Dirty laundry, first load

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!

I used to like watching those little rings dissolve

Blanqueador, lejía, cloro – bleach (these are the most universal ones)

A popular brand of bleach in Colombia

Blanquear, decolorar – to bleach

Ha pasado

Quitamanchas – stain-buster, stain remover

Suavizante – fabric softener

Toallitas/hojas suavizantes para secadora – dryer sheets

Lavadora, lavarropas – washing machine

Planned obsolescence

(That comic features two phrases I’ve shared with you on Vocabat: del todo and a posta)

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)

An authentic tintorería from way back, more like a dyeworks

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.

A fleet of 3-wheeled trucks standing by in Bogotá to deliver your clean clothes to you

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?


12 responses to “Dirty laundry, first load

  1. ¡Hola! I’ve been enjoying reading your blog, esp. phrases/words that are available on textbooks :)
    I wonder how I can imitate a Colombian accent without going there. (I don’t think I know anyone who is from there.) Of course, one way is to watch “telenovelas”;-) I’ve searched on RCN and Caracol but can’t find any. The news and current affairs are too “rápido” for me now. I was wondering if you knew any telenovelas that are streaming online.


    • ¡Hola Charles! Thank you so much for your kind and friendly comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. As far as I know, it is easy to find telenovelas online from all countries. I’ll leave you the link for one of the most popular Colombian soap operas, Yo soy Betty la fea. International versions of it were made in many, many countries around the world, including the U.S. You can choose to show the English or Spanish captions. I’ll do a little more research to try to find other sites for you. So, tell me– why do you want to imitate the Colombian accent? I’m intrigued!



      • Because the Colombian accent is sexy;-) –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WyRqrICSgQ
        Ok, seriously, it seems that it’s a bit easier to understand. And, thanks for the link! I watched a bit… (Poor Betty!;-) It seems that they end each sentence with a rising pitch. Is that how they speak in everyday conversation? Or, it’s exaggerated in the show?
        Have a great day!


        • Haha, I’m glad you find it sexy! How interesting that you’ve found that video… I actually created a response to it earlier in the summer, and I hope to share it soon. I was re-inspired by your first comment. Regarding the rising pitch, I don’t know. I’ll try to pay closer attention and get back to you. Take care.


  2. what a great resource you’ve created ! I love the vocab roundups.

    Now to my question…. how long…. did you agitate the laundry in the bucket with the toilet brush? I mean, per load, how long? did you set a timer? I am fascinated by this technology… ;)


    • Thanks!! I like writing them, but, MAN, do they take a lot of time! So, thank you for making me feel like it was all worth it.

      Um, er, well, it wasn’t an exact science, heh heh. Till my arms turned to rubber and the water had lost all its translucency. Then I’d let it sit for about fifteen minutes and then stir it some more. It lost its romance quite quickly! Still, it’s a good skill to have, I think :)


  3. Hi Katie!
    I really enjoyed this post… the story, the pictures, the vocab, everything! Thanks for taking the time to make such an enjoyable and useful blog! I always learn something from you!



    • Hi Alicia!

      Thank you! You are too sweet. The posts don’t write themselves–I honestly pour way more time into them than is probably healthy–so thank you so much for acknowledging my effort and their usefulness to you. I’m glad you’re still learning and motivated.


  4. Thank you for the article. Definitely not many dryers here in Central America, as you said. A bit of a problem during the rainy season! And contrary to what I expected, the sun-dried ropa can be quite stiff coming off the line; things you count on shrinking just a little when dried aren’t necessarily so!

    Our big pink bottle of Vanish Max stain remover just has on it “Removedor de Manchas para Ropa”

    I think I saw one self-service laundromat in the 2 small towns in Ecuador we frequented recently, but otherwise all drop-off lavanderias. One in particular seemed to have multiple branches and ads all over – I think “Jenny” is doing quite well in the lavanderia business.


  5. Thanks for this very useful terminology! I signed up with Viki.com too. Laundry while traveling is always a pain. Personally I prefer to let someone else do it so I can spend my time doing other things. Just have to remember to tell them “agua fria y sin blanqueador por favor” unless you want your clothes ruined!


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