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Laundry in Japan: Detergent, Bleach and Tips

Are you doing laundry in Japan the right way? Did you know there is detergent for drying clothes inside? Read here to learn more!

By 5 min read 19

Are you doing laundry in Japan wrong? You might ask, “How hard can mastering a washing machine in Japan be?” Washing your clothes isn’t hard, but you might use the wrong detergents if you’re still learning Japanese.

It usually won’t hurt. Mistaking fabric softener instead of laundry detergent will make your new clothes (even if they’re thrifted) feel ridiculously soft and scented. However, the wrong kind of bleach may necessitate buying a new wardrobe. These scenarios can be avoided by equipping oneself with some vocabulary for doing laundry and becoming familiar with detergent brands.

Laundry Vocabulary

Here is a quick list of words related to laundry in Japan:

Japanese English Romaji
洗濯機 Washing Machine Sentakuki
洗剤 Detergent Senzai
部屋干し用洗剤 Indoor Detergent Heyaboshiyo senzai
柔軟剤 Fabric Softener Junanzai
漂白剤 Bleach Hyohakuzai
酸素系漂白剤 Oxygen Bleach Sansokei Hyohakuzai
塩素系漂白剤 Chlorine Bleach Ensokei Hyohakuzai
シミ Stain Shimi
消臭剤 Deodorizer Shoshuzai
抗菌 Anti-bacterial Koukin

Laundry Culture in Japan

Photo:
Top-loaders are the cheaper option.

In Japan, laundry days are often scheduled on sunny days for optimal drying. Sunlight is believed to disinfect and freshen clothes naturally. On a nice day, you’ll see tons of futons and comforters hanging from windows and balconies in Japan.

However, people will usually bring clothes in at night. Nights in many parts of Japan can be humid, especially during summer or the rainy season. The moisture in the air can prevent clothes from drying properly and may lead to mildew or unpleasant odors. Leaving clothes out at night can also signal that no one is home, which might attract burglars or, more likely, a panty thief.

Most apartments in Japan have space for a washing machine, but sometimes there is only space outside, such as on your balcony. You’ll typically find two kinds of washing machines:

  • Top-loaders: These are the most common type in Japan. You load your laundry by opening the lid at the top. While they offer fewer options and modes, they are generally cheaper than front-loaders.
  • Front-loaders: Front-loaders are more expensive than top-loaders but offer a wider range of options and modes. They’re considered the more stylish, modern option and are generally easier on your clothes.

Why Are Dryers Not Common In Japan?

Photo:
A common sight in Japan.

One of the primary reasons for the limited use of dryers in Japan is the lack of space, especially in cities. Japanese apartments, known for their compact design, often cannot accommodate large appliances like dryers. Residents opt for more space-efficient alternatives, such as traditional drying poles (物干し竿, monohoshi sao) hanging from their windows or balconies and indoor drying racks.

Cost also plays a role. Dryers come with a hefty price tag and consume much energy, adding to utility bills. In contrast, air drying is free. However, high-income families might opt for washer-dryer combos like Western homes.

When it rains or snows, people in Japan will dry their clothes inside, sometimes in the shower (where there is often a room dryer for mold) or via a humidifier.

Laundry Detergent in Japan

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Do you know which one to use?

In Japan, laundry detergents (洗濯洗剤(せんたくせんざい), sentakusenzai) are available in three common forms:

  • Liquid: Liquid detergents in Japan dissolve quickly in water and offer refill options to reduce plastic usage and costs.
  • Powder: Powder detergents are popular in Japan due to their affordability.
  • Pods: Pods are convenient with their pre-measured portions.

Some popular brands are:

  • アタック (Attack)
  • アリエール (Ariel)
  • トップ (Top)
  • ライオン (Lion)
  • ナノックス (Nanox)

Indoor and Outdoor Detergent

Some detergents, known as heyaboshiyo senzai in Japanese, are specifically formulated to prevent musty odors that can occur when drying clothes indoors, particularly during rainy seasons. Before you use detergent, know whether you will dry your clothes inside or outside.

Fabric Softener

It might not be the best scent for guys.

In Japan, where drying machines are rare, clothes often feel stiff. Fabric softener (目的, junanzai) will make your clothes feel softer, smell better and make ironing easier.

Most fabric softeners come in floral scents. However, there are also choices with more neutral fragrances for men or even unscented varieties. Some are specifically formulated for sports clothes to combat sweat odors.

Fabric softeners are typically liquid and come in bottles with refill options similar to liquid detergent. They are also shaped like pearls, though they are pricier.

Bleach

In Japan, there are two main types of bleach:

  • Chlorine Bleach (塩素系漂白剤, enso-kei hyohakuzai): This type of bleach is effective at whitening clothes and disinfecting them. However, it can be harsh on fabrics if used excessively. Be cautious and avoid mixing it with colored clothing.
  • Oxygen Bleach (酸素系漂白剤, sanso-kei hyohakuzai): Oxygen bleach is gentler on colors. It removes stains and brightens clothes without causing damage.

Coin Laundries

Photo:
Great for heavy-duty fabrics or on rainy days.

Coin laundries (コインランドリー) in Japan offer convenience for small apartments without space for a washing machine—those living in a studio apartment or only planning a short stay in Japan, such as students or tourists. People without balconies or access to sunlight may also rely on them for drying clothes.

These facilities typically feature spacious machines that fit 8 to 16 kg loads, accommodating bedding and heavy items. They are also equipped with drying machines, making them ideal for when outdoor drying becomes difficult. You might also opt for coin laundry during tsuyu (Japan’s rainy season).

Some coin laundry establishments go beyond the norm (especially in big cities), offering extras such as sneaker washers, free wifi, cafes and even karaoke. However, while these specialty laundromats are a treat, most maintain standard services.

  • Price: Typically range from ¥300 to ¥1000 per load.
  • Hours: Many operate 24/7.
  • Caution: Beware of potential theft, particularly of underwear.

Coin Laundry Japanese Vocabulary

Japanese English Romaji
コインランドリー Coin Laundry Koinrandorii
コイン投入口 Coin Slot Koin tounyuukuchi
スタート Start Sutaato
モードを選択する Select Mode Modo o sentaku suru
洗濯&乾燥 Wash and Dry Sentaku & Kansou
洗濯のみ Washing Only Sentaku nomi
乾燥のみ Drying Only Kansou nomi
上部 Upper Machine Jobu
下部 Lower Machine Kabu

Original article by Lynda Deaver.

Do you own a dryer in Japan? Do you have any tips for getting stains out? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Mee says:

    Hi does anybody hear knows the fragrance new beads gel? Please can you tell me more about it? You know before i use it?

  • Love2000AMGlam says:

    Usually the temperature of the hot water is not high enough to kill bacteria anyways.

  • abby7 says:

    how about a laundry detergent similar to ecover or seventh generation? are they available at all in japan? if so where? and at what price?

  • Vino says:

    Thanks for the repost, going to be doing our first load of laundry in Osaka today.

  • Vijayendran Sathyanarayanan says:

    I d like to know the brand names of whiteners in Japan…. My kids school uniform is getting worse day by day as it goes dull color… I heard that using whiteners we can make it white…. Any leads appreciated….

  • Rachael Sable says:

    Hmm..Nice information.Thanks for sharing.
    laundry exchange

  • maulinator says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that in Japan a lot of households tend not to use a dryer to dry their clothes. Therefore, you will find that when shopping for a clothes dryer they tend to be kinda expensive. The dual washer dryer machines also tend to be expensive and chew a lot of juice. As a consequence it is difficult to find things like Bounce in Japan. I usually have to go to Nat’l Az for that.

  • Meghan Barber says:

    Where can I get starch in Japan? My work shirts could be crisper.

    • Lynn says:

      According to the Japanese wikipedia, laundry starch may go under the name 選択糊 (pronounced “sentaku nori”). The brands listed are キーピング (Keeping), カンターチ (Kantachi), and カネヨノール (Kaneyonoru). If you copy and paste the Japanese names into Google image search, you’ll get a few pictures for an idea of what the bottles will look like. I hope this helps!

      • Kazume Nishidate says:

        just a note: ”sentaku nori” should be “洗濯糊” in Japanese.
        洗濯 (washing),選択 (selection)

    • maulinator says:

      I’ve seen spray can starch at dry cleaners for sale. don’t remember the prices.

    • Kim Lu says:

      Try search it in 100 Yen Shop.Or,in a big mall, try search the part where they sell electric iron,which sometime sold with set of spray.I will take the 100 yen shop as its cheaper.Its like that in Nagoya at least.

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks for this. These “little” things you don’t think of when preparing for the move – even deciphering the washing machine!

    • Lynn says:

      It really can be the “little” things that throw you off! Figuring out the washing machine is one of the many challenges of living in another country.

  • jxjan says:

    Awesome! Thank you so much for this!

  • Yelena B says:

    This is soooo helpful! I’m going to be using this post when I go shopping next week! 😀 The bleach looks ridiculously similar to the fabric softener if you are not careful… -_-

    • Lynn says:

      Good luck shopping 🙂 I had a lot of trouble figuring out cleaning products when I first moved here. The bleach does look dangerously similar to fabric softener…

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