How I quit the laundromat during a pandemic
Tips and tricks for dumping the laundromat when you live in a small space
Pre-pandemic life was so much simpler. You could lug your dirty clothes to a public place and wash them, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, yet chatting like friends, all the while folding your underwear and rolling your socks. Then, when covid-19 hit, suddenly, we became completely aware just how gross parts of our lives were. New protocols made simple tasks excruciating. Public places became a new threat because, well, people are gross. One thing that became the worst thing ever in my life was the laundromat.
When I was a kid, I loved the laundromat. Weird, I know. Occasionally, our washer would break down and while Dad was waiting for the right part to come in at the hardware store, Mom would load up the laundry and me into our AMC Eagle (remember those??) and haul us across town. Laundry can't wait with a family of five. In a small town, laundromats are desolate sanctuaries that smell clean, have snack machines and private bathrooms, where you can do your laundry in peace. However, I don't live in a small town anymore. Laundromats in the urban core of a city are a whole other thing. Here, if a laundromat is desolate, that's usually a bad sign.
Once the pandemic hit, I became acutely aware of an issue. The laundromat was now always busy. You see, I live in a "historic" house in a "historic" neighborhood. Here, "historic" means "It was built before modern comforts existed." Our three bedroom house that was shockingly affordable had a catch. It has laundry hook ups, certainly, for a full sized washer and dryer. The catch? It is impossible to fit a full sized machine through the basement door. Why does it have the hook ups? Because once upon a time, it had a garage door in the basement where the appliances could be brought in. Some time ago, someone had the genius idea of filling in the driveway with cement so the driveway is now at ground level, thus making the formerly accessible basement not-so-accessible. When we signed the lease, we didn't notice just how narrow the doorway was. Come moving day, we found out the hard way you definitely can't fit a washer or dryer through it, even if you take off the door frame. Luckily, there is a laundromat across the way from us that you can see from our front windows.
Once everyone was home all the time, they became desperate to leave the house for any menial task. Cue the laundromat. Now, everyone was going to the laundromat, and, there were new protocols. No one could sit in the laundromat to wait. They could only go in to start, switch, or take out a load. No folding. No bathrooms. The tables were even removed. People were expected to sit in their cars while their loads washed and dried....through the summer heat. As a bonus, dryers were now free in order to encourage patronage.
Sometime around June, I snapped. I couldn't take it anymore. I declared that I quit the laundromat. My husband thought I was insane. I bought a clothesline and began washing everything by hand. He quickly tired of scratchy clothes and took over laundry for me. I often still washed things by hand between larger trips to the building of awful. I was unemployed, so, it's not like I had anything else to do but beat my clothes against the shower walls. The only trouble with line drying clothes outside is that you are vastly limited by weather. I realized we needed to find some way to do laundry at home with practical efficiency.
I began pouring myself into researching alternatives to traditional machines Americans use. I found I had to start thinking outside the box. There are so many fascinating ways to do laundry, however, after trying many, I've finally found the best things you can buy so you can (mostly) quit the laundromat.
First, I needed to find a machine that could handle more than two articles of clothing at a time. I found a remarkable machine made by Black & Decker. Technically, it's for use in places like an RV, however, I've found it's great for small spaces. It has a single water hook up, so it uses cold water only. I've found this to be no problem because I only ever used cold water anyway. It is a small machine, however, and holds about half that of a standard top loading washer, which means no full sized blankets. Sheets from my queen sized bed fit just fine, though. On the bright side, it has no agitator, making it gentle on clothes. It fills really fast. It has a built in lint trap that is incredibly efficient. The longest cycle on the machine takes 41 minutes from start to finish. The shortest cycle takes 19 minutes. The best part, though, is the incredible power of the spin cycle. The spin cycle on this machine is so good, the clothes are practically half dry when you pull them out.
The total cost of the machine was around $300. Not cheap, but not unreasonable. By comparison, compact apartment sized traditional style machines at the hardware stores cost $1100 per piece making a washer dryer combo cost $2200. However, I didn't make this leap blindly. I watched a number of YouTube reviews on this machine. The one that ultimately sold me was this one. This youtuber reviewed her machine when she first got it and again one year after use. She still loved it after a year. That got my attention.
This was the part that I was really stumped on. There wasn't much in the way of drying alternatives outside of foldable drying racks. I didn't want to go that route because it is incredibly limited by the time it takes to air dry a pair of jeans at room temperature. Who has that kind of time? So I turned to some Asian innovation. What I found were some interesting contraptions, however, there was one type that caught my attention. Essentially, it's a clothes rack with a nylon cover, which doesn't seem remarkable. What makes the difference is the small motor that powers a heater and fan. The covered clothes rack becomes a tiny sauna. Vents let the moisture escape, which leaves you with dry clothes already on hangers that are now ready to go directly into the closet.
One thing in my dryer research is I found a brand of portable dryers called Manatee. There are tons of rave reviews about it everywhere. However, that isn't the one I ended up buying. I took a bit of a gamble and ended up getting the lesser known and lessor reviewed KASYDoff portable dryer for about $100. The reason I took the risk is because it was actually larger in capacity and has three tiers, which has been awesome. Price-wise, the two brands had about a $10 difference. Overall, I'm really happy with the one I got. If I only did laundry for myself, the smaller one would likely have been perfect, but I do laundry for two of us and just needed the extra capacity.
Through use of these new machines, I found there were things I needed that I hadn't thought of and things I thought I needed that I didn't.
- I bought those floating lint traps that are shaped like little flowers. I have four cats and a German Shepherd. Pet hair is everywhere. I was certain that, even though it had a lint trap, I would need the extra help. Turns out I didn't. The lint trap built into the washer is amazing! I will admit it isn't perfect, but it is damn good. The extra lint trap devices I bought have actually been useless. However, you may find you need them. If so, they may not be a bad thing to check out.
- What I did find useful was a Downy fabric softener ball. One issue with not using a tumble dryer is that clothes can be stiff when hung up to dry. A way to combat that is to use distilled white vinegar in the rinse cycle. However, I don't want to sit around in my basement all day trying to time it just right. The fabric softener balls are perfect. You pour in your product and pull the plug tight. During the first spin cycle, the plug becomes dislodged and it releases the product during the rinse cycle. Vinegar helps break down the minerals in your water that make clothes scratchy. I use half a cup of vinegar per load.
- Hangers! This seems obvious, but you'll need more than the hangers you put shirts on. I recommend pants hangers with the clips for pants, underwear, and large items like towels and throw blankets. I also recommend single clips on a hook. I use these for socks and washrags. What's nice is I can match socks as I put things in the dryer, which makes putting clothes away so much easier because they're already paired. These clips also come in handy when you have an item with a lot of skirting or draping fabric. You can use the clips to spread the fabric out inside the dryer, which in turn helps it dry more evenly.
- Garment bags. Everyone should have these, regardless of what size washer you have, but, if you have especially delicate items, they may get caught on the lint trap or tangle with each other. Anyone that has a giant selection of covid masks right now has probably found out one way or another that you don't just throw a whole load of them in together and hope for the best. You need some good garment bags to help keep your stuff tangle free. That is one thing I've noticed about this washer in particular, after all. My leggings now get tangled with everything and it can stretch my tee-shirts out. So, I highly recommend investing in some bags.
Tips and Tricks
Because these machines are not traditional, there are things you'll need to do differently to get the maximum usage out of them. Here's what I've learned:
- Vinegar. I know I mentioned it above, but I'm going to stress this again. Air drying clothes can leave them stiff and scratchy because of hard water and an overuse of detergent. To combat this, reduce your detergent amount (it really doesn't take much) and ditch the fabric softener. Go straight for the distilled white vinegar in place of fabric softener. The acidity helps break down those residual minerals that make your water hard. It also helps keep dyes from leaching off your fabrics. If you're worried about your clothes smelling like a salad, I can tell you that the smell completely disappears once the clothes are fully dried. Additionally, vinegar cuts down on most odors! Just toss about one third to a half cup into a Downy ball that I mentioned above and it'll disperse during the rinse cycle.
- Dryer sheets. I know, if your clothes aren't tumbling then what's the point? However, I have noticed that if I take one or two and hang them on clips inside, close to the fan, they help my clothes smell nice. The vinegar scent really does go away, but it also cancels out the smell of your laundry detergent. I like that clean laundry smell, so I use a couple. The up side is they last about a week instead of one use per load and you still get the benefit of reduced static.
- Arranging. Unlike the Manatee dryer, the KASYDoff has multiple tiers, and because of those tiers, you can fit way more stuff in it, however, it requires some creative thinking. I had assumed you could just hang the hangers across the center bar and be done with it. Not the case. The tiers are too close together, your shirts would get caught on the bar below it. It does come with these plastic arms in two styles; smooth and ridged. The ridges allow for even spacing of clothes hangers! It says to use the smooth arms to lay socks or pants over, however, if you follow my advice about hangers, you won't need them for that purpose. I did see online that someone uses them to create a shelf space by placing them close together and using the space to place shoes for drying, which is very smart. However, how to place the arms for regular drying is the big question. You get six ridged arms in total. I have found that the best way is to place two in the back half; one on the highest tier, one on the second tier just below it, staggered left and right. Then two more on the front half in the opposite order. Finally, on the bottom tier, I place a single ridged arm dead center of the front section. By staggering the arms this way, you reduce the amount of overlap, allowing for a shorter and more effective dry time. I use the lowest tier to dry small things like shorts and underwear. I stick pairs of socks wherever they fit with the single clips, usually on the side bars or on the bottom rung. Also, the more space you allow between items, the faster they can dry. A single load, properly spaced, can actually dry in about 20-45 minutes, fabric weight depending. A double load can dry in 90-120 minutes. Basically, dryers need lots of room for air to circulate in order to be effective and doing your best to give it that space is what will shorten your dry time.
- Dryer placement. One thing about this dryer is that it vents into the open air, instead of being hooked up to a dryer vent like a traditional full-sized machine. Meaning that the room you place it in is going to get hot and wet. Ideally, you want to operate it in a larger room with a window, so you can vent out the excess heat and humidity. Running it in a smaller space can create an ideal environment for mold to grow, so make sure wherever you choose to run it, you can air it out easily. Summer months will be the time when mold will grow very quickly, so make sure you properly vent the room you run it in. Rolling it out to a covered balcony or porch may not be the worst idea.
- Removing pet hair. This may seem like low hanging fruit in terms of tricks, but I had to break a habit in order to make the absolute most out of the lint trap in the washer. With a traditional machine, you wash almost everything inside out. Then, pet hair is caught in the lint trap of a traditional dryer. However, this is a different system. In order to get the most pet hair off clothes in the wash, you need to turn them right side out. Cat hair is on the outside of my shirts, which means the outside of the shirt needs to be available to the lint trap in the washer. Once I started doing that, my clothes came out much cleaner. Additionally, some of the remaining pet hair would then fall off in the dryer from the air currents, which then means you'll need to clean out the bottom of the dryer of debris every once in a while so it doesn't get blown back onto your clothes.
I really only have the one safety tip. This dryer may not seem like it would pull a ton of electricity, however, it pulls more than you would expect. So if you live in an older building or are unsure if your wiring can handle it, I highly recommend getting a really good surge protector. That way, if it pulls too much, the surge protector can flip it off and it'll protect against any possible electrical fires. I only give this warning because I have lived in a number of historic buildings and not all of them have the best wiring. You may live in an older house with outlets everywhere and it could be a guessing game which outlets are the new ones that are totally safe to use, and which aren't. I've been there, personally, and only narrowly escaped having an electrical fire years ago with an electric blanket. Don't play around with that! If your outlet is loose and won't properly hold a plug, or the outlet gets really warm during use, best to err on the side of safety and not use it with this dryer.
You may be wondering just how much I ended up spending and whether or not it's actually worth it. In total, with all accessories and appliance protection plans (always get them!) I spent around $600. (I also bought a rolling hamper/laundry sorter with a folding table topper that cost about $80.) Remember, when you start looking at compact appliances, often the smaller you go the higher the price. So, for compact machines, that isn't a bad price tag.
What's the pay off? We would spend an average of $30 per trip to the laundromat, so, it would take about 20 trips for this to balance out in cost. We would go to the laundromat about every three weeks, which means we will break even about one year after initial purchase. However, the convenience of almost never having to go back to the laundromat (except for washing blankets) has been a godsend. I work from home, which means I can do laundry literally whenever I need to now. I don't have to try to time it just right to get to the laundromat when they aren't busy or deal with how gross the general public is. The bigger savings is that time devotion. The laundromat eats up free time. I'm a teacher working from home, time is one of the most valuable things I have. Now I have a laundry system that allows me to focus on small amounts and has clothes ready to be put away when they are done drying, which means that I'm not only more organized, but now I have more time to focus on work, my husband, and myself. Let's be honest, even when we're working from home, time to ourselves is a luxury no one wants to give up.