How to do laundry in NYC while quarantined—without freaking out

By Kelly Kreth  |
April 21, 2020 - 12:30PM

Both detergent and heat can kill pathogens so laundromats are not likely to contaminate your clothes, but good luck finding one that's open, or conversely, not crowded.

Adam Kuban/Flickr

If you’re like me, and you don’t have a washer and dryer in your New York City apartment, you may be spending your coronavirus quarantine stressed about the best way to deal with dirty socks and undies.

Laundromats are deemed essential services, but good luck finding one that’s open and even if you are lucky enough to come across one, they tend to be crowded—not really what you want when you’re trying to avoid getting Covid-19.

I walked past one this weekend on the Upper East Side and there were at least 15 people crammed inside, even though Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a recent press conference, "We want people to have clean clothes. The cleaning of clothes actually kills the coronavirus, but you can’t crowd into a laundromat.”

And even if you are lucky enough to have a laundry room in our building, you may be like a lot of New Yorkers who are too scared of being in a close quarters with others to use it.

Editor's note: Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.

I am immunocompromised and very worried about catching the virus, but the fear of piled-up laundry bothers me just as much. My OCD only gets stronger in times of stress and instability, so I find myself compulsively cleaning and washing clothes even more in my building’s laundry room. I wear my mask and carry Clorox wipes (I tried to make my own from a YouTube video, which turned into a DIY fail) to wipe down everything I come in contact with. I put disposable shoe covers over my shoes, so I don’t track anything into my home. I am careful not to sit on or lean against anything and work quickly to load and unload the machine. I make sure to maintain social distancing and luckily, I haven’t encountered that many people doing wash, since most housekeepers are no longer working for tenants.

Neurotic, for sure, but I’m not the only one ruminating about clean clothes. One friend told me he has not done laundry in five weeks, and (TMI ALERT) has stopped wearing underwear because of it.

The impulse for some may be to wear clothes longer between washes but according to Peter Stern, senior vice president of New York City’s largest laundromat chain, Clean Rite Center, you should clean your clothes as frequently as possible now. He points to CDC guidelines, which says there is evidence of the virus lingering on clothing for hours, so re-wearing clothing multiple times without washing isn’t smart.

Another friend recently posted on Facebook, “Anyone else struggling with the idea of doing laundry in your apartment building's laundry room?” One person responded that she ventured to a public ’mat and felt like she was in a horror movie. (If you watched “Contagion” on Netflix for clues on how to survive a pandemic, you’ll know exactly what she means.)

Another Facebook friend posted a pithy: “Is everyone in NYC just handwashing clothes now?" Among the 21 responses were some good ideas, below. (For other suggestions, The New York Times also posted some advice that was reassuring.) Here’s how to do laundry in NYC while quarantined—without freaking out.

  1. Both detergent and heat can kill pathogens so laundromats themselves are not likely to contaminate your clothes. Just be sure to wipe down machines and anything else you may touch. The good news is most laundry rooms and laundromats have sinks so you can wash your hands as many times as you need to.
  2. Opt to fold at home. Take out clothes immediately and put them into your own laundry bag. Fold in the safety of your home to minimize contact with public folding tables.
  3. Make sure to pre-sort, pre-treat, and work quickly. This is not the time to dally in a public area. Make sure you are ready with your payment card and leave immediately after. Be sure to pick up your stuff promptly so others won’t be waiting or touch your clothes.
  4. Maintain social distancing and if it is possible do laundry at off times when the area may be less crowded.
  5. Avoid using public laundry carts. Instead bring some disposable bags to gather your laundry pre- and post-wash/dry.
  6. Opt for a wash-and-fold-delivery service if you can find one. Be sure to handle the delivered parcel the same way you would other deliveries. This one has been recommended by several friends as being easy and available to most NYC areas. The company uses ozone, which it says destroys bacteria and viruses, however pick up and delivery times are limited to the evening because of the pandemic.
  7. While handwashing delicate items makes sense, it is not practical for bulky items like jeans, towels and bedding. You’ll have a hard time finding space to hang and dry these items in your apartment.
  8. The ultimate hack: Consider buying a small ventless washer/dryer unit that can be hooked up to your sink.



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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