Congratulations! You’ve got an apartment and you have a washing machine. But where’s the dryer? Oh, there is none, but we will get to that soon enough. Where’s the soap? You’ll have to buy that yourself. You’re in luck because today I’ll pass on what I’ve learned about buying Japanese laundry soap, fabric softener, and other laundry sundries. So here’s the quick’n’dirty version to help you get clean — and without hardly knowing any Japanese.
Laundry Detergent – 洗たく用洗剤
Laundry detergent is common and is sold in grocery stores and “konbini” marts, you might find the same brand for cheaper at bigger drug stores and even more so at discount stores like Don Quixote. If you want deeper discounts, shop online at Amazon.co.jp by keeping an eye out for as much as 20% off under “Today’s Deals” or on Amazon Pantry.
I suggest buying the liquid laundry detergent as opposed to the powder kind. The powder detergent will sometimes leave a soapy residue on clothing, especially when you pour it into the wrong soap receptacle in the washing machine. But if cash is tight then go for the low-cost powdered detergent. Like in the US, liquid detergent comes in bottles. What’s unique with Japan is that soap detergent refills come in bags with pour spouts. Powder detergent, of course, is found in cardboard boxes.
Some Japanese brands of laundry detergent come with additives, usually fragrance but also color-safe bleach and fabric softener. Usually you’ll be able to tell that there are additives by the diagrams on the package, but also because they are more expensive.
Look for the following kanji in the table below. They will be printed on the front of the product usually at the bottom. The same or similar kanji will be printed on the back near the bottom in a product description table next to 品名 or “product name”:
|Detergent for washing||洗たく用洗剤||せんたくようせんざい||Sentakuyō senzai|
|Synthetic detergent for washing||洗濯用合成洗剤||せんたくようごうせいせんざい||Sentakuyō gōsei senzai|
|Unscented detergent for washing||香りのない洗たく用洗剤||かおりのないせんたくようせんざい||Kaori no nai sentakuyō senzai|
|Unscented||香りのない||かおりのない||Kaori no nai|
|Scented or Fragrance||香り||かおり||Kaori|
Fighting the Funk
The most interesting detergent additive I’ve discovered is an anti-mold and anti-bacterial agent. This makes sense in Japan because many people do not have drying machines and must hang-dry clothing. During the rainy season, it is very common to dry clothes indoors. While some folk use laundry dehumidifiers to cut down on mold growth on clothing, but that might not be an option for you since they can cost around ¥15,000 ($148 USD) for a good one. If you notice a funky gym-sock smell on your clothing even after washing and drying look for the following kanji on detergent packaging:
|For room drying||部屋干し用||へやぼじよ||Heyaboshiyō|
|Room-drying detergent||部屋干し用 洗剤||へやぼようせんざい||Heyaboyōsenzai|
Fabric Softener – 柔軟剤
Line drying clothing is the norm in Japan and you may notice the stiff feeling in your clothes afterward. Using fabric softeners removes solves the crunchy clothing problem and makes ironing a tad bit easier. If you find your clothing is super crispy after drying *and * after using fabric softener, try using less laundry detergent. I guess this is why there seems to be an endless selection of fabric softeners available on the Japanese laundry isle.
Most fabric softeners are fragranced; they usually have flowers or bright colors on the bottle. They do make unscented softeners and usually come in an all-white packaging, but they are hard to differentiate from laundry detergent of the same fragrance-free kind.
Nearly all fabric softener comes as a liquid in a bottle, with refills in bags.
Here is some kanji to help you in your search:
|Fabric Softener||柔軟仕上げ剤||じゅうなんしあざい||Jūnan shiagezai|
|Fragrance-free softener||香りのない柔軟剤||かおのないじゅうなんざい||Kaori no nai Jūnanzai|
Bleach – 漂白剤
Most bleach in Japan is the color-safe kind, using hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach. Its kind of rare to find chlorine bleach outside of kitchen cleaning products. Some laundry detergent already comes with the whitening agent, so it’s not necessary to buy extra bleach unless you’re trying to get rid of stubborn stains.
Most hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach will come either powdered or liquid; the powder kind is cheaper. Look for the following kanji on the front of the product near the bottom.
|Bleach for clothing||衣料用漂白剤||いりょうようひょうはくざい||Iryōyō hyōhakuzai|
Starch Sprays & Wrinkle Removers
If you have an office job that requires a dress shirt, jacket, and slacks, chances are you’ll be ironing your clothing. There is no escaping the fact that line drying will cause wrinkles, but there are solutions to help you iron them out. Starch sprays help to smooth cloth and keep wrinkles away throughout the day. While wrinkle removers do just that: they help remove wrinkles making ironing easier. This is especially handy for fabrics made of cotton, cotton blends, rayon, and linen.
Here is what to look for when searching for ironing aids:
|Spray Starch||スプレーのり||すぷれーのり||Supurē nori|
|Starch Agent for Iron||アイロン用のり剤||あいろんようのりざい||Airon-yō nori-zai|
|Finishing agent for iron||アイロン用仕上げ剤||あいろんようざい||Airon-yō shiage-zai|
|Wrinkle remover for iron||アイロン用シワとり剤||あいろんようしわとりざい||Airon-yō shiwa tori-zai|
Cheat Sheet of Japanese Laundry Products
All this can be hard to remember so I’ve created a PDF cheat sheet of laundry products that you can download for printing or save to your mobile device or smartphone. So good luck and happy laundering!
Continue to How to do Laundry in Japan Part 2: The Washing Machine