There are several ways to wash your cloths while on holiday.  As a Tour Manager being on the road for essentially several months at a time in Europe, I choose various methods depending on my needs. If I have time to stop in to see my sister in law in Italy, I am lucky to be able to do my laundry there. But of course not everyone has that luxury. The way I do my laundry on the road is as follows:

For undergarments I use the sink, and then for the rest of my clothing, I use either a Laundromat with coin operated machines, or fully serviced places. They wash, iron and fold your garments and do a great job, usually within a day! The last option depending on what cloths I happen to have with me, I sometimes, but rarely use a dry cleaner.

1/Washing in the hotel sink

Purchase laundry detergent locally. Once you have done your wash, hang your clothes to dry in the bathroom, and ask your hotel whether there is an iron you can borrow (again, not a given in Italian hotel rooms though the front desk will usually have one you can borrow for a few hours). Then go spend your time and money exploring what Italy has to offer – including, I’m betting, snapping photos of laundry hanging to dry.

2/The time-consuming, inexpensive option: find a self-service Laundromat

To find self-service Laundromats that will work for your itinerary, check with the hotel front desk for a “lavanderia self-service“.

In Western Europe, nearly every neighborhood has one; It takes about an hour and $10–15 to wash and dry an average-size load. Better Laundromats have coin-op soap dispensers, change machines, English instructions. Others are completely automated — but many of these have pictogram instructions that usually aren’t too hard to understand. While the exact procedure varies, it usually includes the same steps. Select your machine, put in your clothes, and close the door (which probably needs to be locked with a latch). Add soap, normally in a small reservoir in the top of the washer or a gel like tablet to be placed with your cloths. The soap compartments on most washers have three reservoirs: for pre-wash, the main wash cycle, and softener. (Don’t put your main soap into the pre-wash compartment, or it’ll be washed away before its time.)

While you might be able to pay at the washer itself, it’s more likely that you’ll have to insert your money at a central unit. Note the number of your machine, then type that number into the central unit and put in your coins (use exact change if possible — some machines don’t give change). Sometimes a central unit dispenses tokens, which you then insert in the machine.

Select your cycle, either at the machine itself or at the central unit. Below I’ve listed some of the cycles you’re likely to see. The first number is the temperature in Celsius for the first cycle (pre-wash), the second is the temperature for the second cycle (main wash), and the third is how long the whole thing lasts.

45° / 90° / 55 m whites (very hot)

45° / 60° / 50 m colors (hot)

45° / 45° / 40 m permanent press (warm)

— / 30° / 30 m nylon (lukewarm)

— / 20° / 25 m delicate (cold)

Drying time is generally available in smaller units (5- or 10-minute increments) rather than as a full cycle. Most machines let you choose the drying temperature: low (cool and slow); medium (warmer but still slow); and high (speedy but shrink your cloths). Because both washers and dryers at launderettes can be unpredictable, hand wash anything that you value dearly. For the dryer, you can purchase the bounce in the same coin-op dispenser as the detergent.

While waiting for your clothes, use the time to write postcards, read a good book or catch up on emails, or chat with other customers. These days, many Laundromats have Internet access or Wi-Fi.

 3/The most efficient but most expensive option: laundry service

Hotels provide laundry service for a fee: you give them your dirty laundry, they send it out to a local Laundromat and return it to you the next day, washed and ironed. The only downside is that it’s incredibly expensive – about 2 EUR per pair of socks. Once I ended up in a time-crunch with just a couple of days between the end of one tour and the start of the next, with no Laundromat in the vicinity and having a ton of prep work to do. So I used the hotel services and it cost me over 150E. Many clients opt for this solution, since they have limited time on vacation and want to make the most of it, so the cost is worth the time they save.

 4/Hiring It Out

You could also visit the town’s “lavanderia” and drop your clothing off yourself (specifying that it’s for washing, not dry cleaning) and pick it up yourself the next day. I have done this in several locations like Paris, Beaune and several others. Truly full-service places, which fold and sometimes even iron your laundry, are easier — just drop it off and come back in the afternoon — more expensive but handiest of all.

Regardless of the cost, I figure it was worth the hassle and expense when I can slip on clean cloths.

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Audrey De Monte

About Audrey De Monte

Born in New York City, raised in Western Africa, I have studied, lived and worked on three continents (Africa, Europe and North America), and have traveled extensively throughout the world. Travel has shaped my life, who I am, how I look at the world and continues to be my biggest teacher. Together with my native Italian husband, we speak 5 languages. Western Europe is my backyard, in particular Spain, France, Germany, and Italy—countries where I have spent my life, since early childhood, visiting family, friends, studying, living and working.