Is that big bag of clothes you brought along with you starting to whiff? Are stains from that late-night ramen binge getting too hard to hide with a strategically placed scarf? Stop avoiding the inevitable, it’s time to get your laundry sorted. If you’re in an Airbnb with inadequate cleaning facilities or you’re in a hotel that seems to charge for laundry by the second, then we have some options for you.

Travel soap sheets

Not all accommodations in Japan have laundry service available, but unless you’re staying in a cupboard (which from personal experience I would not recommend), you should have a sink of some kind available. That, along with some of these pocket sheet bad-boys, and your laundry is sorted.

Travel soap sheets | Photo by Tiana Edmonds

How to use:

  1. Place one or two sheets in a sink of water and mix with your hands to get a lather
  2. Take your piece of clothing and get scrubbing
  3. Once clean, squeeze out as much water as you can and hang somewhere with good airflow
ProsCons
  • Cheapest option for multiple washes
  • Suitable for most accommodation choices
  • Safe for hand-use
  • Travel-friendly
  • A bit of labor involved
  • Not great for large loads or super dirty items
  • Sheets don’t provide a ton of lather

You can get a pack of these from most 100yen stores, such as Daiso, in the ‘Bath’ or ‘Laundry’ sections. Note that these can be used for washing your hands as well as for laundry and the ingredients are much less harmful than your ordinary laundry detergent. Winning! They can also be ordered online with delivery to Japan and elsewhere.

Coin laundry

Using coin laundry machines in Japan isn’t so different to using them in other countries. However, if you’re traveling outside of the main metros of Tokyo or Osaka, it can be less common to see English translations on the machines and signage. This can make navigating the machines a bit tricky, especially if you’re hopping from place to place and have to use a new machine each time.

Customers will bring their laundry in baskets or in a bag and read a book to pass the time. However, it’s also very common to leave your washing in the machine, go grab a coffee and then pop back when it’s ready.

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Waiting area inside a big laundromat | Photo by Tiana Edmonds

Which setting to use:

There are two main kanji characters to look out for
1. 洗濯 (sentaku) = Wash
2. 乾燥 (kansou) = Dry

Most of the smaller to medium size machines will have the option to either wash, dry or to do both, while the larger drum machines are usually dedicated dryers. These can vary from store to store so it’s important to look out for the above kanji characters to confirm. Some of the older machines can have a lot more settings and options which can be confusing. Generally, the laundromat will mark the machine with numbers showing the order of buttons to push—1st, 2nd. 3rd etc. which is always very helpful.

Not the buttons you’re used to | Photo by Tiana Edmonds

Some other useful characters to know:
切・入 (kiru/ireru) = Off/On
コース (kousu) = Course
標準 (hyoujun) = Standard (wash)
少量 (shouryou) = Small quantity


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If the machine doesn’t start automatically after inserting the coins or selecting the course, look for a start or confirm button.
スタート (sutāto) = Start
確認 (kakunin) = Confirm

Sneaker laundry machine

There’s also another special type of machine available that isn’t so common in other countries but is super handy and easy to use… the sneaker washer and dryer! *Mind blown emoji*

Getting your shoes cleaned isn’t usually at the top of the to-do list but over the hot summer months when you’re always wearing the same pair and even over the rainier season when you accidentally step in those deeper-than-you-thought puddles, this can be a game changer. Getting your kicks freshened up can really put that kick back in your step again (pun 100% intentional). Note that not all coin laundry places have these machines.

Not a microwave | Photo by Tiana Edmonds
ProsCons
  • A cheap option for medium-large loads
  • Dryers available, which is super handy for humid or rainy days
  • Sneaker laundry machines… need we say more?
  • No drop-off/pick-up service

Google for a laundromat near you or look out for ‘コインランドリー’ signs. If you’re looking for one specifically with a sneaker cleaning machine, search for ‘コインランドリースニーカーウォッシャー’ or ‘靴の洗濯’.

Approximate costs and durations:

MachineLoadDurationApprox. Cost
WashSmall-Large30mins-60mins¥400 to ¥800
DrySmall-Large10mins per cycle¥100
Wash & DryLarge60mins¥1,000
Sneaker2 x adult sneaker pairs20mins wash + 20mins dry = 40mins¥400

Dry cleaners

If you’re looking for a soft, more experienced touch to clean your more delicate or expensive items such as a suit, dress, your wools or a jacket, then you’d be best to go to one of the クリーニング laundry services (‘kureeningu’ is the Japanese pronunciation of ‘cleaning’). We wouldn’t recommend a dry cleaner for your everyday items, because it would just get too pricey, but it’s always good to know your options should you need it.

A dry cleaner | Photo by Tiana Edmonds
ProsCons
  • Ideal for tough stains and delicate items
  • Drop-off and pick-up service
  • Pricey
  • Not ideal for everyday items

Approximate cost: ¥200 to ¥7,000 per item.

Which method you decide to use will all depend on your load and how frugal you’d like to be, but one thing to be sure of is that no matter where you are in Japan, there are options available to you. Stay fresh!

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