How My Portable Washing Machine Makes Small Apartment Living Bearable

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How My Portable Washing Machine Makes Small Apartment Living Bearable

An three-panel illustration of a sock, a portable washer, and a clean sock.

I live with my partner on the top floor of a building in Queens, New York. Our apartment has great natural light and cool views of the neighborhood. In exchange for that, however, there are five flights of stairs between my doorstep and the outside world. Those five flights aren’t usually a big deal—I’m young and (relatively) in shape. But when I have to take out the trash or carry packages from the mailroom, those stairs are absolute killers.

My building also doesn’t have a laundry room, so washing my clothes would normally require hauling them to the corner laundromat and back. That’s annoying enough in the best of times. But in a pandemic, who wants to leave home to clean their clothes in an enclosed public space? As soon as I could, I bought the Magic Chef Compact Washer, which has been one of my best purchases since moving to New York.

Portable washing machines—the good and the bad

The Magic Chef portable washing machine, shown in a bathroom.

Portable washing machines connect directly to your sink—you unscrew the faucet’s aerator, insert the adapter into the faucet, and connect the hose that brings the water to the machine. When you’re ready to start your cycle, add your clothes and detergent, plug the machine into an outlet, turn on the water pressure, and press start. At that point, the machine is completely automated, and it works like a regular washing machine, with wash, rinse, and spin cycles.

Sometimes these machines have a “twin-tub” design, with one tub for the wash and rinse cycles and another for the spin cycles (this adds the step of transferring the clothes to the spinner after the rinse cycle is done). The spin cycle helps the clothes dry relatively quickly on a drying rack (it takes only a few hours).

As a rule, the spin cycle on a single-tub machine is generally slower than the separate spinner in a twin-tub model (800 rpm, compared with about 1300 rpm, respectively). But in practice I’ve never had an issue with clothes drying too slowly (and the convenience of a fully automatic cycle shouldn’t be overlooked).

The inside of the Magic Chef portable washing machine, showing the machine full of laundry.

The Magic Chef, which is similar in size to many portable washers, doesn’t hold much. The drum is only 0.9 cubic feet, compared with about 4.5 cubic feet for a regular, full-size washer. I can fit a few shirts and a couple pairs of pants in it, along with some socks and underwear. When a cycle is finished, my clothes are always clean, but sometimes there’s a decent amount of lint stuck to them (especially sweatshirts). The machine can be very loud if it’s not on a completely level surface. I’ve found that putting some kind of padding underneath (a rug pad in my case) helps absorb most of those vibrations.

Also, the threaded hoses on pull-down faucets, like the one on my kitchen sink, aren’t strong enough to handle the water pressure from the washer and may eventually break. So I have to use the Magic Chef washer in my tiny bathroom, where there isn’t room for the machine to stay permanently. Unfortunately, that means I have to move the bulky, 44-pound machine and store it elsewhere when it’s not in use.

Check with your landlord

Portable washing machines can be a sore subject for many landlords (and neighbors). They can be very loud, and there is a potential for leaks. If you want to buy one for your apartment, be honest with your landlord or property manager about it.

When I moved into my building last year, my landlord wouldn’t allow me to get an automatic portable washer for the apartment I was in. But when I moved to a new apartment in the same building in January, I jumped at the chance to negotiate for one in my lease. My landlord and I agreed that I could get one, as long as I used it on a tile floor (in my bathroom or kitchen) and she got to approve the specific machine.

What about manual washing machines?

Before my landlord allowed me to buy the Magic Chef, I had purchased a manual (elbow-grease-powered) portable washing machine from Wonderwash.

It involves a very simple process: You load your clothes into the canister, add the right amount of water and detergent, and then crank the lever to rotate the drum and wash your clothes. Then you dump out the water, fill the canister again with clean water, and crank to rinse. If your landlord won’t allow you to have an electrically powered portable washer, or if you want something very compact (the whole machine is just 12 by 12 by 16 inches), a manual washing machine is a decent solution.

But because there’s no spin cycle, the clothes come out sopping wet and take forever to dry on the drying rack (even with some hand-wringing). Since you have to crank the lever for the entire cycle (around a minute or two, depending on the size of the load), it gets pretty tiring after a few loads. And because the drum can hold only a few shirts and a pair or two of pants (plus smaller items like socks or underwear), you’ll need to do several loads to get through a week’s worth of clothing for two people. I was constantly behind on laundry, always playing catch-up.

Never going back again

Before I bought this machine, doing laundry in my apartment meant using a hand-crank washing machine. Though it’s time-saving, it’s also very labor-intensive and inconvenient—nearly as unappealing as lugging my dirty clothes to the laundromat. Since I bought the portable machine, I do my laundry much more often (a couple of times per week, at least three loads at a time), and I have never been short on clean clothes.

On a deeper level, compared with when I used my hand-crank washer and just barely had enough clothes for the week, with my new machine I feel more like a functioning human. Being behind on chores can take a real toll, especially when everything in life feels so unstable. Just knowing that there are clean clothes in my closet is a blessing these days.

About your guide

Justin Redman is an associate staff writer covering sleep for Wirecutter. A poor sleeper for many years, he hopes to help others (and himself) reap the benefits of better, more comfortable sleep. He has previously been published in The Hill and The Credits, and he has blogged about the NBA for WizardsXTRA.

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