Doing Laundry in America vs. Germany

Doing laundry in America

Doing Laundry in America: Little Day-to-Day Differences Between Germany and the US

Doing laundry in America is a real nightmare. Washing machines don’t wash clothes thoroughly, and dryers permanently damage them. I didn’t expect this challenge when moving to the States, and I already shared my laundry frustrations a few years ago. Time to update you on my latest tips: I bought a new washing machine, sort my clothes even more carefully than before, and choose the best detergents.

Shopping is a part of every vacation to the US. American brands like Nike, Hollister, and Gap are all less expensive in the US than they are in Europe. Every store has some kind of sale going on to draw clueless tourists who think they’re getting a one-time deal. After living in the States for three years, I know better. If you don’t get the today sale, don’t worry—wait for the next one in a few days.

I have a theory: American washing machines and dryers intentionally damage clothing so they have to be constantly replaced. Retail business runs around the clock, keeping poorly paid employees busy.

My theory explains why clothing is cheaper in the US. If clothing was more expensive, the entire retail business model would collapse. Customers would buy better washing machines and dryers, clothes would last longer, and cheap off-brand clothing would disappear. Businesses would have to close, so the unemployment rate would rise, and on down the chain.

Catherine, a fussy German housewife?

Some might think I’m picky when it comes to laundry, and that may be true. Three years ago, I had five laundry baskets and sorted everything by color. Now, I’ve added a new basket for clothes with Spandex. It significantly reduces the amount of clothing that my washer, dryer, or both have damaged

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it: I am picky about my laundry! Because I care about washing things well, imagine my shock when I first started doing laundry here in the US. Clothes came out of the wash just as dirty as before. Colors faded unusually fast. Even worse, holes suddenly appeared in our t-shirts and sweaters.

Did you know I worked for years in Germany for Dr. Beckmann, the stain specialist? I learned everything there is to know about stains, clothes sorting, pre-treatment, and more, thanks to this client.

The recipe for clean laundry, according to Dr. Beckmann, goes like this:
chemistry + mechanics + time + temperature = stain-free, fresh-smelling laundry.

“Chemistry” here stands for laundry detergent. “Mechanics” means how stains are treated before being washed, as well as how the washing machine’s drum turns. Temperature and time should be clear enough.

Any piece of clothing that is stained or dirty can be cleaned when these four factors are combined correctly.

Why don’t American washing machines do the job right?

My first American washing machine was a top loader and had three washing programs: cold, warm, and very warm. Since the lid could be opened while the machine was running, I was able to check the water temperature myself.

Water flows into the machine like it would from a faucet, so “very warm” wasn’t any warmer than what came out of the kitchen sink.

In Germany (and France), laundry water also flows from the same source as the faucet, but it’s heated to the right temperature before the washer starts to work. In the US, the water is never warmer than 40ºC (104ºF).

However, a reader from Wichita, Texas, let me know that she had no problem with doing laundry in America. What about you?

If you leave a comment at the end of this post, please let me know where you live in the States!

American top loaders look like kitchen gadgets

Top loaders are very popular in France (not so much in Germany) since they use less space in the kitchen or bathroom. However, these machines have nothing in common with their American cousins. American top loaders are not only twice as large as those in France, but they also function differently.

There’s no drum in American top loaders, just an open compartment with a column in the middle. The setup reminds me of an oversized food processor without the blades. Thus, no mechanics help to wash the laundry properly.

“Time is money” also applies to laundry

 After 30 minutes, my American washing machine was done. 30 minutes! At first I thought I’d forgotten to press the start button, so I put it through the wash program again. At some point, I asked friends and neighbors about it, and yes, a standard US wash program takes 30-35 minutes. A quick cycle takes just 15 minutes.

Beating laundry into submission with detergent

Now, we come to the funny part. In order to overcompensate for the washer’s failure in using mechanics, time, and heat, Americans go in for the kill with chemistry. Detergent here attacks colors and fabric. Bleach is added to the mix. It’s no wonder that t-shirts wear out and become full of holes so quickly.

In my earlier post about doing laundry in America, readers asked which detergents I recommend. Here’s my list:

    • For white clothing:
      Tide Free and Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent
    • For colored clothing:
      Cheers Laundry Detergent
    • For dark colored clothing:
      Woolite Dark Laundry Detergent

Doing laundry in America is a nightmare

Chemistry + Mechanics = Holes? Apparently, over time, this process is brutal enough to damage the fabric. Dryers also do their part. Although I’m extremely cautious with heat settings, at some point, all of my clothes shrink significantly. Why? It all comes back to this American “Time is Money.”

Clothes need to dry fast, so the temperatures get turned up. My dryer is set to the lowest setting, and the timer is automatic. Sometimes, the laundry comes out a bit damp, but just as often, I find that at least one piece of clothing has become a bit shorter or smaller.

I hate my dryer even more than my first washing machine. Can someone please recommend a good, reliable dryer? I need one!

Consumer Reports is the American equivalent of Stiftung Warentest

Three years ago, I researched test results for washing machines on the Consumer Reports website for three hours. I finally ended up purchasing an American washing machine, a Whirlpool Duett, that I’m all around happy with.

A Final Word from Steve Jobs

“It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less of detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much more cleaner, more softer, and they last a lot longer.”

 My thoughts exactly. Thanks, Steve.

Foto credit by © Serhiy Kobyakov

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1 Comment

  • A comment by Richard, left on LinkedIn:
    Not sure I agree with everything in the How To Guide to Laundry., but I can definitely confirm that washing machines in Germany are MUCH higher quailty than those in the U.S., and they last FOREVER. My German wife also claims that clothes dont get as clean here in a washing machine as they did back in the Fatherland.

    With his given last name, the readers might assume he is German, so it might be worth pointing out that he is NOT German but American!

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