In expensive and cramped real estate markets like New York City—where a 300-square-foot studio elicits descriptors such as “spacious”—possessing an in-unit washer and dryer feels like having the holy grail tucked away in a corner. According to a 2015 report by NYU’s Furman Center, 9 of the 11 major cities in the U.S. have more renters than homeowners. Many renters live in multi-unit buildings, where some bleak spreads have diminutive hot plates instead of ovens, or shower stalls shoved awkwardly into a nook off the living room. Basement laundry rooms, shared (and bickered over) by all of the tenants aren’t even guaranteed. Having your own machines is downright luxurious.
Washer have-nots often find themselves weighed down by a bag full of quarters and plan their weeks around dreaded laundry night. It’s a necessary evil. Here are a handful of ways to make the experience a little less tedious.
Don’t hijack the machines
There are bound to be at least a few machines out of commission. Don’t hog one of the functioning ones by leaving your laundry in longer than you need to. Sit at the laundromat throughout the entire wash and dry cycle, says an employee of Waverly Wu Laundry in Brooklyn, “You never know what might happen to your stuff.” If you vacate, you risk someone else barging in with a coup, claiming the machine, and tossing your clothes in a damp, dusty pile on the floor. (Though that’s a jerk move, too.)
Remember that you’re in a public place
While a weekly trip to the neighborhood laundry may start making it feel like home, this is not your living room. “People are very willing to leave their stuff lying around,” says Mark Benson, the manager of the World’s Largest Laundromat in Illinois, “They might put their cell phone on a folding table or hang their purse on a cart and walk off for twenty minutes.” Unfortunately, there are no guarantees your things will still be there when you get back. And, relatedly: maybe don’t take such a deep whiff of your dirty socks. That just makes it weird.
Check your pockets
Maybe you’ll have stumbled upon a bright, sparkling space with excellent TV channels and comfortable seats. While some Laundromats go so far as to have nice seating, good television channels, and clean floors and counters others, well, don’t. I’ve seen everything from cigarette butts to people’s discarded socks rolling around in tumbling machines. Double-check your pockets to make sure that you’re not adding to the unsavoriness by overlooking a chapstick that could explode in a goopy mess, or a piece of gum that could leave sticky residue behind.
Emptying your pockets also benefits you, of course. Waverly Wu Laundry adds that people leave iPhone chargers, headphones, IDs, and credit cards in pockets a little too frequently. At my old drop-off, the washers would leave the inevitable found-in-your-pocket dollar bills on top of my laundry. Hopefully, a good Laundromat will return your items. Talk about a way to build trust. But electronics and water don’t mix, and there’s no guarantee that someone won’t swipe any change that jingles its way out of your pocket, so make sure you grab it.
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“Borrowing” a cart to haul your clean laundry home is bad manners—especially if you forget to return it. Benson says that he regularly drives around the nearby neighborhoods collecting carts from “backyards and alleys.” Unfortunately, if the carts have been out too long, they become rusty and go out of commission. That means fewer for everyone at the Laundromat. (Including you.)
Don’t gawk at people’s clothes
There’s definitely a panicky moment when you’re standing next to someone at the folding table and wondering whether they’re stealing a glimpse and judging you for holey socks and underwear. Don’t fuel the psychological stress. Keep your eyes on your own pile.
And a few pro tips for saving your money and clothes:
Hot wash isn’t worth it
Some laundries will charge customers based on the temperature they use in their wash. “Cold works just as well as hot,” Benson reveals. “There’s absolutely no difference and it has the added benefit of not shrinking your clothes.”
Avoid old top-loading machines
Not only do these machines not do a good job of washing your clothing, they waste water and electricity and break down more frequently than other models, according to Benson. Plus, their relatively small sizes make people more likely to overload them. “Then they wonder why their clothes don’t get clean,” Benson says.