Cultural Practices in Laundry Around the World

Latif Jamani

What’s interesting about laundry is, everyone on the planet NEEDS to do laundry and almost no one on the planet WANTS to do laundry.

Every culture has its own customs, methods and meanings around laundry. There are many shared moments, traditions, and insights to our histories and values. Lets explore some of the cultural differences when it comes to laundry from around the world.

Indian Dhobi Ghat (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eastern methods in India: Dhobi Ghat are open air laundries around India. Dhobis (laundry workers) stand in open pens with concrete sections and a washing stone. The Dhobis wash the clothes and linens and flog, scrub, dye the garments on the stones then hang dry them on rope before pressing the garments and returning to their respective homes. These include hospitals, hotels, businesses and individuals.

A very famous one is Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat – check out some pictures here (like the one shown at right).

Also in villages in India, the women would travel together down to their local river to wash the clothes together. This is an important distinction, as it became a cultural community activity. Groups would go together and gossip, discuss, and hang out while performing the laundry with no men around.

Because of the cold climate in Iceland, many people believe that air drying the clothes outdoors helps keep the fabrics fresh and sanitized.

In Japan, the Kamado (a traditional stove) would create ash and the ash was used as a soap substitute. Clothes were boiled with ash as the cleaning agent.

River washing was a heavily relied on technique and people believed that waters from the river had purifying powers.

In China, washing your clothes in the first 2 days of the Lunar New Year provides good luck for the year ahead.

In the Middle East, air drying in the arid desert air allowed for quick dry of garments, and also the adds colour across cities and villages. Many roofs and back yards are home to floating fabrics of various hues.

I remember as a young mischievous boy running through all the hanging bed sheets air drying in our back yard, helping my mother with the laundry pegs. It always gave me a sense of awe, probably because I was 3 feet tall looking up.

Whatever the culture, as long as people wear clothes there will be laundry to do, and every culture finds its own unique way to address the situation. I leave you with this adorable photo to remind you that you aren’t just washing clothes; you’re washing people’s precious possessions.

Latif Jamani is the owner of Elevation Supplies, a fabricare distributor based in Calgary, Alberta. Elevation Supplies specializes in poly, hangers and chemicals for dry cleaners and commercial laundries across Western Canada. He has been an entrepreneur for 15 years and has an Executive MBA from INSEAD.

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