On my various worldwide laundry situations

I have a confession to make: I didn’t put up the laundry line. In fact, I would have liked to put up a laundry line, as I prefer air dried laundry to machine dried, and there is of course no doubt that line drying is 100000x better for the environment than using a tumble dryer. The reason I didn’t put up the laundry line is extremely simple – we live in an apartment with no garden or backyard. I thought about attempting to hang the line in our front porch, but in the end, it’s a north-facing space that gets zero sunlight, so I opted not to.

But I already know how to hang a laundry line and I’ve done my share of crazy laundry across the world. So, instead of reveling in the joys of hanging a laundry line this week, I thought instead I would give you a little taste of the different types of laundry situations that I’ve lived with around the world the past few years.

Take, for instance, this pathetic scene to your left. This was my washing machine the first time I lived in China. First of all, as you have probably already noticed, the machine is located on the balcony. This is typical in China, if you are lucky and rich enough to have a washing machine in the first place. I used to be awoken around 6 am everyday as some of the less well-off ladies that lived nearby would wash their clothes in the river that ran just below my balcony, slapping the clothes off rocks to get them clean and making these loud Fwwwwap Fwwwaaap! noises every morning.

I had the luxury of a washing machine and I even had enough money to buy fancy washing powder, which I used generously to counteract the effects of the polluted Chinese air, bad chalk from teaching in bare classrooms, and oil splatters from too many encounters with delicious hot pot.

The town where I lived, Anji, was known as the Chinese capital of bamboo, for many natural bamboo groves grew in the mountains around the town. Thus, my laundry line was not a line at all, but a bamboo pole that balanced just outside my balcony, convenient for hanging. The photo to the right is what a typical laundry day looked like for me:

Things were pretty similar in Bill’s and my apartment on our most recent Chinese excursion in Lishui, except that the pole was metal instead of bamboo and our balcony was slightly larger, with several poles located inside the balcony as well, for hanging clothes on hangers. I find this method to be a bit better for drying clothes than simply laying them across the pole, especially for shirts. We even made use of a special plastic pole with a hook at the end to place the hangers on and off the laundry poles. Very useful.

Our laundry drying on pole at the top apartment. Socks off to the right in the shadows.

Things were slightly different in Ireland, though no less strange to my American laundry sensibilities. I’d wager a guess that about half or more of all Irish homes do without a tumble dryer (makes good eco sense to me!). This presents a problem with hanging your laundry out to dry, though, in Ireland, where it rains 80% of the time. Another interesting aside is that most Irish washing machines are located in the kitchen. Yep! The kitchen, most likely because that is where all of the plumbing is anyway, and many Irish homes were built long before the advent of washing machines.

In my first Irish house, we did have a laundry line and I did make use of it, whenever it stopped raining for long enough to do so. The lovely photo to the left depicts our overgrown back garden, complete with strung up laundry line. We also got enough of a breeze to dry the clothes fairly quickly and, because it was a south-facing garden, there was plenty of sun, at least on the odd sunny day.

I will never forget, during the first week of my M.A. course, one of my classmates, a very funny guy from Canada named Adam, was woeing to me about the fact that he had done his first load of laundry in Ireland, but his clothes were all soaking wet and he couldn’t figure out how to get them to to dry because it just kept raining on them.

Thanks to my wonderful housemates, I had figured out the secret much earlier than Adam did: the clothes get dried inside. There are two ways of achieving this. The first is by use of radiators, which are side paneled heaters fueled by hot water or oil. They present no risk of fire and, if wet clothes are laid across them while they are hot, the clothes dry in a matter of minutes.

The second way is by use of a clotheshorse. I always just thought the word ‘clotheshorse’ meant someone who loves clothes, but no. A clotheshorse is a small metal stand with lots of space for hanging clothes! These proved to be extremely useful in drying things, and when I moved into my second Irish house, we had a lovely south-facing attic with windows that provided plenty of space and sun for drying clothes on several clotheshorses that we had set up there. For those keeping score, here is what a typical clotheshorse looks like:

Okay, if you’ve read this far, you are a hero, because no one should have to read 930 words on laundry. But I will part with one thing I’ve learned: laundry is one of the simplest things we can do, and there is always a way to get our clothes clean and dry, preferably without harming the environment too much. Oh, and clothes dried in the sun fit better.

Laundry line hung up in my hostel room while backpacking the Silk Road

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6 Responses to “On my various worldwide laundry situations”

  1. Lydia Presley Says:

    Man, this is the most exotic laundry post I’ve ever read. So much fun!

  2. aunt lonnie Says:

    just curious. . .when did “clothes line” become “laundry line?” that’s what i grew up with. i really miss not having one in this house. but its so hard for me to haul laundry baskets now. the washer at the front of the house means i would have to haul it out back (or hang it in the front yard….not real sure that the neighbors would mind! lol)

    i love the smell of sheets fresh off the line and onto the bed! another reason to hang clothes is that they last longer. . . you dont really think that all the lint you collect from the dryer vent after each load comes out of thin air, do you? nope. it comes from your clothes!

    thanks again, megan for the laundry sagas. btw, i believe somewhere on martha stewart’s website, she has instructions for making a contraption that is very similar to your “clotheshorse,” tho of course she probably does not call it that. i had a couple of them when my kids were babies. ‘used them for drying diapers. (yes, i used cloth diapers! yikes!)

    big hugz 2u dearie!

  3. heymarlo Says:

    I find these aspects of your travels fascinating. A truly practical look at it all.

  4. Kim Says:

    Megan, I use a clothes rack inside the apartment. I love your laundry post!!

  5. Kim Says:

    (We also use our dryer. But I use the clothes rack for the ones that will shrink in the dryer.)

  6. Achoo! « The Button Club Says:

    [...] off your shoes at the door (check) and not hang your clothes outside (check – we put ours on a clotheshorse to dry). Her final suggestion is to try eating honey, which I can’t do because I am not [...]


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