A Sort-Of Detailed Guide to Doing Laundry at Oberlin College


I know laundry is a chore. I know that for most college students, doing laundry is at best, mundane, and at worst, a hassle. And I especially know that no matter what I write here, most people will go on using whatever laundry room was conveniently provided in their halls. I accept all of this, but I can’t help but feel as though something needs to be said. 

There are laundry rooms on this campus that I consider disgusting. There are also laundry rooms on this campus that I really quite like. In the past two months, I have sampled a variety of facilities across campus and made note of which ones I consider superior. So, without further ado, here is a comprehensive summary of the laundry experience in Barrows, Noah, Kahn, Talcott, and South Halls.

My first foray into campus laundry was in Barrows, where I live. Our laundry room consists of three washers and dryers, which serve about 130 students. At first, I took no issue with this, and it wasn’t until I made the cataclysmic error of pulling back the black rubber gasket around the door of one of the washing machines that my troubles began. Lying in the chasm between the drum and door of the washer was a mat of hair bound together by the deformed remnants of lint, soap, and deteriorating bits of whatever it was students had forgotten to take out of their trouser pockets. I dealt with this on a psychological level by observing that when I ran the machine, my clothes rarely came close to the rubber band, and I dealt with this on a practical level by buying a big jar of sanitary wipes and wiping down the band and the inside of the door each time I put on a wash. About a month later though, I walked into the laundry room to find the radiator torn partially off the wall and a line of cigarette butts strewn across the floor. Thus began my journey to seek a better place to wash my clothes.

I first landed in Noah, where I happily did my laundry for the rest of the semester. Coming from Barrows, it was nice to have a larger array of washers and dryers, and even nicer to have a little sitting room in which to wait. Unfortunately, a friend of mine who lives in Noah eventually informed me that he wasn’t sure those washing machines were running hot water. I mentioned this to my mother one night on the phone, and she told me that if this was the case then the soap in my clothes probably wasn’t getting properly washed out. I tested her theory by taking a load of towels I had just washed and running them under some tap water. Sure enough, each towel rinse revealed a stream of water so soapy you could probably have used it to wash another batch of clothes. I haven’t been back since. 

Kahn is the Four Seasons of first-year, on-campus housing — the Ritz Carlton of Oberlin College. Although most of Kahn’s amenities are locked behind doors requiring Kahn-specific key cards, the door to the laundry room is, oddly, always propped open. Kahn is home to five dryers and four washers, all of which run warm water. As an added bonus, Kahn also has two metal poles on which you can hang your more delicate ensemble pieces to air-dry. The only issue with Kahn’s laundry room is that, due to the dorm’s rather large student population, it’s almost always full by midday. Sundays seem to be the busiest, with Saturday afternoons being the next-most popular time slot. However, if you are willing to start your laundry at some obscene hour of the day, it will be well worth it.

Talcott’s laundry room has the aura of a homey bomb shelter. The peeling yellow paint, withering sink bowl, and six-foot door frame all served to remind me of those shelters in people’s back gardens during WWII. Everything works, though. The room is surprisingly clean, as are the machines. Although the floor is made of concrete, the space didn’t feel damp or dusty, meaning that the only real issues with the room were aesthetic. If I can’t live in Talcott next year, I might still visit once or twice to wash my clothes.

I would rather eat dryer lint than do my laundry in South again. A strange smell hit me on the way down the basement stairs, then I found myself a souvenir in one of the washing machines: a Whip-It! whipped cream charger lodged firmly in the dreaded rubber gasket. Classy. The paint peeling at the walls and the slanted tile — slick with barely dried puddles forcing their way into swollen grout — made the space look like the bathroom in Saw. Apart from the cream charger, my second-favorite find was an unusable condom dispenser which had a single quarter stuck firmly in the top slot. I don’t think I will be returning any time soon, but if there are any budding microbiologists out there, I highly recommend swabbing one of the South Hall washers.

I know that it can be frustrating to deal with the monotony of a chore like laundry, especially when life demands your time and energy for a seemingly endless list of other things that need to be done first. I also know that making demands for the school to change the infrastructure of our laundry systems on campus would be laughable. So instead I encourage you to do something else: shop around. Take advantage of the numerous laundry facilities on this campus. Make laundry a routine that you enjoy. Keep the laundry rooms that you use clean and free of abandoned clothes. Seek inner peace. Write to your local congressperson. Become a martyr of your own deliverance. And for God’s sake, please remember to clean out the lint tray.