Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Laundry Etiquette

Maybe you don't have this memory but I do. As a child, living in South Florida on 1 acre of land, I hung fresh laundry on a line. Although a chore, it was one of my favorite ones because I enjoyed trying to get everything on the line without anything overlapping. After everything was dry it was time to collect it in a wicker basket. And so it was that I learned how to take care of laundry at an early age.

Then comes the time when you leave your family's house and have to do all the steps by yourself. Living in dormitories during college is a great starter for learning the social etiquette that comes along with communal washing machines.

When sharing laundry facilities often times you run across some drama:
  • What to do when there is washed laundry in the machine you need to use?
  • If you move that person's laundry where do you put it?
  • Is the timer right?
  • How many machines can one use at once? Is using all the machines greedy?
Moving to Korea means that you may face these same questions, but with the language barrier you have a whole new problem.

For the lucky ones out there who have their laundry machine neatly tucked inside their office-tel, then these Korean Laundry Etiquette tips won't be much use for you.

For the rest of us who live in accommodations that are less fortunate, where we have to share the laundry facilities with other, then please take in these words of wisdom.

I am going to start off with two incidents that occurred while I was doing laundry in my building.

1. Using both machines / Taboo:
Since it has been winter I have a lot of sweaters that I wash. After finding my clothes full of fuzzies I decided that it was best to separate my sweaters from my regular batch of clothes. This means I need to use two machines (or one at a time). But I'm American, and I want to use two machines! haha

I took my clothes over to the machines and filled them both up. But before I was able to close the lids and press the buttons a guy came over. He had about 3 shirts in his hand and maybe some towels. After noticing I had filled up both machines he started speaking to me and gesturing. I did not know what he was saying, but I figured it had to do with my use of two machines. So I said "Gwen chan ai yo" or "okay, okay" and took out the sweaters and put them in the other machine.

He seemed pleased and loaded up the machine. But the tone of his voice and attitude when he talked to me was very unpleasant. I know I was being selfish and using two machines, but you don't have to freak out about it. In the end, I couldn't really say much back to him because of my lack of Korean. So it was that I learned to look out for other people when I want to use both machines.

2. Mixing with somebody else's clothing/ You might as well have signed a pact with the Devil!
When I came home from Winter Camp last month, I was really tired. But I needed to do some laundry. So I gathered my clothes and brought them to the machines. Without really looking I put my stuff inside, added soap and pressed the buttons.

After the time was up I came out of my room to see an Ahjumma (40-50'ish woman) standing over the laundry machine.

At first I thought she wanted to use the machine and so was taking my clothes out. So I rushed over. But then I realized the expression on her face read more like something must have pissed her off.

It turned out I had put my clothes in on top of hers, without checking first. She was really upset! And was doing the usual Ahjumma yelling at me. I was surprised and felt very ashamed. I said "Mian ham ni da..." (sorry) many times. But she just did that typical Ahjumma clicking of her tongue.

She figured that I didn't speak Korean and finally gave up yelling at me. And so she fished through the laundry pulling out her stuff and scoffing at the fact that I had jeans in my wash. Then she put her stuff in the other machine and washed them for a 3rd time. No wai-guk germs for her !!! haha

I wasn't mad at her for yelling at me, although I wish she wouldn't have freaked out.

I learned a valuable lesson: Check the bottom of the machine before putting laundry inside.

So here are some valuable etiquette rules I have found out:
  • If you are going to use all or most of the machines, make sure no one is around.
  • Check to make sure it is empty before putting your stuff in.
  • Be quick to unload, or someone will come and do it for you without care.
  • People in your building, when walking by, will give you 2nd or 3rd glances at the sight of a wai-guk doing laundry. Pay no-mind and continue on.
How to Use the Washing Machine:
Let me remind you that there are no dryers, that is done on an elaborate drying rack. Also everything on the machine is in Korean. So you gotta be careful when pressing those buttons, or you could wash your clothes on a destructive cycle.

At first site it looks pretty daunting and complicated. Also you ask yourself why there are so many choices?

To make life easier for you I made a little diagram in Photoshop. Also, I didn't use BK to translate the buttons, I used the dictionary on my cell phone.
Guide to using a Korean Washing Machine:
Review of the Buttons: Use the picture to understand my references

A Button: This turns on the other buttons. It does not make the machine run. That is a separate button. I would say it is like the on switch to your computer.

B Button: This does start the machine to wash your clothes. PRESSED after you make your choices.

C Button: These are your cycle options. Going from top to bottom these are your choices...
  1. Regular Cycle (I use this to wash everything but my sweaters, takes about 48-58 min depending on your load size.)
  2. Unsure (My translator comes up with something very worn. So I guess this would be a super-cleaning cycle?, All I know is that I don't use it.)
  3. Scour cycle (Hmmm .... scour doesn't sound pleasant... I don't use this one)
  4. Wool (Used for sweaters and delicates, it only uses cold water.)
  5. Bedding (Cycle choice for washing quilts and bedding. I don't know if it uses hot or cold water.)
D Button: Within each kind of cycle are certain washes. This button highlights which ones will happen in the cycle you chose. It is a progressive thing, for example from top to between it goes from rinsing to washing to rinse and then drain. You don't really need to mess with this after you pressed the C button, since it presets itself.

E Button: This button has pictures of measuring cups next to it. I don't mess with this button either and just leave it alone. I don't really know what its function is.

F Button: Hot or Cold? I usually always leave it on Cold. I think if you want hot you have to change the hose connected to the machine.

G Button: The timer. Do I really need to explain? One thing though is check it often, because it seems to take longer than you think.

Washing Whites: If separating is your thing, then I would press the on button and leave it at the regular cycle.
Washing Colors: Same for whites, I guess just double check hot water is not going into the machine.
Sweaters / Delicates: Turn on and select the Wool setting using the C button, don't touch anything else and turn on.

Well, that should do it for the tutorial on how to use a Korean washing machine. Again remember every one's machine may not be like mine.

Finally, when doing your laundry and interacting with other people in your building try to remember that they more than likely have the upper hand. So get along with your neighbors, despite that they may act unfriendly.


A video of the music the machine plays when done washing:


  1. cute post. thanks. I've been lucky enough to never share my laundry machine with more than one roommate, but your ettiquette tips were a cute way to link together some nice stories.

  2. Thanks Rob~ This post has been in my head for a long a lot was brewing hehe.

    Yea sharing laundry here isn't fun, but usually I don't get into conflicts all the time.

    Still the music is fun~

  3. # If you are going to use all or most of the machines, make sure no one is around.
    # Check to make sure it is empty before putting your stuff in.
    # Be quick to unload, or someone will come and do it for you without care.

    Have you ever used public washing machines in the United States? Your rules on etiquette are exactly the same as what everyone followed at any of the three apartment complexes I lived in back home. Did you follow a different set of guidelines when you were in the US?

    But the tone of his voice and attitude when he talked to me was very unpleasant. I know I was being selfish and using two machines, but you don't have to freak out about it.

    If you couldn't understand what he was saying, how do you know that he was freaking out? Because he acted irritated? (Unlike the adjumma from your second story you don't say anything about this man yelling at you.) Did you take any time to observe how everyone else was using the machines before you decided to use them yourself? Using some common sense when you're in a new country can go a long way.

    If everyone always does laundry a certain way and knows the etiquette for doing so, and then one person shows up who acts selfishly and ignores all those rules, can you blame someone for feeling irritated? -- especially if this new person doesn't speak any of the local language and was therefore oblivious when someone tried to point out the proper way to do things.

    I also don't appreciate the insinuation that Americans are greedy. You may be, but not all of us are.

  4. C button

    2. 찌든때 - cycle for really dirty clothes

    3. 통세척

    통 = container
    세척 = (洗滌) washing;cleansing;lavation;rinsing

    if you want to clean the washing machine tub

    E button
    물높이 - water level
    고 - high
    최소 - lowest level
    when is it useful to tinker with this button?
    say, you are washing something lightweight and fluffy that fills the tub. The water level is set when the machine senses the weight of the load at the start of the washing cycle. this happens when there is a back and forth jerking rotation of the tub. since the item is lightweight, the machine may set the water level to some level that may not cover the item

    F button
    machines are usually connected to the hot and cold water taps, so there is no need to switch hose connections when you play around with this button

  5. Thank you!!! I have the same washer in my new Korean apt! 😄


Leave Your Thoughts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...