New Month, New Series: Expat Survival Course

This is the first in a series of posts I will periodically make for North Americans spending any time in the UK, whether spending a semester or moving here to live out their lives (at least for the foreseeable future). This is in no way is with the intention of belittling how things are done in either country, nor is it to come off as superior or to give the impression that living in the UK is roughing it or is overly difficult. I also am more familiar with life in the US, so some of the differences might not apply to Canadians.

I meant to do this a while ago, and the first was to be about staying warm. Since we’ve had our first day of the year that is 10C (about 50F), the timing seems off. I guess I could start with the seemingly banal topic of laundry. It seems timely as today is the first day I hung clothes out since before Christmas.

What could be different? Well, the last sentence of the previous paragraph might give you a clue. While dryers are becoming more common, many UK households will have a washer, but no dryer. In fact, even in rentals, washers tend to be standard along with a stove and fridge. So where you may be lucky to have a hookup to supply your own washer and dryer in the States but were more likely to have to lug your clothes to a communal laundry room or laundromat, you will probably have your own washer here.

First, I am going to talk about the washers themselves. They tend to be front loaders, although a few people have hung onto the duel tub top loaders. Chances are you will not have one of those, so I won’t go into detail about them except that they are a washing tub which usually has an intake hose you attach to your sink (sort of like a portable dishwasher) along with a separate spinning compartment. A few people have top loaders like the ones common in the US, and they are called, unsurprisingly, “American style washers”.

The front loaders tend to be more energy efficient in both energy and soap but can take much more time to wash a load. You usually have a drawer to use for soap and softener, but it’s better to use a ball or dispenser in the drum itself, especially if using powder. You should find out if you are living in a hard water or soft water area and adjust your detergent use accordingly (Google for maps). If you are in a hard water area, you should consider water softener or soda crystals, and you should read your washing machine manual about maintaining your machine. Front loaders tend to have bits and bobs that need checking on (traps and drawers). Your manual will help you with that. Oh, and don’t forget, unless it’s an elderly machine, the temperatures will be in Celsius. 30 and below are cold washes; 60 and above are hot washes.

You should also consider what laundry soap you might want to use. Bio soaps tend to be pretty popular here. They use enzymes instead of harsh chemicals to deal with stains and grease. We tend to have skin problems, so I use non-bio soap, soda crystals, and run at least one extra rinse. Don’t worry. You’ll figure things out.

Next is drying. My mother in law had a separate spinner. It’s sort of like half the dual tub washer. Chances are your regular machine will spin well enough to make this unnecessary, luckily for you. I spent many nights with my back all spasmed from leaning on the spinner to keep it from travelling across the floor. It did shorten the length of time needed to dry the clothes though.

Your washer may be a combo unit. I’ve not heard great things about these. They are meant to wash and dry your clothes without you needing two big machines. They take a long time to complete a load, and they don’t dry things so well. If you do have a tumble dryer, it could be a condenser or a vented dryer. Vented dryers are like most dryers in the States. There’s a big tube that can lead out a vent, be directed out an open door or window, or adapted to condense the moisture into a pan that can be emptied. They tend to work relatively quickly. Condensers draw the moisture out and deposit it into a container, usually a big flat jug, that should be emptied every few loads.

If you don’t have a dryer and you absolutely can’t stand the idea of air drying, you can try to find a launderette. I personally prefer air drying. I just like the idea of saving on electric, and provided it’s nice enough out, I love drying my clothes outdoors. Yes, they tend to be a bit stiffer than overly softened tumble dried clothes, but the smell is far superior than any fake perfume your detergent or fabric softener can add.

Just because you don’t have a dryer or a garden doesn’t mean that you have to take forever to dry your clothes. Opening a window in nice weather will speed things up and help add that nice aired smell. Plus, having a dehumidifier or using an airing cupboard will prevent the “clothes hanging for days” problem.

Even I, an emphatic supporter of air drying, can really get sick of having clothes hanging on the radiators and on racks. It’s not perfect, but it gets easier in nicer weather. Of course, then you’re left to the fickle nature of British weather to determine whether your clothes get drenched (luckily most British washers allow you to spin dry your clothes without running a full wash) or you are rewarded a few hours later with dry, sweet smelling (if slightly stiff) clothes.

Well, this seems to be the longest, least exciting blog post I’ve written, but I hope it helps a few people.


1 Response to “New Month, New Series: Expat Survival Course”

  1. 4th Mar 2010 at 01:37

    I actually really love my washer/dryer combo unit. Even though it doesn’t always dry things fully, it does dry it enough that it only takes an overnight on the drying rack instead of a few days! Our washer/dryer is set so that the dry cycle doesn’t get any hotter than what you’ve set it to for wash, so if you’ve set it to a lower temperature, it doesn’t dry so well, either.

    And the note about Celsius is really important! I shrank a load because I forgot 60 was hot!

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March 2010
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