Laundry

Is a portable washing machine right for you?

The secret to the best laundry routine for apartment living

Pros and cons of portable washing machines Credit: Getty Image / PeopleImages

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If you live in an apartment, your options for laundry can be pretty limited. For starters, it's likely that there's no way your place has the hookups (or space) necessary to install your own full-size washer or dryer. If you do have a laundromat in your area, it's likely just far enough away to be a huge inconvenience.

Some apartment complexes do have their own on-site laundry facilities, but these can be even more expensive than a laundromat and are sometimes of such low quality it's not a particularly viable option. So, what's a savvy apartment-dweller to do come laundry day?

While the world of washers may seem vast and confusing if you're not immersed in it, in reality a lot of your choices are made for you before you even start researching. Let's go over some of the pros and cons of portable washing machines to see if they're right for you. Chances are, it'll be a pretty clear choice.

What is a portable washing machine?

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Credit: Panda

Portable washers use an adapter to connect to just about any sink faucet. You'll also need to remember to put the drainage hose in the sink, too. Please, please remember to do this.

For starters, let's go over some of the basics of portable washers, for those who haven't used one before.

The majority of portable washers a pretty similar. They're typically much smaller than full-size units and almost always have a top-load design. Portable washers typically have two hoses, one that clips onto your sink's faucet via an included adapter and one that sits in your sink to allow wastewater to drain out. That's it!

The challenges of portable washers

Panda-PAN50SWR1-drum
Credit: Reviewed / Kyle Hamilton

Most portable washers have a capacity under 2 cu. ft., which is pretty small—they're not ideal for larger families.

Because so many of the cons of portable washers can be outright disqualifying, it makes the most sense to start here.

Your landlord forbids it—and for good reason

Many landlords won't allow you to have a portable washer in your unit. This isn't necessarily a baseless rule, either, I can confidently assert from experience.

If you forget to put your drainage hose in the sink, or it hypothetically manages to jettison itself out of there, your machine is just going to spray sudsy wastewater all over your floor.

If you don't catch it right away, this can cause some significant damage to your stuff, to the property, and maybe to your downstairs neighbor's place, as well. Nobody likes it when water suddenly starts streaming down from your ceiling—but it can feel even worse when you know you're responsible for that happening to someone else.

When a cycle is running, your sink is out of commission

This is especially unfortunate if you're sharing your space with other people, because chances are you're all already jockeying for space at the sink.

Wash cycles typically take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. A smaller capacity means more frequent wash cycles. With enough people, that sink will become a dedicated laundry facility, which is problematic as you likely don't have that many sinks in your apartment.

Portable washers don't have the cleaning power of a full-size unit

While a portable washer may be the only viable laundry lifeline for most, that doesn't mean it's really replacing an installation unit.

While most portable washers we've tested do an ok job at routine cleaning, it means any stubborn stains you get will likely need some creative solutions—or else they'll be there for good.

Your apartment might not have space for one

One of the perennial problems of apartment life is maximizing your space efficiency. Most of us don't have a lot of room to work with, so introducing a medium-sized appliance into the mix isn't always feasible.

Most portable washers come on casters, which makes them a bit easier to roll into a nearby closet when not in use, but that requires you to have a closet that's not already packed to the gills.

The pros of portable washers

They might be the only option

Laundromat
Credit: Getty Images / martin-dm

Laundromats can be a good option if you live nearby and they're incredibly nice like the one in this photo. If they're kind of a hike or not particularly great, however, a portable washer is a good alternative.

This is the main reason why anyone gets a portable washer. In the majority of cases, if you can get a full-size washer, it's by far the better way to go.

If you do have other laundry options, they might also be better than a portable washer. I've used some pretty nice in-complex laundry facilities. While they were more expensive over time, they didn't require me to Tetris-fit an appliance into an already-cramped apartment, which was worth its weight in quarters.

If you don't have a robust laundry facility, though, or you tend to keep odd hours that don't coincide with laundry room hours, a portable washer is probably your only alternative.

They don't require you to lug your laundry outside

Whether it's due to personal preference or physical limitations, hauling a heavy bag of laundry to the nearest facility may not be an option. Having a portable washer in your home avoids that problem entirely, saving your back and maintaining your privacy. Plus, the next time a sock does go missing, you won't start side-eying your neighbors.

So, is a portable washer right for you?

If you have other options, probably not. They're kind of expensive, they occupy a sink, and you run the risk of flooding the room if you're not being careful.

The thing is, a portable washer isn't really competing with full-size washers as a viable alternative: Its purpose is to fill in the gaps where a full-size washer wouldn't work. (There are some high-end exceptions that maybe are trying to compete, but those are definitely outliers.)

In certain situations, like when there's a nearby laundry facility you can use, a portable washer may be more convenient and can even save you money in the long run. Outside of that scenario, however, a portable washer is likely just the best option for a suboptimal situation. They get the job done well enough, and sometimes that's as good as it gets.

Personally, I have a Panda PAN50SWR1, and I love it. Sure, any stains I get will pretty much relegate those clothes to yard work duty, but it beats walking 20 minutes to the nearest laundromat with everything stuffed into a roller suitcase. Nothing will make you buy a portable washer faster than rolling your laundry home in a sudden rainstorm, only to have a passing car splash you and your luggage with street water.

Just make sure to weigh down the drainage hose. Please. Let my ruined floors save yours from a similar fate.

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