When I first arrived in Japan, I discovered that the shampoo in my luggage had exploded all over my clothes. This wouldn’t have been a huge problem except for that my luggage also contained some colorful wrapping paper. The colors bled all over my clothes.
In my first visit to a Japanese drug store, I was greeted by a long row of what appear to be laundry detergents, but the unfamiliar bottles and boxes could have been flour and fruit juice for all I knew.
Mistakenly using flour instead of laundry detergent probably won’t do too much damage. Using fabric softener instead of laundry detergent will probably just make your clothing ridiculously soft and scented. However, using bleach instead of laundry detergent may necessitate buying a whole new wardrobe. All of these scenarios can be avoided by equipping oneself with some vocabulary and becoming familiar with detergent brands.
Popular brands: トッポ (Top), NANOX, ニュービーズ (New Beads), アタック (Attack), アリエール (Ariel), Arau, さらさ (Sarasa)
Laundry detergent is probably the most important ingredient for clean clothes. Unfortunately, laundry detergent bottles look distressingly similar to fabric softener bottles. Some bottles do have the words “laundry detergent” on them in English, but many do not.
To determine for sure if a bottle contains laundry detergent, take a look on the back. All detergent bottles have a small table on the back with information about the detergent. The first row in this table will be labeled 品名 (hinmei), which means “product name”. The official product name for laundry detergents will be 洗濯用合成洗剤.
You may also run across boxes of washing powder and laundry detergent gel packs in Japan, which will be labeled similarly.
If you want to make sure your detergent doesn’t have bleach, look for the words
Popular brands: Downy, さらさ (Sarasa), レノア (Lenor), ファーファ (Fafa), ソフラン (Soflan), Mieux Luxgeous, Aroma Rich, ハミング (Humming)
Fabric softener bottles look very similar to laundry detergent bottles, but instead, their 品名 (“product name”) on the table on the back of the bottle will be 柔軟仕上げ剤. Also, fabric softeners tend to be extremely scented, which is reflected by the flowers, berries and other representations of scents on the bottle.
The pictures on the bottle will give you an idea of the scent if it isn’t written in English. Look for bottles labeled
Popular brands: ハイター (Haiter), ワイドハイター (Wide Haiter), マイブリーチ (My Bleach)
The clothing bleach is usually hanging out close to the laundry detergents and fabric softeners, so make sure you don’t grab a bottle of bleach instead. Typically, clothing bleach will be in a bottle in a much more subdued color and with less illustration than detergent or softener bottles. The official product name on the back of the bottle will be 衣料用漂白剤.