“Washing Together”


Americans have a few places where many different people come together and have to work out sharing. The highway, of course, is a prime example. But there is a specialized set of skills required to navigate the communal space of the laundromat. When I was younger, I frequently used a laundromat since I didn’t own a washer. In more recent years, I still use them to launder items too large to wash in my home machine such as throw rugs and comforters. On those infrequent occasions, I have been able spend my time observing and contemplating. It is too noisy to read and the television usually blares something obnoxious. I did once try to write a poem in the place, but failed.

Timing is everything in the laundromat. It is important to empty the washer as soon as the cycle is finished. Otherwise you risk having someone unceremoniously dump your wet load somewhere. Similarly, apparently you are to leap up when the dryer load is done. Again, you risk having your clothes dumped out on any available surface. While it is rude to stare at another person’s load waiting for it to be done(lest you be suspected of clothing theft) there is often just an instant between their conclusion and your opportunity to nab a machine. I would advise going when the place is empty, but I have never found a time when that is true.

You will encounter a variety of people from the elderly wheeling their carts down the sidewalk to large families with very bored toddlers. The conversation seems to be limited to “are you waiting for that machine” and “are these yours?”(asked in that 30 seconds you have failed to empty a machine.) The main characteristic seems to be territoriality, with people favoring certain dryers. Apparently some run longer on the same dime. If you know that, I think you have probably been hanging out there too often!

The main thing I have acquired in laundromats is deep compassion for people who don’t have washing machines. No one ever looks happy to be having to do their wash with others. Everyone would clearly rather be at home.


13 thoughts on ““Washing Together”

  1. When I was young my mom went to the laundromat on Saturdays. I remember getting ‘Flicks’ from the vending machine and shopping at the thrift store which was next door. Of course I didn’t have to do the laundry so those were good memories! “)

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  2. In the old days it was usually okay ot our local ones in Vermont, although there seemed to be that sense of timing and territorialism at times many times it was a social feel and there was cooperation. In ‘bad’ ones even back then, there could be clothes theft or your stuff dumped out of a machine, or just scuzzy weird substances in the machines and on every surface that showed a history of really poor choices having been made with the machines. Oh, and people used to smoke there! That struck me as supremely dumb, to spend time and money to wash something and then smoke right on it!

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  3. This brings back memories. When I was a child and our home washing machine broke, my mother was pissed but she had me and my sisters to help her sort and load our laundry into the car and into the laundromat. As kids we were impressed that there were over-sized washers, and that we could see the clothes and suds washing through a little window. The one thing mom DID appreciate was that we could wash and dry more than one load at time; and folding clothes together was a little bit fun. The first decades of my adult life I did my laundry in laundromats. Now I live in a building that has 2 washers and 2 dryers on each floor 😁. On another note, I don’t handle other people’s laundry and I don’t like other people handling mine because I use a timer and I show up within 5 minutes at the end of a cycle.

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  4. Interesting, Elizabeth. I learned about laundromat’s in this context from Stephen King’s books, especially IT where the children take the cleaning clothes to a laundromat. We don’t make use of these facilities much here in South Africa.

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  5. My goodness! I would rather wash by hand than do that. I remember testing out the laundromats in college, and decided it wasn’t for me. I washed my clothes by hand for those 4 years, as I think I’ve told you before (+1 more until I moved back home).

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