When you’re living abroad, the most simple tasks can sometimes be the most complicated. Seemingly easy things, like shopping at the grocery store or getting money out of a cash machine, take on a new level of complexity. One such task is doing your laundry at the self-service laundromat or laverie. Getting your clothes cleaned isn’t rocket science, but figuring out how to work the washing machine and what products to use is trickier than it sounds, especially if you don’t understand French.
If you’ve got dirty laundry spilling over your hamper, use our mini guide to get your pile of whites and darks washed and dried. After your first visit to the laundromat, you’ll get the hang of it. You may even end up doling out help to puzzled Parisians who sometimes have trouble figuring out the laundry machine directions themselves!
(If you have clothes that need dry cleaning or you’d prefer to use a laundry service, read our earlier post here.)
||la machine à laver
|to wash or scrub
||l’assouplissant or l’adoucissant
||l’eau de Javel
||sec (m), sèche (f
(For information on international fabric care symbols, visit this link.)
Typical Laundromat Signage
Updated September 2013
It happens almost without fail for every arriving expat: you go to the cleaners to drop off dress shirts, the only thing on your mind, making sure you know how to ask for them to be finished on hangers or folded, and then it happens: sticker shock. For Americans used to paying less than $1.50 to get a dress shirt laundered and ironed, the thought of paying three to four times that amount does not sit well. The plain truth of the matter is that dry cleaning and laundry services in Paris are expensive.
Take a look for example at these prices at an independent dry cleaner in an upscale neighborhood. If you do the math quickly, using an exchange rate of 1.5 dollars to the euro, a good rule of thumb if not always completely accurate, you’ll discover that it will cost you about $60 to get a suit cleaned.
So what do you do if you need to get your clothes cleaned and you don’t want to get your wallet cleaned out too? Here are a couple of tips for those on a budget.
- Seek out budget chains or hole in the wall proprietors. 5 à Sec (a play on words for the French expression 5 à 7, shorthand for a quickie after work and before going home, if you get my drift), Baechler, and Alaska Pressing (with locations in the 2nd and 16th arrondissement and perhaps elsewhere) offer more reasonable prices than the establishment whose price list appears above. You will still pay between 2.80 and 3.50 euros for laundering a dress shirt. At 5 à Sec (with multiple Paris outlets), you must buy a card, paying for laundry of 10 shirts in advance, to get the discounted price. But be cautious; the quality of the dry cleaning and pressing services is variable. You may find that you have to touch up your clothes afterwards with your own iron. Think twice about entrusting one of these places with a special item, like a cocktail dress or silk blouse that you absolutely love.
- Beware of extra charges. Some cleaners charge extra for an appret, a special finish that is supposed to maintain the original feel and look of your garment. I’m not sure I can tell the difference.
- If you have a femme de menage, she will very likely be prepared to do ironing. Weigh the hourly rate you pay versus taking your laundry out.
- Change your dry cleaning habits. Most wool sweaters can go in a washing machine set on a gentle cycle and dried flat. Save dry cleaning for silks, cashmeres, suits, and anything that absolutely cannot be laundered at home.
- Invest in no-wrinkle dress shirts. No-wrinkle technology has improved dramatically in the past few years; you can find no-wrinkle shirts that look and feel like ordinary Oxford cloth or brushed cotton, for example, from LL Bean if you are still in the U.S.
If you are seeking an eco-friendly dry cleaner, try Sequoia which has locations in the 15th, 16th, and 17th arrondissements.