Back in the day, there was this really great site for foreigners living in Colombia called poorbuthappy.com. I remember reading a thread one time where people were soberly discussing their Spanish levels, most of them pathetically dependent on their younger-than-them-by-30-years girlfriend to get through daily interactions. One guy, though, shared that his Spanish had gotten pretty damn good. No, it wasn’t perfect, but he was fluent enough to be able to have an argument with his girlfriend over which laundry detergent to buy. I remember being extremely impressed, and it seemed like as good a goal as any to aim for. At the time, the possibility of being able to opine on the finer points of laundry accoutrements seemed so hopelessly out of my reach. And then . . .
*Flash forward three years*
In the past week at work, I’ve had to talk very in depth about laundry in not one, not two, but three different appointments. Twice it was about allergic reactions on the skin and how to minimize that via laundry changes. Another time, the patient, who works in the laundry room at a hotel, had accidentally mixed bleach and a stain-buster, which then caused a chemical explosion that damaged her lungs. For all three interactions, I had to really get into the nitty-gritty about laundry and its paraphernalia. Ahhh! I did fine, but I want to know this subject like the back of my hand. Poking around the interwebs, I found a deplorable dearth of good info on Spanish laundry vocabulary. Well, count on me, your trusty blogging bat, to fill that void. Here’s the dirt.
Lavar (la) ropa, hacer la colada (Esp.) – to do laundry
Detergente – detergent (detergente líquido, detergente en polvo)
Did you know that this comes from the verb “to deterge”? (Deterger in Spanish) I deterge, you deterge, everybody deterge! Yo deterjo, tú deterges, ¡deterjámonos!
Blanqueador, lejía, cloro – bleach (these are the most universal ones)
Blanquear, decolorar – to bleach
Quitamanchas – stain-buster, stain remover
Suavizante – fabric softener
Toallitas/hojas suavizantes para secadora – dryer sheets
Lavadora, lavarropas – washing machine
Secadora, secarropas – dryer (not at all common in L. A.!)
Limpieza en seco, lavado en seco – dry cleaning
Tintorería – dry cleaner’s (and they can also do many other clothing and fabric-related services including, notably, dyeing your clothes [tinturar, hence the name], although this isn’t very common anymore)
Lavandería – laundromat, laundrette/launderette
I have not found self-service laundromats to be common in Latin America. I remember my ex once telling me that for him it was a very “American” concept, something exotic they saw in our movies but couldn’t relate to. Sure, there are places that will wash your clothes, but you drop your clothes off with them. However, coin laundromats (lavanderías autoservicio, lavanderías automáticas) are becoming more and more common. ¿Por qué será?
Had any of you ever heard of a washateria? I hadn’t either. The things you learn from Wikipedia!
Prenda – garment, item of clothing
Ever wondered what a unit of clothing is called in Spanish? It’s a prenda, and sometimes that word can really come in handy. If you take clothing to be dry cleaned or to a seamstress or tailor for them to do alterations (hard to resist down there when it’s all so cheap), you’ll definitely want to be able to tell them how many prendas you have.
Tanda – load of laundry
I still remember my delight when my ex taught me this word. Its usefulness just can’t be beat. A tanda is a unit, a group, and its uses are extensive. It could be a load of laundry, a batch of cookies, a round of questions, a commercial break, etc. Basically one part of a series. You can also say carga for a load of laundry.
These are the tools that most people use to wash their clothes in the 21st century. Here’s what I used to wash mine during most of my stay in Colombia.
Yes, I was a martyr and I washed my clothes by hand during my first year in Bogotá and my entire time in Medellín. I used a big bucket (a ponchera) and the long handle of . . . for shame, a toilet brush. Plus detergent, of course. At first it was kind of fun. I felt like a pioneer woman out on a prairie somewhere. Then I just got used to it, even though it was a drag. Now it’s simply become another memory embellished by nostalgia. What I wouldn’t give to be crouched over that bucket again in that ant-engorged laundry room, my arms exhausted, stirring those clothes around and around in the blurry water.
Second load of laundry vocabulary coming soon!
As you can see, I’m now overqualified to have that discussion about laundry detergent. Tide or generic? ¿Ariel o Fab? Believe me, I’ll win any argument you throw at me. All I have to do now is go out and find a partner to pick this fight with. Or, he could always come to me.
What about you? Got any laundry experience in Spanish-speaking countries? Did you pick up any words while you were at it? Did you already know these words? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? Are there self-service laundromats where you live? How common are dryers?