How to Use a Japanese Washing Machine

Poste date: Monday, November 11, 2019

Japan’s future-tech society has created many solutions to keep a nation looking its best, but when you’re living in a foreign country sometimes even the simplest tasks like doing laundry can be difficult to understand. Have no fear, though — PLAZA HOMES is here to help you by walking you through the many ways you can do your laundry in Japan.

Using a Japanese Washing Machine

To turn on the washing machine, press the (usually largest) button with the word 電源 (“power”) on it. Depending on the machine the power button may instead be labeled with the word "入" and a separate off button labeled "切".

After you’ve turned on the machine, you will need to select a washing course by repeatedly pushing the コース button to cycle through the options. Almost all of your washing can be done with one of the following settings.

標準 (standard setting)
スピード (quick setting)
ドライ (dry setting):
The dry setting isn’t like a dryer in the Western sense — it’s actually the “dry cleaner” mode, which is the best option for hand-washed delicates.
毛布 (blanket setting):
The blanket course is essential for bedding and blankets. If you have a larger blanket or futon, double check that your machine has the capacity to hold it; otherwise it’s best to take it to a local coin laundry that has bigger machines.
乾燥 (dryer setting):
Not every machine includes the “dryer setting,” and even then the results may not be what you are used to. Since most Japanese homes still dry clothes on the line outside, this setting is often a very rapid spin cycle, so don’t expect to be greeted with warm, fluffy towels when opening the door.
洗濯槽洗浄 (drum-cleaning setting):
This self-clean should be done regularly, and more often during Japan’s humid summers, when mold can easily grow.

Drying Your Clothes in Japan

Depending on where you live, how you dry your clothes will differ. Many high-rise or upscale apartments will have ordinances in the rental agreement about where you’re permitted to hang your clothes. Some only allow outside drying if done on racks that are not visible to outside neighbors, while others forbid it entirely.

If your residence doesn’t allow outside drying, then you will likely be provided with an alternative method. Luxury homes and apartments (like those listed on PLAZA HOMES) will almost always include a washer and dryer. You can also choose to rent a dryer from Tokyo Lease Corporation, which assists expats in Tokyo with maintaining the comforts of home while living overseas in Japan.

If your residence doesn’t let you dry your clothes outside nor provide a dryer, then it will likely include a heated air dryer built into the bathroom vent along with a rod that can be hung across the room to hang a compact Japanese drying rack (available at Japanese drug stores and supermarkets).

Buying Japanese Laundry Detergent

Japanese laundry detergent can be quite confusing if you haven’t mastered reading the language yet, and deciphering which bottles are detergent, fabric softeners, and bleach can be problematic. We go into more detail on each of these in our Japanese laundry detergent guide, but here are the translations to look for on the packaging.

  • ・ 洗剤 (laundry detergent)
  • ・ 柔軟剤 (fabric softener)
  • ・ 柔軟剤配合 (laundry detergent containing fabric softener)
  • ・ 衣料用漂白剤 (bleach for clothing)

You will also usually find laundry detergent available in both liquid and powder form. If you are concerned about reducing household waste, you can buy convenient detergent refill bags that are usually available next to the plastic bottles in the store aisle.

Finally, if you are still worried that you may buy the wrong product or don’t want to try Japanese laundry detergent, you should be able to find a dependable Western brand at one of Tokyo’s international supermarkets.

Dry Cleaning in Japan

For those who need a little professional care with their clothing, there are a seemingly endless number of dry cleaners throughout Japan. Most do not cater specifically to English-speaking customers; however, there are a select few in Tokyo that do, which you can read about in our Tokyo dry cleaning guide.

Even if your dry cleaner doesn’t speak English, the process is pretty simple and shouldn’t be an issue. A basic suit shirt (often called a Y-shirt) generally costs ¥250–500 with prices varying by quality and location.

Using a Coin Laundry in Japan

While you may prefer doing your laundry at home, sometimes there is no getting around going to a coin laundromat. They can be useful during long rainy spells, such as Japan’s typhoon season , when the laundry starts to back up at home and there’s not enough space to dry it.

Japanese people also use coin laundromats when cleaning large blankets or futons, since those also need to be quickly dried to keep mold and bugs away. And a newer trend at these establishments is washing machines and dryers specifically built for sneakers.

Keep in mind that some higher tech laundromats have soap included in the wash cycle (especially duel washer/dryer machines), so keep your phone translator handy to make sure you aren’t over-soaping your laundry cycle.

You can search for laundromats near you by typing ”コインランドリー” into you phone’s map app. In addition, many public baths will have laundromats attached, so people can enjoy a hot bath while they wait for their clothes to finish.

How to Operate a Coin Washing Machine

Almost all washing machines are operated in ¥100 increments, so many laundromats will provide a change machine for larger bills. The general price is ¥200–400 for a wash cycle (in tap-temperature water) that lasts about 40 minutes.

Dryers are the main draw for Japanese coin laundromats, so you may need to wait in line. One hundred yen will usually get you 10–15 minutes of drying time. Keep in mind that Japanese dryers may not be as strong as those you’re used to. In addition, dryer sheets aren’t sold in most Japanese stores, so if they’re essential to your laundry routine, make sure you’ve sourced them ahead of time.

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