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The Ultimate Guide


Adding a Clothes Washer and Dryer in an Apartment

Man doing laundry at home

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Apartment dwellers are often eager to add a clothes washer or washer/dryer combination to their living space. Communal laundry facilities in apartment buildings are inconvenient and often poorly maintained, and commercial neighborhood laundromats are increasingly hard to find and expensive to use. Especially in neighborhoods where real estate values have soared and gentrification is underway, many laundromats are being converted to multi-unit apartment buildings. The answer is to add a washing machine, and perhaps a clothes dryer, right in your apartment.

But getting a washer or washer/drying into your apartment isn't always an easy task. There are several considerations and questions to answer.

Legal Considerations

After your apartment application was approved, both you and the owner or the owner's agent signed an apartment lease agreement. Begin by carefully checking your written agreement, which may address the washing machine issue in one of three ways:

  • Expressly allowed. When the installation of a washer or combo is allowed in an apartment, it will be spelled out in exact terms, not implied. Rental agreements rarely include this as a standard language, and washing machine provisions will likely be found in the form of an addendum or clause that both the renter and the landlord/owner have agreed to.
  • Expressly not allowed. When washing machine installation is not allowed, again this restriction term will be clearly expressed (not implied) in the contract's language. A similar example is a familiar clause written into contracts that forbid water beds.
  • Silent. More common, though, is a lease agreement that has no literal mention of allowing or disallowing washers and dryers. The lease may, however, mention events that could be related to these appliances, such as restrictions against flooding, repairs, and alterations to the apartment.

What Kind of Washer to Buy

Assuming your lease gives you the legal right to add a washing machine to your apartment, there is the question of what type to buy. There are several options.

Portable Washing Machine

Portable washing machines are often the only option since they are designed to work around an apartment's space limitations.

A portable machine is smaller than a stationary machine, generally ranging from 1.6 to 2.6 cubic feet in capacity, though ultra-compact 1.0 cubic foot models and larger 3.0 cubic feet models can also be found. To put the capacity in real-world terms, a 1.5 cubic feet machine will roughly hold two pajama tops, one pajama bottom, two sweatshirts, one pair of jeans, two shirts, and one dress.

All portables are top-load machines, and they all have rollers, casters, or other means of moving the unit around inside the apartment. Special connectors allow you to attach the washer's supply line directly to a sink faucet, much the way portable dishwashers work. One downside is that you must hook up the machine each time you want to use it. Many owners keep the quick connector attached to the faucet at all times. But during use, the washing machine hose does need to be attached to the connector, and the discharge hose needs to be expelling water into the bathtub or sink. This renders both the sink and tub unusable for that period.

Conventional Stationary Machine

Technically, it should be possible to install a stationary machine in an apartment that does not have hook-ups. Although stationary machines discharge water most efficiently when attached to a dedicated drainage waste line, there is always the option of discharging into a laundry sink or bathtub. The power source is the conventional 120-volt three-pronged outlet found in most apartments, so you can plug them in anywhere.

Water supply is the main drawback of stationary washing machines. In the absence of true hot/cold water hook-ups, the only option is to connect the water supply lines to the supply valves located under a kitchen or bathroom sink. Because washing machine hoses are threaded differently than sink supply lines, this is generally not a practical option.

Bottom line? Conventional washing machines are usually not practical unless you have an agreeable owner/landlord who is willing to add the plumbing connections necessary. The best choice for apartment dwellers is almost always a portable washing machine.

How to Dry Your Clothing

Drying clothes is an easier task in an apartment since there are no plumbing hookups to worry about. There are two options here: a compact electric dryer running on conventional 120-volt power and line-drying by hanging up the clothes. Conventional stationary dryers are not an option, since standard electric models run on 240-volt power, while gas models require a natural gas hook-up. Neither hook-up is present in most apartments.

Compact Electric Dryer

Mini dryers in the range of 2.6 to 3.6 cubic feet are available, and they plug into conventional 120-volt outlets. These dryers do need to vent the hot, moist air, however, so they must be located near a window. You should not vent the dryer directly into your apartment since to do so adds a great deal of humidity to the air.

Some compact dryers have optional wall-mount brackets, allowing you to place the dryer above the washer and save valuable floor space. Dryers should always go over washers, as these appliances are lighter in weight than the washers.

On the downside, compact dryers draw less power than a stationary dryer and therefore require more drying time. Venting through a window means keeping the window partially open, which can a problem during cold winter months.

A special type of non-venting dryer is also available. Using heat pump technology, it recycles expelled hot air to use in the dryer again, rather than wasting it. However, non-venting dryers are quite expensive—three or four times the cost of venting dryers.

Line-Drying Indoors

Many apartment dwellers who have their washers avoid purchasing a dryer because of the venting problem, instead opting to line-dry their clothes indoors. Indoor line-drying is entirely feasible on a small scale and is made simpler when you begin with a portable drying rack. Because of drips, remember to place the rack on waterproof flooring (most bathroom floors and some kitchen floors will be waterproof). A modest amount of clothing, thoroughly spun out by the washer and strategically placed on a drying rack, can dry overnight in a warm apartment.