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Tips for doing laundry if you live in a big city

As more and more people flock to live in big cities, the average living space continues to shrink in populated areas. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rental unit in NYC or San Francisco with any laundry-specific built-ins. Lucky are the ones with laundry rooms in their buildings, but more often, people have to trudge to the laundromat to wash their soiled clothes. 

How does one manage laundry in a small space? Is it possible to skip the laundromat altogether? 

If you’re struggling to figure out how to deal with your endless piles of laundry while living in the big city, keep reading. Below, we take a look at solutions for cleaning clothes in tight quarters and provide tips for traveling to the laundromat when you’re living a car-free lifestyle.

Doing laundry in an apartment without washer and dryer hookups

Yes! It’s possible to do laundry in your tiny apartment. If you’re not interested in lugging a heavy sack of clothes to the laundromat, consider washing items by hand or investing in a portable machine.

Can you do laundry in a sink or bathtub?

It’ll require an extra bit of effort, but washing clothing by hand is a reliable solution for city-dwellers unwilling to go the laundromat route. Hand washing is gentle on fabrics, too, so it’s a perfect method for cleaning delicates. Before attacking any garment in your sink or tub, check its label. Items labeled dry-clean only benefit from professional cleaning services. Some clothing pieces are notorious for bleeding (e.g., dyed silks), so handle with care. 

When washing by hand, use a mild detergent or baby-safe dishwashing liquid. Add a drop of soap to your filled tub or sink (the temperature of the water will depend on what’s recommended on the clothing care label) and add in your soiled clothing to soak. Gently move the item around in the water, being careful not to scrub or tug at the fabric. Once it’s clean to your liking, rinse away all the soap. 

To dry hand-washed items, gently squeeze out excess water, lay garments flat, and let air dry.

Apartment washers that don’t require hookups 

Portable washing machines are fantastic for tiny spaces without traditional hookups. They’re smaller than their regular-sized counterparts but are cheaper and ultra-convenient. Manual machines are hand-powered using a crank or foot pedal, while electric units wash items automatically. 

How do these machines work? Hook them up to a sink faucet or fill manually before starting a cycle. It’s that easy. You can’t wash ultra-bulky items like big coats and blankets in a portable machine, so expect to visit a laundromat or dry cleaner to clean them. 

Careful. Some buildings may not allow portable washing machines because of the potential for leaks. 

Drying clothes is a bit easier to do without a machine—hang clothing and let air dry—but portable dryer solutions also exist. Contents are spun rapidly to wring out any excess water from garments. However, clothing will still be slightly damp, so air drying is necessary.

Tips for using a laundromat

If you’ve just made the jump from small town to big city, navigating the world of laundromats may feel intimidating. Here’s how to get there and what to do once you’ve arrived.

How to get to the laundromat if you don’t have a car

Many big cities, NYC especially, have stellar mass transit systems that make it easy to get from point A to point B in no time. Big cities also tend to be pedestrian-friendly as most amenities are within walking distance. But what happens when you have a bag full of heavy laundry and can’t be bothered to haul it to the laundromat? You could hail a cab or get an Uber. Asking a friend or family member for a lift isn’t out of the question either. 

If you’re dead set on active transit, though, the key to making the trek bearable is keeping your laundry pile small. Do laundry often to avoid having to haul a giant bag of dirty clothes around town. 

Get yourself a shopping cart. These rolling carts can handle a hefty load and reduce the strain of carrying several pounds of cargo. A backpack with a sturdy frame is another option. Once you’ve washed and folded your laundry, the frame prevents wrinkling and keeps your stacks tidy.

How to use the laundromat

Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of visiting the nearby laundromat to do your first load of laundry? It’s really quite simple! Here are the steps involved:

  • Transport your laundry to the desired laundromat location (find a spot that’s not too far from your place. The longer the trek, the less likely you’ll want to do it again anytime soon.)

  • Find a free washer/dryer and separate your clothing into colors/darks/whites.

  • Have change on hand since most units are coin-operated. The typical cost of a load of laundry is between 50 cents and $2. Some machines do take credit cards, but they’re not that common. 

  • Bring your own detergents etc. (it’s possible to buy on-site, but you’ll pay a premium). Don’t lug the whole container of soap, though. Bring a small pre-measured container or use pods, instead.

  • Check inside the washing machine before adding your laundry. Careful, does the machine smell like bleach? You may not want to stick your darks or colors in there.

  • Add detergent. Wash separate piles in two machines if the laundromat is quiet enough. Otherwise, don’t hog two machines at once.

  • Add coins and select the appropriate cycle.

  • Wait for your load to be done. Bring something, a book or magazine, to keep you entertained while you wait. If a clerk is present and you feel comfortable leaving your clothing behind while it washes, feel free to run other errands during a wash cycle. 

  • Once your clothes are washed, transfer them to a dryer. Add coins, dryer sheets or dryer balls, and start the cycle. 

  • Wait and then remove clothes and fold if you wish.

Can you get bedbugs from the laundromat?

It’s possible. Bedbugs are notoriously sneaky little creatures that love to hide in all manner of things, sheets, and clothing included. Hot water cycles do kill bedbugs, but many people use cold water to do laundry. Check surfaces before putting down any of your belongings and always use a high-temperature cycle when possible. Fold your clothing at home instead of using communal folding tables at the laundromat.

Laundry services 

Are you interested in making your big city life a bit easier? Here are a few common laundry services to consider.

Laundry drop-off

Many laundromats offer this service. You drop-off your sack of laundry, and someone else does the work for you. The cost is generally around $1 per pound of laundry. Take advantage of this service if you have little time to spare.

Laundry pick-up 

This is essentially a valet service for laundry. Your laundry is picked up, washed, and returned to you for a premium fee. It’s a lot pricier than the DIY route but frees you to spend your time otherwise.

Dry cleaning 

Many dry cleaning services offer the pick up and return of laundry for a fee. On average, dry cleaning a garment costs about $20. It’s not a solution for a whole load of laundry. Dry cleaning is a specialized service for coats, suits, and delicate fabrics that cannot be washed using traditional methods.

Bottom line

Doing laundry in a big city doesn’t have to be a headache. A bit of careful planning turns a tedious chore into one you might start to quite enjoy!


Steph Coelho is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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