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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: The Mystery of the Italian Washing Machine

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

How we moved to Italy. Why is my washer still going?

This blog post is called: Washing clothes in Italy.

PART 15: I thought it might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We are in Puglia until the end of September, then back again in the winter.

Our theme is: How do I get my clothes clean in Italy?

Step 1: When traveling or living in Italy, I always try to stay in an Airbnb with a washing machine, so I don't have to worry about running out of clothes. But sometimes, I've stayed in a hotel traveling around the country and sought other laundry solutions. I will share some of my experiences.

Step 2: The full-serve laundromat conundrum. I went to the Dolomites with friends years ago, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel in an excellent area for a week. We didn't realize that, with all the hiking, we would take multiple showers a day, so we quickly ran out of clothes. We had too many to wash in our sinks, so we bagged them up and went to look for a laundromat in town.

After much searching, we found one. When we asked where we could do our laundry, the lady working there told us that was impossible, but the laundromat would be happy to wash our clothes for us. To make a long story short, we discovered that the cost depended on the weight of the pile of clothes. Once we found that it would cost us over $60, we picked out what we could wash in sinks and left the rest, paying $40 for the combined load. Since this was years ago, I am unsure what the price would be today, but we resolved to avoid that situation in the future.

Step 3: The self-service laundromat. When I go to Rome and stay in my favorite area (Campo dei Fiori), I know exactly where the self-service laundromat is; if I am staying in a place without a washing machine (which is rare), I just wash my clothes there.

However, finding a laundromat in other European cities can be more challenging, depending on transportation.

A few years ago, we were in Vienna, and we both wanted some fresh clothes, not sinkwashed. We got online and found the self-serve laundromat, which would have required about a 30-minute bus ride and navigating unfamiliar streets to find it. "I don't want to waste our precious time here doing that," my partner said. He had a point; why waste half a day on laundry? Fortunately, we found an H&M store, so we just bought the new cheap clothing we needed and saved hours we would have spent at a laundromat.

Lesson learned: don't depend on laundromats when traveling in unfamiliar areas.

Step 4: Washing in my room.

I have to confess that I've never used a bidet for its designed purpose, but I have found that it is the perfect shape and size for soaking and washing socks and underwear (after sanitizing it, of course). The plus is that it is hassle-free washing using minimal time. The minus is that the clothes are refreshed but not cleaned and that finding a place to dry them can be a hassle. Enough said about that.

Step 5: The Italian Washing Machine Mystery. My first experience of the mystery of the Italian washing machine was when I was staying with my friend in Rome. After a few days, I needed to do laundry; I threw some clothes in, poured some detergent, and set it to the "cotton" cycle. When I left the apartment and returned about four hours later, the washing cycle was still churning.

There were three of us in the apartment, and, at this rate, we could only do two small laundry loads a day.

We all studied the illustrated dial on the washing machine, which looked like something on the Voyager spacecraft which other creatures on another planet were supposed to be able to decipher. We couldn't figure it out, so we started doing our laundry before bed, another load when one of us first got up, and another during the day.

So we have it: the mystery of the Italian washing machine.

Now that we live in Puglia, we have had to try to crack this mystery. With the help of our local friends, we have, to some extent.

We found a cycle on the dial that permits us to wash a load in 30 minutes, with either 30 or 40 degrees Celsius, which is room temperature or warm. This short cycle suits our needs, though we have been told that our clothes will not get clean on such a short cycle. But our clothes seem fine to us.

Why such long cycles on Italian washing machines? A local friend told us it is because of water and energy conservation. Our friend also stated that Italian washing machines have to heat the water since most are not hooked up to a water heater, which makes the cycle longer.

Step 6: Dryer luxuries. We went to Naples with our local friends last year and wandered through the incredible streets, observing the history, architecture, and laundry. When we happened upon somebody's clothes drying rack on the street, chained to a pole, I remarked, "But don't they have dryers?".

Our Italian friends stopped in the street, looked at each other, and busted out laughing. They keep recounting this story to their friends; one of them told me that it reminds them of the remark attributed to Marie Antionette: "Let them eat cake."

Since Italy has to import all of its gas and most of its energy, having a dryer is a type of luxury since they take a lot of energy to run. So the American expectation that an Italian home or family has a dryer makes our Italian friends laugh.

And rightly so.

Step 7: The washer/dryer combination. "Wow, this is so cool! We have a washer that also dries our clothes!" I cried out to my partner upon checking into our Airbnb. Combined washer/dryers are not uncommon in Europe but are virtually unknown in the US. We were excited to have this new convenience.

When my partner came down with the flu on this trip and was feverish and sweating, we soon needed to wash clothes. "Good thing we have this washer/dryer combo," I said as I opened it to put in a load.

I couldn't get a load of clothes in; I was trying to stuff them in as a whole. So I put the clothes aside and knelt to look inside the front load machine. I chuckled as I noticed that the machinery of the washer/dryer took up so much room that the actual basin to wash the clothes was tiny. We could only insert a few items at a time, and the cycle was never-ending. We found that doing a laundry load that we were used to in California took at least three loads utilizing this machine; plus, the clothes often came out damp, perhaps because we added too many.

We decided to avoid this combo machine in the future.

Step 8: Drying clothes. Without a dryer, clothes need to be hung out to dry. When we are here in Puglia in the summer, it is a relatively simple task to carry the clothes to our terrace, hang them on the clothesline, and bring them down a few hours later.

In the winter, the challenge is to find the space where clothes will dry as quickly as possible. Like most Italian households, we have an indoor folding clothesline, which we set up in front of our radiator. When we run out of space, we lay our socks or other clothing on the radiator itself (only when we are in the house), but please don't tell anyone about that!

Insights: Though I haven't read a scientific study on the topic, our local friends claim that their system of washing (front loading, longer cycles) gets the clothes cleaner and is more water and energy efficient. They also say that the front loading machines are easier on your clothes. Regarding clothes being cleaner, that makes sense to me: a longer cycle means washing more of the dirt out. However, I am still unsure how running the machine for hours to wash a load uses less energy than the short cycle we are used to in California, but maybe there is something that we don't grasp yet.

Here in Puglia, our clothes smell and look clean. We have cracked the mystery; we use the quick wash cycle and have figured out how to dry our clothes in both summer and winter.

If any of this changes, I will need to write another blog!

Watch for my book coming around the 1st of the year: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy."

More next time.

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