Do You Iron Your Jeans and Underwear? How To Do Laundry In Italy

Ok. Each of you Americans out there – I want you to stop what you are doing and go hug your dryer.  Personally I never thought about my dryer before moving to Europe. It was just another appliance. There was the occasional story about a family whose house caught on fire due to too much lint in the vent, and I’d stop and think,”how awful” and “what a tragedy” and I would make a mental note to clean out my venting tube.  And then I’d forget about it again. Then we moved to Italy.In Italy, most people line dry their laundry.  Dryers are available, but we were told they are expensive to run since electricity is costly there.  It is not uncommon to see laundry hanging on lines outside apartments and houses.  It is also not uncommon to visit a friend’s home and see laundry drying in various places. It is not rude. It is simply a way of life. In fact, it is one of the things that Americans find charming when they visit. It can be beautiful and colorful. It evokes a simpler time. Days gone by. ​

When we first arrived in Italy and were in temporary housing Joe told me that the washing cycle took about 2 hours. I scoffed. Surely he must not have understood the instructions. Turns out, he understood better than I did. After all, he had been living there for 6 months.  The wash cycle at the temporary housing did indeed take 2 hours. Thus, when we were looking for a washing machine to buy, I wanted the largest load capacity that we could find. If it was going to take 2 hours per load I wanted to wash as many things as I could in one cycle.  And we found a big one! Unfortunately, it had to be returned. It was too big to fit up our narrow Italian stairs. Eventually, we found one that fit and could run a load in 1 hour.  We were making progress. We were fortunate enough to have a large laundry room so we had the space to line dry laundry out of sight.  And, there was the environmental impact. I knew that if you line dry your clothes HALF OF THE TIME you will save 1150 pounds of CO2 emissions . . .  the work of 23 trees!  I felt good about that. Plus, I was in Italy and as they say, “when in Rome” . . .  I was committed to line drying.


What I didn’t realize is that depending on the season, clothes don’t always dry quickly. And, while the laundry room was large, it had no ventilation. In fact, many times the dampness of the laundry room left the clothes smelling musty and moldy and I would have to wash them all over again. I then had to place towels and jeans strategically on radiators all over the house since they take a particularly long time to dry. And all the other items in the living room in front of an open window – even when it was cold out – letting all the warm air escape.  So much for energy efficiency.


In some cases, when you combined the length of time that it took to run a load of laundry, with hanging clothes, the actual drying process, then taking them off the hangers, then folding it and putting it away – one load of laundry would take up to three days from start to finish. I was constantly checking laundry. In the winter, if I had to rewash a load, it would be a 4 – 5 day process for each load.  We had a few mishaps.  “Mom, I am out of jeans to wear.”  Ooops. One cannot magically run a load of laundry and guarantee that they’d be dry overnight. Laundry became a strategy. A lifestyle.

While I did feel good about reducing our carbon footprint by line drying,* I grew weary of the process and the resulting crunchy clothing and towels. Italians have these big industrial sized steam irons they use to soften up crunchy clothes. Yup, they iron their towels, sheets, socks, underwear and jeans to make them soft again. The thing was, I was already spending a significant part of my day, every day, on laundry. I did not want to add steam ironing into the mix. Besides, after using a towel once or twice or wearing your jeans for a day, they soften up . . . a bit.

So anyway, imagine my delight when we moved into our house in Sweden and I went down to the basement and discovered that our rental included a dryer! ​​ I ran a load of laundry (30 minutes! Let’s hear it for Swedish efficiency!) and placed it in the dryer.

Now, calling it a dryer is a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t dry the clothing with heated air producing fluffy warm clothes, towels and sheets. It works by spinning the clothes and wicking the water out into a container at the bottom of the machine. I set it for 90 minutes. I returned 90 minutes later only to realize it had not completed its cycle. The laundry was still soaking wet. I fumbled about trying to figure out why and realized that the machine stops once the container at the bottom is full of water. I emptied the container. The machine started up again. When I checked on it again 30 minutes later, again, the container was full and the cycle had once again stopped. I emptied the container and started the machine again.

This went on for about 3 more hours. I could have taken them out and just line dried them, however, at this point I was in the middle of an experiment. I wanted to find out how long this was going to take. The next morning (yes you heard me correctly) I set it for another 90 minutes. Surely, there could not be enough water left in the clothes to fill the container again. OMG! I was wrong. After 2 more 90 minute cycles including breaks for emptying the water container, the clothes were dry. That particular load took 30 hours start to finish. I guess 30 hours is better than 48 or 72. I don’t know if our dryer is an old crappy one or this is the norm, but I have now resigned myself to line drying the clothes and placing towels and jeans strategically on radiators again. I am back to saving the planet.

And while saving the planet feels good, I have a confession to make . . . truth be told, I miss being able to dry jeans, sweatshirts and towels in a heated wonderland. So my American brethren, heed my tale of woe. Go hug your dryer.  Clean its venting tube, its lint trap and wipe down the exterior. Treat it like the appliance it is.  And give it a kiss from me.



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