Living in Italy: A Guide to Doing Laundry

Doing laundry is bad enough – add in the whole language barrier thing, and it’s downright terrible. #womp

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I knew there was going to be the whole “language barrier issue” going into my two-year study program in Italy – there would probably be general confusion when it came to speaking to people, ordering food, etc., but what I didn’t think about was the whole laundry situation.

First of all, if you happen to have a dryer in your apartment in Italy, consider yourself very lucky.  I didn’t realize dryers just aren’t really a thing here until I got here, was extremely stumped, and wondered how the hell I was supposed to dry my towels and jeans.


Apparently there are smarter people than me who did do their research and found out beforehand that Italy – and Europe in general, it seems – is sorely lacking in dryers.  Take this post from Trip Advisor, for example:

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TripAdvisor // Clothes dryers–what gives

My apartment has a washing machine (which you might see me referring to as the “laundry” in this post because I’m apparently extremely inconsistent) AND a dishwasher, but similarly, no dryer.  According to this response from a thread on Slow Talk, the reason why dryers aren’t so common is mostly due to power consumption reasons:

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Slow Talk // Why don’t Italians use dryers at home?

The whole “limits on power” thing makes a lot of sense, especially from my own personal experience – if I have the laundry on and then try to put on the oven, my power will cut out.  Similarly, if I have the laundry on and then try to put on the dishwasher, my power will cut out.  For some reason, I can have my oven and dishwasher on at the same time and be fine, but the washing machine seems to be the limit here.



If you’re nervous about this, don’t fret – apartments will usually come with an indoor drying rack that you can fold up and stash somewhere out of the way if you’re not using it, and if they don’t, you can find these racks for usually around €8-€10.  Most likely, your apartment will also have lines outside available for your use.  My apartment luckily has both, as you can see above.  As you can tell from the outdoor pictures from my balcony, the outdoor hanging method is one used by many Italians.

TBH, although I really miss having a dryer for things like towels (air-dried towels just never achieve the level of fluffiness I want), jeans (I like shrinking mine to fit), and sheets (washing/drying sheets is basically a day-long project here), I do see the merits in not using one.  It’s a lot better for the environment, your clothes feel more “fresh” if they’re hung outside, and according to Reviewed, dryers are actually really bad for your clothes and can essential shred them if you’re not careful. Plus, hanging my wash outside with all the other old Italian ladies makes me feel like I’m getting the ~true~ experience.


But I guess I got a little bit ahead of myself – before you can dry your clothes, you of course must wash them!  I’m not a fan of doing laundry in general, so when I got to Italy and was faced with the fact that the language barrier extended to the washing machine, I quickly realized how much I valued Google as a dear friend.

Italian Standard Washing Machine

The settings on washing machines here are – you guessed it! – in Italian.  They’re also a lot smaller than American washing machines, but that’s a story for another day.  The temperatures are also all in Celsius, which is probably not a problem to anybody in the world other than Americans, and as somebody who’s deeply invested in the whole Fahrenheit system, I have a hard time conceptualizing just how hot or cold something in Celsius is.  Google translate and Google convert are lifesavers when it comes to doing laundry, go figure.



Above, you can see closer-up pictures of the settings on my washing machine.  The left-most image is of a description of all the settings, which is actually a panel that pulls out and is where you put your detergent and fabric softener.  The middle image with the three buttons is how you start/pause the machine, and the right image shows the dial to which you actually select your desired setting.

1.) Settings & Detergent Panel



Let’s start with the first image: the settings & detergent panel.  As you can see above, I’ve labelled the settings with the translations of the words, as well as conversions of Celsius to Fahrenheit, as well as the inside of the panel of where to actually put the “ingredients” to wash your clothes.

Some translations to keep in mind are:

  • Cotone = Cotton
  • Sintetici = Synthetics
  • Delicati = Delicates
  • Lana = Wool
  • Prelevaggio = Prewash
  • Eco = Eco (duh)
  • Rapido = Fast
  • Freddo = Cold
  • Quotidiano = Daily
  • A Mano = By Hand/Handwash

For reference, according to the Spruce, the water “types” can be classified as the following:

In general, hot water is 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 Celsius) or above. Warm water is between 110 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit ( 43.3-32.2 Celsius). Cold water is generally between 80 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7-15 Celsius).

In terms of the actual products themselves, make sure you’re using the right ones, and not just using fabric softener as detergent accidentally like I did for the first two months I was here, which in my defense is easy to do.


The reason why I say it’s easy to do this is because I’m used to seeing detergents come in liquid form (if not in the pods) and fabric softeners come in dryer sheet form and TO BE FAIR, the fabric softeners here that come in liquid form look EXACTLY LIKE liquid detergents, so there.

Me, defending myself from the haters.

When choosing your products, make sure you know the following:

  • Detersivo = Detergent (what I circled on the blue box on the left)
  • Ammorbidente = Fabric Softener (which I circled on the brown bottle on the right)

I actually had to look this up when I first got here because I had no idea which little section in the drawer was for what, so I actually found the answer on a thread at  In general, usually:

  • I = Pre-Wash/Stain Remover
  • II = Main Detergent
  • Flower = Fabric Softener

I’ve since become accustomed to using powder detergent because it lasts longer and putting it directly in the drum because putting it in the II slot seems to just clog my washing machine.

2.) The Buttons


This one is more straightforward since there are only three of them, but enter: the buttons.  The button on the left is your start/pause button.  The button in the middle is the “no centrifuge” button aka the button you can press if you want to forego a spin cycle.  The button on the right is the “intensive rinse” button, which you can press if you want to rinse the s*** out of your clothes.  Here are the translations:

  • Avvio = Start
  • Pausa = Pause
  • Centrifuga = Centrifuge
  • Risciacquo = Rinse
  • Intensivo = Intensive

3.) The Dial


Last but not least, we have the thing that actually controls it all: the dial.  This one is also pretty straightforward because we’ve already gone over all these things!  Two more translations added here are:

  • Fine = End
  • Lavaggio in Corso = Washing in Progress
  • Scarico = Drain

And there you have it – your Italian guide to doing laundry by an American who hates doing laundry.  Laundry is a lot less intimidating once you and your washing machine are actually on the same page and once you use the right product to wash your clothing, so happy washing and try not to miss your dryer too much… 😦

Me, hugging my dryer when I return to the US.



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