Sweden: Laundry rooms may be communal, but they're not all neighborly

Communal laundry rooms in Sweden stir strong emotions. In Stockholm in 2008, more than 70 cases of laundry-related threats and beatings were reported to police.

Jessika Wallin/Courtesy of Nordiska Museet
‘The Laundry Room’ exhibit at Stockholm’s cultural history museum features angry notes from launderers.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

A washing machine is not the first place you’d expect to find a threatening note. But in Sweden, where communal laundry rooms are standard in apartment blocks, laundry stirs strong emotions. 

Communal laundries were introduced in the 1930s as part of a project to raise living standards. By the 1950s, more than 80 percent of apartment blocks in Sweden had shared washing machines and dryers, as well as a strict set of rules on booking times and cleaning duties. It was perhaps inevitable that laundry rooms became battle zones. 

In Stockholm in 2008, more than 70 cases of laundry-related threats and beatings were reported to police. Much more common are the angry, threatening, and insulting notes some people leave about timekeeping, tidiness, and other infractions.

”Angry notes say something about the Swedish way of handling conflict,” explains Amanda Creutzer, curator of “The Laundry Room” exhibit at Stockholm’s cultural history museum. 

”People tend to avoid confrontation and hide behind anonymity. But they often go way over the top,” she adds, pointing out a note threatening “consequences” for whoever fails to respect booking times and featuring a sketch of a flying karate kick to someone’s head.

Eleonore Lund, a professional mediator, says the problem is territorial. People tend to view the laundry room as an extension of their apartment and resent any incursions or mess. Fear also plays a role. “Laundry rooms are usually located in the most remote part of the building, in a basement, with long corridors, heavy doors, and no windows. You don’t have any cellphone coverage, and no one can hear you scream,” she says. 

Some developers are responding by building laundries on ground floors with lots of windows and computerized booking systems.

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