The shocking truth about the Japanese washing machine

I left my parents’ house when I was 18 so, until now, it is more than 10 years that I live by myself. I have lived in 5 different countries and moved 11 times living in shared apartments and university dorms during my studies, by myself in my own place in Milan when I started working and now here in Japan with Husband. All the time of course I also did my cleaning, my groceries shopping and my laundry so I felt pretty confident about being able to do the house chores properly also in Japan.

Husband bought a brand new washing machine and other appliances a couple of months before my arrival when he moved in our new apartment. When I arrived he taught me how to use the rice cooker, the food processor and of course the washing machine. Believe it or not the washing machine, sentaki in Japanese, was the most easy. Usually it requires a bit of effort to properly use a washing machine and avoid destroying your clothes.You have to wisely choose the program and temperature according to what you are washing, but here in Japan not,  sentaki does all by itself. You push the start button, the drum starts to rotate and sentaki recognizes what’s inside and chooses the correct program to wash everything. I have never been so much impressed with technology but my good thoughts about the washing machine were doomed to last shortly.

We do the laundry, sentaku [洗濯] in Japanese, once a week, usually on Saturday, and for the first few times I didn’t notice anything strange but after a while, when folding and putting away clothes, towels and kitchen cloths I realized that the nice smell of freshly washed laundry was missing and some stains just didn’t want to go away. I though it was because I didn’t put any conditioner but I have almost never used it and never had such poor results with my laundry so I decided it was probably the automatic program that wasn’t working well enough and asked Husband to teach me how to manually select the washing program, the temperature and so on. Here comes the shock! Husband looked at me like I was asking to go on a trip to Mars and said “there is no such thing as manually selecting the washing program.” “Come on” I said “it’s impossible, there must be a way to select how hot I want the water to be.” Husband, more and more astonished, “but the water in the washing machine is not hot, the washing machine does not make hot water.”

Bang! There it was, the heart of the problem and my biggest cultural shock in Japan so far. Japanese washing machines only use cold water, so of course it is all easy and automatic, there is no temperature to choose according to the fabric, the stains, the colors and so on. You would think it is more ecological to wash with cold water but it is not because to remove stains and obtain a good smell you need to use far more detergent so it is not environment friendly at all.

I couldn’t accept the shocking revelation about our washing machine, my friend sentaki had betrayed me so painfully. I started frantically to look for more information on internet. In my heart I was hoping that maybe Husband had just bought the wrong model but no, it’s the truth, only cold water washing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a cleaning freak but my Mum and my experience have taught me that you need hot water at at least 40°C, if not even 60°C sometimes, to properly remove stains and sanitize things that are heavily used such as towels, bed linen and kitchen cloths.

I spent two days looking at people on the train and thinking that those clothes had never seen hot water, where was clean and immaculate Japan? It seemed impossible to me that nobody in Japan raised the problem and, since the water temperature in the washing machine had been my sole argument of conversation for two days, also Husband was starting to worry about my mental health. Revelation arrived Wednesday last week before dinner from the most unexpected source: NHK, the national Japanese television broadcaster.

NHK dedicated and entire program on their first channel to the issue of Japanese washing machines. They started showing the different results given by a German washing machine at 60°C and a Japanese washing machine which of course used cold water. Commentators, maybe exaggerating, said that the towels washed in the Japanese washing machine even had a bad smell compared to the ones washed in the German machine. The host then explained that to kill the germs (or bacteria, I don’t know, my Japanese is not that good) that cause bad smell you need at least 60°C or 40°C + specific products that work also at low temperatures.

I was so happy I almost cried of joy telling Husband “look honey, I am not crazy, it is actually an issue!” Then, given that Japanese washing machines cannot warm up water, they suggested to buy specific products and iron as much you can to sanitize clothes properly. Personally I ended up pre-washing almost everything by hand and pre-treating all the stains before putting clothes in the sentaki and Husband found out that you can pump hot water from the bathtub into the washing machine, it is water at around 40°C maximum but along with the right products it does make a difference.

I just hope that many people have watched the program and that Japanese manufacturers start making washing machines that can warm up water, I would be the first to buy one! Actually, such machines already exist in Japan but for industrial use only, at the end of the program they showed the machines used by the guy who cleans the uniforms of the Yokohama baseball team and they were big and bulky but did the trick just perfectly and the uniforms with grass and dirt stains came out from the machines white and shiny. Since I live not so far from Yokohama I seriously thought I could go and ask him if I can do my laundry in his washing machines. Pretty please °˖✧◝(⁰▿⁰)◜✧˖°

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