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No, I haven’t moved into a doll house. Nope, I’m referring to the “washer” that came with my apartment. OK, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say it’s a toy, but it sure looks like one. Completely made of blue, gray, and white plastic, it’s about 15” deep, by 27” wide, with two tubs, and about 30” high. Rated for only 5 kilograms (11lbs) of dirty laundry, it is, as the say here, “chiquito.”

When Rafael showed me the apartment, I scoffed at it. I’d never seen such a thing, and doubted it could even wash clothes. “I need a real washing machine,” I said to him. Or something to that effect. And he agreed, but noted it might take some time. Surprise, surprise. Rafael is a lovely guy, but he’s not exactly the world’s greatest landlord.

Initially I refused to even try it. So I brought my first load of laundry to a place on Calle Bajío which I had used in the past. That was a disaster. Truly. The laundry came back smelling really nasty, worse than when I had dropped it off. I suspected that due to Covid, the owner was financially pinched and was skimping on, or perhaps entirely omitting, laundry detergent. Dirty laundry in a dirty machine without detergent seemed like the only, and very-disgusting answer. Well, I wasn’t going back there. The other place nearby is run by a surly woman who’s attitude when you show up seems to be, “Why in God’s name are you talking to me?” Though it’s plainly obvious what her business is, I once had the temerity to say to her, “You do do laundry here, right?” That didn’t exactly improve matters.

So I was forced to use the machine I had. As it turns out, it’s a manual washer, not the automatic washer that we’re almost universally used to in the USA. In fact, so universal is the automatic washer, that no one even knows what “manual washer” means. So let me help you. “Manual washer” means the control system is you, the user.

So what exactly does this entail? Well, the machine agitates in one tub, and spins in another. The only vaguely “automatic” feature is a timer for each. That’s it. I have to do the rest of the work. ALL of it. To fill the wash tank, I have to open a faucet on the wall, and then watch until the water gets to an appropriate level, and then turn off the valve. Yup. My toilet fills more automatically. In my case, since I don’t want to wash in ice-cold water, I fill a bucket in the sink, then dump it into the wash tub. After that I turn a dial which starts a small, flat agitator with tiny, 1” high paddles. Initially I didn’t think this agitator would do anything at all, besides swish the water gently. Boy, was I wrong!

It does a great job of tying all my clothing into Gordian knots. In fact, it ties the clothing into such tight knots that I don’t like to let it run for more than a couple of minutes before I reach a hand in (with the machine stopped) and untangle things before resuming. I have found that the gentle cycle is a bit better than the regular setting, but it still threatens to pull off shirt sleeves, dismember pants, and God knows what else.

Once the wash has been agitated for sufficient time, I then have to flip a knob so that the water drains. After that, I have to transfer the dripping laundry to the other tub, which is a separate spin “cycle.” And because it’s only about 10” in diameter, it’s impossible to balance on the first try. So usually it’ll spin for about 20 seconds, bang vigorously against the side, then I have to stop it, try to remember which side was the heavy one, and then rearrange the laundry. After that it will usually spin OK.

And then it’s time to transfer the damp clothes back to the wash tub, and start all over for the rinse “cycle.” Don’t forget to flip the drain knob back to “ligero,” or otherwise you’ll be draining the water you’re trying to fill. Because of the tiny capacity of this machine and the amount of work involved, I usually end up doing laundry a couple of times per week. Otherwise I’d literally end up having an entire “laundry day.”

It could be worse, though. At least I’m not beating my clothes against a rock in a creek somewhere, right?

What’s your laundry horror story?