Doing laundry is a constant need for many people especially those who cannot afford washing machines at home. Public laundry workers are doing very physical work and they are putting a huge amount of time into it, compared to company employers. They are meeting physiological needs of many families, but they earn a tiny amount of money despite of their efforts. As an individual, the minimum we can do for them is to show them respect. The first step is to understand their life and recognize their work as important and valuable!

Laundering is an essential need for all people without distinction. Laundry is often done in a place or room especially reserved for that purpose. In an individual home this is referred to as a laundry room. Some buildings and apartments may have a shared laundry space. In many developed countries, there are stand-alone businesses referred to as a self-service laundry where people use a machine for few minutes and come back home with their clean clothes.In most of the hotels around the world, there are laundry services. Laundry is indispensable from the time when humans started to wear clothes. It is the method that differentiates one culture from another. But laundry work has traditionally been gendered, assigning the task to women, also known as laundresses or washerwomen. Innovation and industry revolution led the world to work with washing machines or any types of textile dryers.

There are several countries with public washhouses. Generally filled with women, washhouses were historically set up before the arrival of washing machine. Villages in Europe started the concept and then it spread around the world. It is  very physical work, people stand up during the washing and rinsing processes. Washhouses are currently built for under-privileged people in a community. Some are even associated with public baths and toilets. The aim is to foster hygiene and reduce eruptions of epidemics. Even if most of cultures relate laundry work to women, there are a few parts of the globe that assign it to men as well. In India, laundry was traditionally done by men. A washerman was called a dhobiwallah, and dhobi became the name of their caste group. Around 1900 in the United States, one in four ethnic Chinese men worked in a laundry, typically working 10 to 16 hours a day.

Life of a washerwoman

It is common to use public washhouses in many African and Asian countries. The normal daily routines of washerwomen are as follows. One worker may have from five to fifteen regular clients. The clients are mostly families from the neighborhood. The laundress comes to the clients’ house to gather the clothes, sheets or blankets in the morning, goes to the washhouse and do the work and returns later in the evening with the clean items. The drying process may occur in a nearby public garden as well as in the clients’ clothes line drying.For some washerwomen, they call their husbands for help in order to bring the heavy wet washed clothes to the clients’ house.

The cost of laundry for washermen and washerwomen

In Africa, public washhouses are free to use. The users only have to respect the time restriction for washing, depending on the community’s rules. The cost of this form of laundry services is then according to the type of clothes. Light clothes such as T-shirts and scarfs cost 0.02 $. Jackets and pants cost 0.03 $. Blankets and other items classified as heavy clothes cost from 0.14 $ to 1 $. In general, a laundry worker earns 6.05 $ per client each round of washing. They may do a work for one to three clients during a day, according to the amount of work and washhouses availability.

We as members of our communities need to acknowledge this work and the importance of their contribution. And, we need to think of them and support them especially in times of crisis.