how we do laundry in China

When you move to a new place, everything stands out to you. Everything is unfamiliar. My first night in China, I swatted at the light switches in my apartment trying to understand how they worked. So many of these little things are familiar to me now, so I should record them so I remember what it is like to be surprised.

My dad asked me a lot of those kinds of questions. What does gas cost? (I don’t know; I don’t drive.) Do you have classes Monday through Friday? (Well, now that you mention it, there are some Saturday classes, and it’s not like Sunday is a holy day.) How do you do laundry without a dryer? (Hang it up outside, or pay someone else to do it.) I took some photos of laundry outside to show him, but he died about five weeks ago. So I am going to write about this anyway, so I can remember.

Like much of the world, very few people in China have dryers. The high cost of electricity plus small apartments makes them impractical. I think they can only be found in luxury apartments for foreigners. Most people who could afford a dryer would likely just get someone else to do their laundry for them.

At my house I have a balcony with a hanging pole. I try to wait for a dry day to wash my clothes, but it’s sheltered enough that an unexpected downpour doesn’t ruin my whole load. And yes, I probably would rewash it, since I can’t imagine the rain is clean. Some people don’t have balconies, so their apartments have racks that extend from their windows. (I am only talking about city dwellers, who nearly all live in apartments.)

Laundry hanging from racks. I took this from the bus, so....
Laundry hanging from racks. I took this from the bus, so….

One phenomenon seems to be people doing laundry at work. I don’t know if they bring clean clothes to work and change there, or if they bring a load of dirty clothes with them. But seeing clothes hanging from trees outside of small businesses, or even on campus, is quite common. I suppose they do it in order to keep an eye on their things, since they will not be at home all day. Or maybe their apartments don’t have a place to hang things up.


View from my classroom in the Main Teaching Building. Around 8 am every Tuesday one of the employees comes out and hangs up her laundry.
View from my classroom in the Main Teaching Building. Around 8 am every Tuesday one of the employees comes out and hangs up her laundry.

Anyway, it’s surprising how accustomed I am to seeing clothing draped on bushes. This is another example of how the US can seem a little uptight about certain things. I have to begin by saying I love the US and look forward to living there again. But some neighborhoods don’t even allow clotheslines. It’s as if laundry is this secret shame. China is more free in certain ways like that, ways that are hard to understand until you come here.


3 thoughts on “how we do laundry in China

  1. Hi Sara,
    It is curious, even for a Colombian man. We have clotheslines on almost all of our homes, I guess only wealthy people has dryers here. Here, it is not allowed to have clothes to be dried hanged on windows or balconies, I tried one day to do it to then receive a call from the administration telling us we can’t do it. I think people just don’t like to see clothes hanged on windows or balconies because perhaps it is unaesthetic. Perhaps we occidental people could be a little more open mind about it; even so it could be environment friendly, although a little bit unaesthetic for our minds.

    • So do you dry your clothes indoors? That seems to be what a lot of people do, although many people don’t have much extra space. I agree that it’s so much better for the environment. However, I may feel differently if I lived in the north of China and had to dry clothes during the winter–I’m sure that’s much more difficult.

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