Unless you wanna be one of those grungy types who never bothers to wash clothes on holiday (not recommended), you’ll likely need to do some laundry during your travels in Japan.
Like most places you travel to, there are usually 4 options:
1) Having it done for you.
2) Washing it in the sink or tub.
3) Utilizing a self-service laundromat on site.
4) Carrying it to a self-service laundromat off site, somewhere nearby.
Each one could potentially work, but let’s have a deeper look.
1) Have Your Laundry Done For You
I’ve been told that in some countries, dropping your laundry off somewhere is actually pretty time- and cost-efffective. But we checked out the rates at our hotel in Tokyo and it was upwards of $5 per item. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money to throw around, so I’ll stick to doing it myself, thanks.
2) Wash Clothes Yourself in the Sink or Tub
If you tend to be the do-it-yourself type and like to watch your spending when traveling, you’ll likely gravitate towards this option.
And, if you’ve done your homework & packed light, quick-drying clothing (I foolishly didn’t), it’s probably your best option. It’s an especially easy choice if you’re staying in a business hotel that has an en-suite bathroom, because it makes it so much easier than having to use the shared bathroom to wash.
Before you go dunking your clothes in the water, though, be sure to take a peek at your itinerary. If you only have a 1-night stay booked, you’ll probably want to wait to do your laundry until you’re staying somewhere for at least 2 nights. That way you’ll have a much better shot at having all of your stuff dry in time before having to pack it up again. Nobody wants to pack damp clothes because they get smelly quickly. And that would defeat the whole purpose of laundry in the first place, no?
3) Use On-Site Laundry Facilities
If you pack like me, chances are you brought along some clothes that just don’t dry very quickly (like jeans. Because let’s face it -you don’t always want to be that tourist who’s tramping around in light-weight-safari-looking-button-up shirts with matching zip-off pants, do you? Didn’t think so :).
If that’s the case, or you just want to try to save some time washing your clothes, one alternative is to use the on-site washers & dryers. Not every business hotel will have laundry facilities on site (our Tokyo hotel didn’t), so if you think you’ll want to do some laundry, be sure to check ahead of time if they offer it.
Convenience vs. Effectiveness
We ultimately ended up going with this option since it seemed like a good idea at the time.
In all of our hotels that had on-site laundry, the washers & dryers were combined into one machine. We thought, “Awesome! We can just pop our clothes into the machine, let it run through the wash & dry cycles by itself and come back when it’s all finished.” This way we wouldn’t have to waste any time scrubbing the clothes in our sink and then draping them all over everything to dry.
The problem is that the machines kinda sucked. Actually, they really sucked.
I’d like to say that at least the machines did an ok job at washing them. But I can’t.
We didn’t buy detergent as it was supposedly added automatically. I’d like to assume it was added, but our clothes didn’t come out with that lovely fresh & clean smell when they were done. They actually smelled a bit funky (not dirty funky, just weird funky). So ultimately I’m wondering how clean they actually were…
As if that weren’t enough, the clothes also never fully dried. It didn’t seem to matter how many extra drying cycles you purchased (we added 2 “dry-only cycles” on top of the “included” dry cycle), our clothes always seemed to come out damp. Dammit.
Not Clean, Not Dry & $16 Poorer
Initially, doing laundry this way actually seemed like a pretty good deal. Sure, it’d cost more money than doing it ourselves in our room, but we thought the savings of our time was worth it.
You might be wondering what it ended up costing us. Well, 1 wash and 1 extra-long dry cycle was roughly 400 Japanese yen (roughly $5USD at the time). That would’ve been ok. I could fit all of my clothes into one load and my husband could fit all of his into another. But when your clothes aren’t dry after the first go around, you need to decide whether to add 100 extra yen for additional drying time. We figured we were already invested so we plugged it with 100 yen more. Twice.
Ultimately it cost us 600JPY per load, which worked out to be about $16USD for 2 loads of laundry. Laundry which wasn’t all that clean and definitely not dry.
It’s a bit disheartening to still end up lugging your stuff back to your room and hanging everything up on any and all surfaces you can find after spending that kind of money. At that point you really could’ve just hand washed your clothes, saved the money and probably saved the extra time it took to make multiple trips to the washer & dryer to see if the clothes were dry yet.
It’s all a learning experience, and I know that each machine probably differs. Maybe you’ll have better luck (I hope so!).
I confess that we did try the on-site laundromat at another hotel later on in our trip. I know, I know. It was probably silly of us to think it might be a better experience the second go around (it wasn’t). But honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the combo machines the hotels choose to provide are built to only wash and dry maybe one shirt and one pair of pants at a time. And maybe not even that.
4) Carry Your Clothes to an Off site Laundromat
Lastly, you can make the trek to your nearest off site laundromat.
We actually looked into this option when we were in Tokyo. Our hotel didn’t have the self-service option, so we made the 10-minute trek to the nearest laundromat. 10 minutes may not seem bad at first, but when you’re schelpping your clothes to and fro, you want to might reconsider this as a viable choice. But with that said, you’ll probably have better luck getting the clothes actually clean and dry in one go.
To Sum Up
Given our experiences, not just on this trip but in general when traveling, here’s what I’d recommend you do for a better overall clothes-washing experience.
1) Bring quick-drying clothing.
Believe me, it’ll save you time, money & hassle.
2) Wash & dry in your room.
Provided you’re staying enough days at one location, you’ll likely have enough time to let your clothes air dry – even jeans.
3) Do wash on site – but only if the machines are good ones.
I know some all-in-one washer/dryer combos work well, but in my experience it’s best to use separate washers & dryers. If your hotel provides them, you’ll likely have better luck.
4) Bring your wash to a local laundromat.
Until the technology improves or until hotels actually invest in washer & dryers that actually work, you’re better off spending an afternoon at the laundromat.
What are your experiences? What’s worked best for you on the road?