University Laundromats: Is It Moral To Touch Other People’s Clothes?

Colleges are the first place where many adolescents do their laundry. They are responsible for sorting colors, choosing the proper water temperature, using the right amount of detergent, and knowing what clothes don’t go in the dryer. Most universities have common laundromats, so residents must share washing machines and dryers. However, this becomes challenging when there are no appliances available. Students often get impatient and take other people’s clothes out of the machines. Is this moral?

For one thing, there is a difference between waiting for two minutes and waiting for two hours. Removing someone’s clothes immediately after the machines finish is just rude. A timer is not accurate if the machines added or removed time. If a student is preoccupied, it will likely take them a few minutes to return. Others will leave a note to ensure that their property is not touched, yet not everyone listens. Before ignoring a note, one should consider if they have something valuable being washed—a knitted sweater from their grandmother, a t-shirt signed by their favorite singer, the jeans their mom wore in the ’80s.

Removing clothes from the washing machine is not the equivalent of taking them out of the dryer. Once clothes are finished drying, they are clean. They can get wrinkly, but this can be undone when pressed-up in a closet or drawer. If wet clothes sit in the washer for too long or are left to air dry in a stinky laundry room, the reverse effect could make them smell.

For those who touch other student’s clothing, where do you put it? Do you throw it on the floor? Stack it on top of the dusty machines? Fold it neatly on a counter? Or put them in a dryer and turn it on? In the instance of the latter, a note should be left, so the student doesn’t panic over their missing belongings.

Sarah Katz, who wrote “Laundry Room Etiquette: Sharing Your Laundry Room” on, clarifies scenarios that may arise. She explains:

If you can tell for certain whose clothes are sitting there, and you know those neighbors well enough, it is fine to knock on their door and let them know you need the machine. [When wet clothes are left in the washer] there is always a chance that they have washed something that they don’t want to go into the dryer. You should wait at least 15-20 minutes after the cycle is done before removing someone else’s clothes from the dryer to put yours in. However, this doesn’t mean your own clothes should sit there occupying the washer. There may be someone else looking to use it.

Touching someone’s laundry out will annoy them, but in rare cases, they might be understanding if they forgot their load. Despite this, it is unethical to touch other’s belongings, especially that of an anonymous stranger. By tossing the apparel randomly, it can get dirty and will need to be rewashed. This backfires if there usually aren’t enough machines. Even worse, clothing that is pushed aside has the potential to be stolen, either accidentally or intentionally.

Despite the negatives, there are several counter-arguments. College students are busy and don’t have time to wait for laundry. One can claim that “fair game” is a reasonable way to get even. Harsh weather defers one from using another residence hall or laundromat. What if there aren’t any machines available elsewhere? At some universities, appliances are underbudgeted. Most machines display how much time remains. It’s also not courteous to leave your laundry, and setting a timer isn’t a complicated task.

If you put someone’s clothes in the dryer, another idea is to use the delicate setting; in case there is an item that shouldn’t be exposed to extensive heat. Removing clothes halfway through a cycle is disrespectful. All of these circumstances vary when the washers or dryers require money or a card swipe to operate. No matter the situation, everyone has their own beliefs on what is ethical and what is not.