neighbours had shirts hanging on his balcony on a sunny day, but since only a few of the apartments have balconies, most people must use racks or their shower rod – and a balcony certainly wouldn’t work in German winters.
After I did our first load of non-delicates, I was suddenly flooded with memories of my childhood when line-dried items turned “hard”. The first load of towels I washed in Berlin were excellent at exfoliating after drying, and Ted’s jeans dried absolutely stiff. Ironing helped soften the jeans – maybe that’s why my mom ironed so much in the days before she got an electric dryer. Lots of folks we asked suggested fabric softener, which we haven’t used in years, but that actually did the trick (once I found some that was unscented): soft and quicker to dry.
Vienna’s washing machine was similar to Berlin’s, but with a dial JUST different enough that my first load ended up being done in hot water. There’s no temperature “choice” beyond what the machine thinks is appropriate for the cycle. Sadly, that means no ability to opt for energy-saving cold water (which is going to become more and more of an issue as Russia squeezes Europe’s gas and oil supply lines shut.
Trieste (below) was a breeze now that I recognized some basic symbols. Obviously, the labels were all in Italian, but nonetheless fairly easy to figure out (there were no instructions, in either language). The challenge here was getting the machine to turn on – until by trial and error we found the wall switch that activated the washer’s electrical outlet. It’s an adventure!
The “interesting” thing about our Italian washer was how long the cycles lasted. A “light sportswear” cycle could run for an hour; a “cotton standard” could last for THREE! When you’re washing the only set of sheets and expecting to dry them on a rack in the apartment, you’d better plan to do laundry really, really early in the day, or hope for a hot breeze through the windows.
In Greenwich, a Royal Borough of London England (I had to include that – it sounds so posh!)! we again had a washer and drying rack, and this time the instructions were in ENGLISH!
On our quick stopover in Toronto, we were reminded of just how glorious it can be to have a huge washer and dryer – and cheap electricity.
In Mexico, where electricity is VERY expensive, we expected a washer with no drying capability. I stead, there was no washer at all!
The absent washer was an unexpected glitch. The previous washer conked out before we got there and its replacement, bought at the Black Friday sales a week before our arrival, needed to come from Mexico City. A fairly non-specific “December” was given as the delivery date. In the interim, for 3-1/2 weeks our landlord arranged for towels and bedding to go to the lavanderia, I washed essential items and Ted’s quick-dry tees in a plastic tub in the kitchen sink with shampoo (easier on the hands than laundry detergent) and everything else piled up in our laundry hamper. We have friends a 25 minute walk away who have a working washer and dryer, and kindly offered to let us use them, but we had enough clothes not to need to impose.
There is a clothesline in our secluded tropical garden. With the hot sunshine and even a slight breeze, clothes dried in no time, but there was an unexpected glitch there too: ants! The clothesline is strung from a wall covered in flowering vines, and apparently the local ants all fancy themselves tightrope walkers, because they made their way across the line and all over our underthings. Polka dots – especially ones that move – are not our style. Not. At. All.
Plan B: vigorously shake everything, thoroughly rewash it all, and drape things over the compact indoor drying rack. Our landlord quickly arranged for a targeted pesticide spray of the gardens. Hopefully that will cut down on mosquitoes too. (The tiny beasts have found Ted especially delicious, although both of us have legs dotted with dozens of insanely itchy bites.)
Laundry isn’t a very glamorous topic, but it definitely is an important one as we travel the world.