Les Lavandières or the Joys of Communal Laundry

Washerwomen at the Robine-du-Roi by Paul Gaugin

Every few days, I spend  hours washing clothing and household linens. This is not exceptional
but, except for a couple of years in the 1980's, I have always used communal laundry facilities. The building where Monsieur and I live was built before the days of in-suite laundry plumbing or venting.
I have frequently considered purchasing a European-style ventless combo but I have had considerable experience with these somewhat finicky machines and I'm not sure that they are worth the extra expense and trouble.

Madame L-B checking the laundry in Paris.

The combination that I used for 6 months in Paris took hours to complete the cycle. The rental company supplied fresh sheets and towels so that the tenants would not overload the machine.
I expect that a lot of laundry is taken out to blanchisseurs, teinturiers, or pressings (all different words for the laundry people). There are lots of libre-service laundromats as well.

Now that I'm retired, I set aside lots of time for laundry. I sort by fabric, colour,  and purpose so I have a lot of smaller loads. Unfortunately, I have to use large commercial machines without many different settings. The machines do not make change or accept cards so a small yogurt container of coins is part of the routine.

Did you know that there is a street dedicated to laundresses in Paris?

In much of the world, communal laundry would be done by a river, lake or fountain. The women would talk as they worked. I usually meet an elderly gentleman whose wife is very ill. He seems a bit lonely and tired but we talk and laugh a bit each time we meet. 

Communal laundries have etiquette and rules. It is forbidden to use all 3 machines. You must leave 1 for the use of others. I keep an old dish cloth in the cupboard in the laundry room and I wipe out my machines before and after use. Sometimes, I wipe with a bit of disinfectant. It is inconsiderate to leave your laundry in the machines once they have stopped. When I first lived here, there were "Laundry Nazis" who would remove offending laundry. I consider it bad manners 
to handle the laundry of strangers.

Some etymologists say that the word "lavender" comes from the the Latin word "to wash". I like to put lavender water in my iron so the my pillow cases and sheets smell like a field in Provence. Since I am the most frequent visitor to our laundry room and I have lived here for 23 years, I have added a few convenient touches. My ironing board is set up for anyone to use. The room is very large and I don't want to iron in my living room. There is a waiting/seating area where I leave my already read magazines for those who like to sit while their laundry spins.

We take so many of our modern conveniences for granted. When I am in Oaxaca, water is scarce.
The use of an individual washing machine is not encouraged. The air is dry so there is no need for an
electric clothes dryer. Wages are low so it makes sense for a visitor to pay for laundry service.

After making 4 or 5 trips to the laundry room, I tend to lose my enthusiasm. But, I do feel that use of
communal facilities will be the way of the future. We have 411 suites in our housing complex. Four hundred and eleven pairs of laundry machines or twenty-four pairs. I know which makes the most sense environmentally....and I would miss my elderly gentleman!

the last load
It is a good idea sometimes to think of the importance and dignity of our every-day duties. It keeps them from being so tiresome; besides, others are apt take us at our own valuation. ”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder


  1. I agree that it would make much enivonmental sense to cycle back to the future . . . another factor is the number of incidents of "water escape" that have caused damage and raised insurance rates in our building . . . We had a shared facility on the ground floor of our previous condo, and it was a good place to catch up with other tenants. . .

    1. Yes, the "water escape" for those who have furtively installed washers is a consideration. It is a leap for those who have laundered independently but sometimes

      That "back to the future" mentality might be necessary for the next generations.
      M. had to clean up and drive cardboard packaging to recycling because someone had a delivery. I reassured him that people just don't think...what happens to the packaging when we have a delivery, how much energy did it take to produce this appliance and where will it go when its usefulness is over? Those questions are never considered by some people.

  2. I saw an ancient communal laundry area in Auvillar France...it must have been a great place for women to get together ad chat while washing clothes and linens. I use our machines regularly and like the freedom and luxury of being able to use them almost anytime. I do remember how different I felt about doing the laundry only on our appointed weekly time slot when we lived in an apartment...it required a lot more discipline!
    Looking at the stack of freshly ironed and folded Laundry is quite rewarding...
    the Laura Ingalls Wilder quote says it all!

    1. At least I can use the laundry room at any time. I remember those early days with diapers and a scheduled laundry time. Yuck! I love folding and sorting. I think it's the same quality that causes me to enjoy shelving books.

    2. I found book shelving like meditation...and since retiring ironing has the same effect!


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