How a $300 Portable Washing Machine Makes New York City Actually Livable

published Feb 27, 2019
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(Image credit: GIC/Stocksy)

Living in New York City brings its fair share of rewards and challenges. For me, the biggest continuous struggle—even after almost a decade in NYC—was doing laundry (#blessed, I know). When I lived in Brooklyn, my building had a basement laundry room, but it was creepy down there and I learned the hard way that the super locked the room at 9 p.m.—with my wet clothes trapped overnight in a washing machine. Then I moved to Manhattan (and still live there) where most buildings don’t offer laundry amenities due to limited space and plumbing infrastructure.

Many busy New Yorkers deal with not having an in-unit washer and dryer by dropping off their laundry to be washed, dried, and folded. That’s helpful, but ends up being pricey and you lose quality control over your more delicate items. Let’s just say it’s a great way to destroy your favorite sweaters, and forget about bras.

So, doing my own laundry at the nearest, tiny, and grubby laundromat was my only option in my current Manhattan apartment. I spent many months configuring my social life around spending one full weeknight completing the dreaded chore.

That is until one cold and rainy December night. I dragged a torn bag filled with dirty clothes down from my walk-up apartment to the laundromat across the street and down the block from my apartment. I had a laundry list of activities I’d rather be doing, but I couldn’t put it off any longer: I was running out of clean underwear.

Here’s where the story takes an unfortunate turn: All of the washing machines at the laundromat were out of order. Just like every New Yorker forced with a mild, yet time-wasting inconvenience, I considered giving up living in the city and moving to the suburbs where my washer-dryer and I could live in peace.

Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t actually do that—but it became crystal clear to me how much I valued the convenience, cleanliness, and cost savings of doing laundry in my own apartment. Maybe an in-unit laundry was worth moving back to Brooklyn? I went to straight to to figure out if it was feasible, but the prices quickly left me despondent.

But then I remembered something from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay: Many families used plastic washing machines in their yards that simply drained into the ground. I didn’t have a yard in my Manhattan apartment, but I figured there must be a workaround.

So I switched tabs to Google and quickly discovered that these washing machines were also pretty common with European city dwellers. They even had ones that simply hooked up via a hose to the kitchen or bathroom sink to fill the washing machine with tap water, and had a second hose connecting from the back of the washing machine into the sink or bathtub to drain.

I had a sink, so I could have a portable washing machine—and my weeknights back.

Just before Christmas, I ordered one portable washing machine for $300 on Amazon. Two days later, a 40-pound box arrived at my front door. The box was light enough that I could lug it up two flights of stairs to my apartment by myself—I had lugged all that laundry across the street and down the block, after all.

Afraid of leaks, I hired a plumber off TaskRabbit to show me how to set it up. Though it was more for my peace of mind than anything else, it turns out that extra hand was a pretty unnecessary step. Within 10 minutes of taking it out of the box, I was in business.

Now, there are some downsides to having this little machine: Namely, I don’t have a dryer. I don’t mind hang drying my clothes, but that won’t do for sheets and towels that need fluffing. So, I take those items to the laundromat about once a month.

The washing machine is also on the small side. That’s good for storing it next to the oven in my tiny New York apartment when not in use, but it’s not great for doing huge loads of wash. I can fit about four pairs of jeans and a week’s worth of socks and underwear in one load. This works for me, a single person, but it might not be large enough for a family.

Also my electric bill is about $10 higher than it was before I got the machine. Still, these cons don’t even come close to outweighing the pros of convenience, cleanliness, and control. I’m no longer stressed about bed bugs, clothing thieves, or errant bleach from communal machines. And getting an evening back from the laundromat has been priceless.

Just a caveat: Some New York City apartment leases specifically ban portable washing machines, so check the fine print on your lease before you buy!

I wish I’d bought a portable washing machine on my very first day in New York. It would have saved me hundreds of hours of tiny frustrations—and more than a few lost socks. As I write this on my couch, my washing machine is cleaning a load of delicate sweaters on the gentle cycle in the kitchen. My life has totally changed.

Convinced that a portable washing machine would change your life? Here is the washer (and four other buys that I’ve found useful):