I learned how to do my own laundry when I was 13 and I’ve been doing it ever since, so I didn’t think doing laundry in another country would be a big deal. However, the washing machines and dryers in Europe are just a bit different from in the US. Not only is there a bit of a language barrier, but they also work differently, so I’ve had a few hiccups in the process of learning to do laundry over here. For instance, my first attempt at buying laundry detergent over here, I ended up with fabric softener instead. I realized this only after doing ALL of our laundry, but at least the water and agitation made it cleaner than it was and the fabric softener made the clothing soft and gave it a nice smell.

Laundry detergent (right) and fabric softener (left) with measuring cups in front.

Another difference is how you buy the laundry detergent and fabric softener. In the US, when you buy laundry detergent and fabric softener, you get a measuring cup or scoop with the bottle or box. Here, all the laundry detergent and softener is sold in those plastic bags with the pour spout, kind of like some hand soap refills in the US. This means there’s no measuring cup or scoop. So, you need to buy a measuring cup. They come in two sizes here and these are usually on the same shelf in the grocery store as the detergent. When we bought laundry detergent for the first time (even though it ended up being fabric softener), we almost didn’t realize this, but my husband spotted the measuring cups just before we were about to move on and so we ended up buying them. Otherwise, it would have been interesting trying to guess the proper amount to use!

The washing machines over here are very different. In the US, you can set the washing machine load size (small, medium, large, super) and the temperature (cold, warm, hot, etc). You then start the water, throw your clothes and detergent, softener, and maybe bleach in and shut the lid. About 40 minutes later its done. Yes, there are a few more options like delicates, extra spin, extra rinse, light wash, etc. But it’s a pretty limited set of options, usually 3 dials to choose.

Our washing machine

Washing machines over here are quite bit more customizable in terms of options. Unfortunately, the first thing I had to do was take a photo of the machine and go to the trusty google translate page to figure out what everything meant. Since we’re in Switzerland, everything that’s actually written on the machine is in two languages: French and German. In some ways this is helpful because some of the words are the same or similar enough to the English words. For instance, in French, “coton” is “cotton” and in German “wolle” is “wool.”

All the options for the washing machine with translations.

To actually use the machine, you choose from one of about 10 settings such as cotton, synthetic fabrics, delicates, wools, express, automatic, jeans, intensive wash, etc. From what I’m told, the delicate cycle is actually really good. One of the women I’ve spoken to over here says she washes her cashmere sweater on the delicate setting! After choosing which type of wash to do, you can then optionally choose an extra setting such as short wash, extra water, pre wash, etc. Finally, while the temperature is automatically selected based on the wash cycle you choose, you can adjust it. Instead of having options like cold, warm, and hot, you actually choose the temperature value (20, 30, 40, 50, or 60 degrees celsius). You can also change the amount of spin too. The default is a very high RPM spin (except for delicates) and I’ve left it that way because it gets out so much more water than the US machines do. I’m still experimenting with the different settings and the only real downside I’ve encountered is that most of the wash cycles are very long compared to the approximately 40 minutes of US machines. For instance, the default cotton setting takes 3 hours and most of the other settings are an hour and a half or longer! However, there is a nice display that counts down how much time is left on the wash cycle so you know exactly when you’ll need to change out the load and can easily set a timer.

Our dryer

The dryer here is equally complicated with corresponding settings to the washing machine. You choose what sort of dryer cycle (e.g. cotton, wool, synthetic, delicate, etc) and you can set it to chime when its done. These dryer cycles take equally as long as the washing machine. However, its a bit difficult to get the clothing to come out all the way dry. At first, my clothing was coming out of the dryer still a bit damp.

The options/controls for our dryer with translations.

The trick to getting my clothing all the way dry has to do with what I think is also the  big downside to all the dryers over here. Unfortunately, you have to empty the water from the dryer! In the US, there’s a vent for all the water condensation from the clothing to escape. Over here, the water collects in a reservoir and you have to empty it. For me, this is extra annoying because our washer and dryer are in a basement and the nearest sink is the kitchen. So, I have to remove the reservoir that’s full of water and carry it upstairs to the sink. The trick to getting your clothing to dry all the way is to empty this reservoir after every load!

Dryer reservoir partially filled with water

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/.