Monday, October 27, 2014

Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room

Bruce Springsteen woke me up this morning at 6:55.
The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays…

I usually don’t make it to Roy Orbison singing for the lonely before I reach over and swipe my alarm to the right and into oblivion. Today was no different, but rather than snagging my phone to read the news, I jumped out of bed ready to tackle the day. And by tackle the day, I mean do my laundry. I had scheduled a laundry time for 7am. That’s a silly time to do laundry, I know, but I had zero clean pairs of underwear and zero clean pairs of socks. In fact, I may or may not have worn the same pair of socks twice. Don’t judge me.

I packed up my clothes, grabbed my detergent, and started hiking to the laundry room. It’s about a five-minute walk from my apartment. Not bad, but dirty laundry is surprisingly heavy. I fought through the pain and acted an adult. And now I’m writing this while wearing clean boxers AND clean socks.
This is where the magic happens.
But anyway, I think it’s time for another Moving to Sweden post. It’s been about three and a half years since I wrote one of these. If you’re new, check them out below. I’ll be honest, there’s probably some stuff here that’s out of date. If you have questions, ask or email:

Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Now to the laundry.

Laundry in Sweden is a bit different than laundry in the US. Notably, the cost. I have never paid for laundry in Sweden. Ever. Most apartment buildings have a tvättstuga. Sometimes that stuga is in the building, usually the basement or the first floor. Sometimes it’s a separate building. And sometimes it’s both. Which is my current situation. All you do is schedule a time, show up, do your laundry, and leave. There is no monetary transaction. Clearly, socialcommunofascism (or whatever the Swedish model is thought of in the small towns that surround my hometown) means not having to pay for laundry.

There could be classic Laundromats in this country where people go and take their kronor with them. Feeding the washer and waiting patiently. Maybe meeting the love of their life as they awkwardly fold their skivvies. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it though.

Outside of the laundry room is the booking board. That’s a technical term. It’s the place you book your next laundry time. Sometimes they’re electronic. Sometimes you can do it online. Sometimes they’re big and unwieldy and you need to unlock an actual plug-like apparatus and move it to the time you want. Because I have hipster tendencies, I prefer the big unwieldy thing that looks like it got stuck in the ‘70s. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky and I have to make do with a keyfob and an electronic booking board. Life is hard.

Booking a laundry time though? That’s important. It’s important because without it you might not even be able to get into the laundry room (if it’s a fancy electronic system). It’s also important because if you steal someone’s laundry time, they will be angry. You might even get a dirty look or a mean note. Of course, there tends to be a grace period. If the person hasn’t claimed their machines after half an hour the machine is probably fair game. But check your rules for the exact time period. And trust me, there are rules.

That’s because the laundry room is a place of acute Swedishness. Or acute passive-aggressiveness. They might be synonymous. There are books about the passive-aggressive notes that people leave in the laundry room. Seriously. Make sure you clean up your lint from the dryer. Make sure you don’t leave anything behind. Make sure you don’t steal someone’s time. Be polite. Be nice. Don’t mess up. It’s really that simple. Usually. But, stay here long enough and you’ll find yourself in at least one awkward situation. Like the time my machine was filled with a load of wet clothes that had stopped mid-cycle (I just took them out and dumped them in a basket. The laundry room is no place to make friends.). Or the time I got locked out of the laundry room in -13 degree Celsius weather

Once you get in you’ll be met by washing machines galore! Or at least one. Plus some other things. There are so many foreign machines in the Swedish laundry room. See what I did there? Foreign? Swedish? Because I’m also American. Get it? Cool.

Looks inviting, doesn't it?
There’s the drying cabinet. It’s like a sauna for your clothes. There’s the mangle table. It’s like a torture device for your clothes. Actually, that’s it. There are two foreign machines in the Swedish laundry room. There’s obviously a washing machine and a dryer. Those aren’t foreign to me though.

I still haven’t dared use the mangle table. It scares me. And I’m not really sure why I would need it. Sometimes I use the drying cabinet, but I usually end up hanging things improperly and opening the door to find a pile of clothes on the floor. I fear change and so stick with what I know, the dryer. But do what you want. You’re your own person.

You’ll notice signs everywhere. Read them. Learn them. Know them. They’re telling you how to properly behave in the laundry room. They’re reminding you to use the proper dosage of laundry detergent because it’s better for the environment and your clothes. They’re explaining how to use the different machines. And, of course, they’re reminding you to clean out your god-damned lint. Do it.

Welcome to Sweden. And the laundry room.


  1. Love the photos! I can't believe how clean the laundry room is (like everything else in Sweden, it seems). It's incredible how orderly and efficient Swedes seem to be about everything. I remain, as ever, truly amazed and embarrassed how inefficient and sloppy we Americans are by comparison.

    1. Socialism Ho!

      No not really..
      We're since birth religiously following the jantelagen. We're basically thaught that no one is special and we're all a part of a "whole". Standing out and considering yourself to be "better" than anyone else is despised, both on a"society level" and on a daily person-to-person basis.

      Lämna det som du vill finna det. Leave it as you'll want to find it(grammar?) is a common saying. Nobody wants to find a dirty laundry room with stuff left from the previous person. People can get angry and write passive-aggressive notes.

  2. I have been told by my girlfriend that there is only one Laundromat in the whole of Stockholm, I cant believe that but still.

    1. I was just told the same by a hotel clerk in Stockholm. And if I want the hotel to send 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of boxers out to the laundry on a weekend it’ll cost $55!

  3. The Mangle is for your bedsheets, pillow case, table cloth, curtains ...etc. For anything you want to be wrinklefree and ready to be folded . It takes practice though to get it right the first times

  4. I assume, even though you didn't mention it, that you clean out the soap receptacles and remove water and stains from the front part of each washer. Nothing (well, almost nothing) pisses me off more than finding leftover soap and conditioner in the receptacle, and dirty water underneath the rubber flange just inside the washer. And the front part of the washer not being clean and shiny. See, I'm Swedish now, having done (I reckon) at least 550 washes (almost always with my Swedish wife who trained, er, educated me) in the communal laundry. (Almost) every Sunday at 7AM.

    s/your local Greek-American Swede

  5. @Englishman - I need to find that place. If only to see it.

    @Xenolyse - yes... but why? I just don't need wrinkle-free sheets.

    @Ron - I leave the entire laundry room cleaner than I found it. washer, dryer, floor... you name it.