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Laundry in Japan: Detergent, bleach and tips


Are you doing laundry in Japan wrong? You might ask, “How hard can mastering a washing machine in Japan be?” Washing your clothes isn’t hard, but you might use the wrong detergents if you’re still learning Japanese.

It usually won’t hurt. Mistaking fabric softener instead of laundry detergent will make your new clothes (even if they’re thrifted) feel ridiculously soft and scented. However, the wrong kind of bleach may necessitate buying a new wardrobe. These scenarios can be avoided by equipping oneself with some vocabulary for doing laundry and becoming familiar with detergent brands.

Laundry Vocabulary

Here is a quick list of words related to laundry in Japan:


Laundry Culture in Japan

Top-loaders are the cheaper option. Image: iStock/ miya227

In Japan, laundry days are often scheduled on sunny days for optimal drying. Sunlight is believed to disinfect and freshen clothes naturally. On a nice day, you’ll see tons of futons and comforters hanging from windows and balconies in Japan.

However, people will usually bring clothes in at night. Nights in many parts of Japan can be humid, especially during summer or the rainy season. The moisture in the air can prevent clothes from drying properly and may lead to mildew or unpleasant odors. Leaving clothes out at night can also signal that no one is home, which might attract burglars or, more likely, a panty thief.

Most apartments in Japan have space for a washing machine, but sometimes there is only space outside, such as on your balcony. You’ll typically find two kinds of washing machines:

  • Top-loaders: These are the most common type in Japan. You load your laundry by opening the lid at the top. While they offer fewer options and modes, they are generally cheaper than front-loaders.
  • Front-loaders: Front-loaders are more expensive than top-loaders but offer a wider range of options and modes. They’re considered the more stylish, modern option and are generally easier on your clothes.

Why Are Dryers Not Common In Japan?

One of the primary reasons for the limited use of dryers in Japan is the lack of space, especially in cities. Japanese apartments, known for their compact design, often cannot accommodate large appliances like dryers. Residents opt for more space-efficient alternatives, such as traditional drying poles (物干し竿, monohoshi sao) hanging from their windows or balconies and indoor drying racks.

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My missus does all the laundry here, no worries this end, lol

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

Go easy on the fabric softener. It is often overpowering for people nearby. Smell harassment (sumehara).

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

This seems to rather overcomplicate things. I put washing powder in my washing machine. Nothing else. It dries on a clothes horse in a couple of days.

As a child I would sit in the local coin-op whilst the family bedding was washing and drying. The air there was always warm, damp and fragrant. Lovely places.

If you suffer from hayfever, replace your pillowcases frequently in the summer and do not dry your washing outside. It just gets covered in pollen.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If you come from a developed country, you will be surprised that Japanese still largely wash with cold water. The result is that clothes get smelly very quickly and need to be washed early. Japanese love to wash almost every day - for some this is a real vocation. And a huge waste of water.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

We wash clothes with bath water if we've had a bath. It means a free warm water wash. Our bath is actually plumbed to the washing machine with a hose through the wall, so we don't have to set up a hose every time, which is what most people have to do.

Japanese generally wash too often. If you watch daytime tv, there are always housekeeping experts saying how wonderful it is to wash towels after a single use. If you stay in a very expensive hotel, they have no compunction in telling you to reuse towels. In a hotel, super luxury includes reusing a towel. Excessive washing of towels, pyjamas etc. just increases the workload on people (women) and acts to hold them back.

Clothes dryers consume vast amounts of energy. Electric ones that run on 100V barely work. If you need a clothes dryer in Japan, get a gas one fitted, but accept that its running cost will be high.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

We need 1-2 laundries per day. We don't use bath water because we don't take a bath every day. Showers. Low-level detergents. No softener. Baking soda sometimes. Inverter machine using less power.

We experience no "smell" problems using only cold water.

There are many Japanese homes who have their washing washing machines outside.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Yes, I always wonder, why there are no warm water washing machines in Japan that common. The ones you can find are usually overly expensive and also not so big in volume. Also driers. In all other countries such as Europe or North America, the washing machines come with driers included. Meaning that after washing, it will also dry your clothes. No need for 2 separate machines. I wonder why Japanese companies don't think about this too in their very expensive products.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Very useful expressions.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

We dry on poles on the balcony or the front patio.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Japanese love to wash almost every day - for some this is a real vocation. And a huge waste of water.

I think part of this is lack of hanging space, so there's not much room to hang out a large load done a couple of times a week compared to a smaller load each day.

Though you do have a point about wasting water. My mother-in-law will do a wash for little more than a pair of socks.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Bad Haircut

Our washing machine has a built in dryer, very handy indeed for the missus. Mind you the bleeding thing cost me an arm and a leg.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Sunlight is believed to disinfect and freshen clothes naturally.


-3 ( +1 / -4 )

It is important to run the "clean" setting once a week and clean the filter each time after using it. Look for mold around the rubber seals.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

falseflagsteveJune 10  04:17 pm JST

Bad Haircut

Our washing machine has a built in dryer, very handy indeed for the missus. Mind you the bleeding thing cost me an arm and a leg.

We've got one of those as well, but yeah, costs a fortune to run and takes ages so rarely use it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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