Neighbors’ Laundry Left in the Machine…Again. Now What?

April 19, 2012 | By | Comments (12)

This week’s etiquette question comes from a reader named Kathleyn, who lives in a small apartment building where neighbors often forget to retrieve clothes from the shared, coin-op laundry machine in the basement.

“Sometimes I wait hours, even days, for the machine to be free,” Kathleyn writes. “Is it OK,to take their clothes out, after a certain amount of time has passed?”

Yes, it is OK to take out their clothes, Kathleyn. And you don’t have to wait hours. Granting a half hour’s grace period is generous enough. After that, the rule that governs shared laundry machines—whether they’re in an apartment building, a college dorm or the laundromat down the street—is: When the cycle ends, it’s somebody else’s turn.

The coins you insert “buy” the use of a washer or dryer for a specified period of time. If you need more time, put in more money. Otherwise, remove your clothes. It’s rude to abandon a load in the machine, making your laundry someone else’s problem.

That said, your neighbors probably don’t intentionally leave their clothes moldering in there for days, or even for hours. My guess is they forgot the laundry, for some reason—work stress, kids’ demands, a phone call, whatever. Life intrudes.

Keep in mind that these are your neighbors, and you are probably going to be seeing them in the elevator if it’s a small building. So as you remove their clothes from the machine, ask yourself: If it were me who forgot my laundry, how would I want someone else to treat my clothes?

If removing wet clothes from a washer, transfer them to the dryer. If you want to be extra neighborly, throw in a few quarters and dry the load. Chances are, when your neighbors return, they will be mortified enough to have learned a lesson (and to pay you back). This also will solve the problem of what to do with their wet clothes if they fail to return before you need the dryer.

If the neighbors left a laundry basket behind, you can put their dry clothes in it. If not, put the pile as neatly as possible on top of the machine — don’t let a stray sock fall to the floor. And if you know the identity of the people who left the laundry, it would be a neighborly gesture, on your way back to your apartment, to knock on their door and say, “Just wanted to let you know — your clothes are done. I would have brought them up, but I wasn’t sure you were home.”

What did you do the last time you encountered someone else’s clothes, abandoned in a shared machine?

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