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How To Care For Your Clothes in Japan

Damage From Humidity

Humidity and room moisture are two of the biggest causes for clothing damage. If you store your clothing tightly packed in a closed closet or fabric storage box, you're putting your wardrobe at risk for mold and discoloration.

This can be an easy mistake to make for those of us who have never dealt with long periods of humidity or moisture in our apartments. If you’ve been blessed with a closet large enough to hang or store clothes, be careful that moisture doesn’t accumulate in the closed-off space. The excess moisture will leave your clothes smelly and musky. It can turn your white clothes a discolored yellow, or worse, become a home for Kabi. Kabi mold is common in closets and other closed-off spaces, especially in the summer months in Japan. My first summer in Japan, I didn’t notice the Kabi in the back corner spreading into my fabric storage bins (RIP winter wardrobe).

To prevent this:

  • Use products specifically designed to absorb moisture in closets. These containers are filled with silica beads that absorb excess moisture from the space, and they come in many lovely fragrances. One of the most popular items are the “Mizutori Zo-san” (水とりぞうさん) packs. You can find them in drugstores or have them delivered to you via Amazon Japan.

  • You can find clothing deodorizers that hang in the closet.

  • Leave your closet doors open frequently, and air out the space.

  • If you live in a particularly humid area and don’t have great air circulation in your apartment, invest in a dehumidifier.

  • Keep the floor of the closet somewhat clean and organized.

  • Use plastic storage bins for all fabrics (and papers).

  • Don’t store fabric or cardboard (boxes, books, bags, suitcases, clothing) directly on wood in your closet. Try to store your items in plastic bins when possible.

You won't have a clothes dryer

Unless you take your laundry to a public laundromat, you’re not going to be able to use a clothes dryer. Your apartment won’t come with one, there isn’t a place for one (no exhaust vents), and you won’t find many reasonably priced options in stores.

Like most people, you will need to hang your laundry to dry. You’ll see clothes hanging out to dry on every apartment balcony and in most large windows. But what if you don’t have a balcony or your window space isn’t doing the trick?

Clothes left inside to dry in moist apartments have a very distinct smell that you want to avoid. It’s musky, damp, and gives off basement vibes.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy laundry detergent that’s made specifically for indoor drying. These detergents use ingredients that prevent home smells from sticking to your cleaned clothes.

  • If you have one, use the dryer fan in your shower room. Some apartments are equipped with a special fan in the shower and bath room that is used specifically for clothes drying. It sucks the moisture out of the room and dries your clothes.

  • Invest in a dehumidifier. This is a reoccurring recommendation, especially if you’re in Japan long-term.

  • Avoid hanging wet laundry indoors on rainy days if possible.

  • Take advantage of any sunny space you can during daylight hours.

  • A regular rotating fan or space heater (be careful!) can help clothes dry faster. The goal is to not have clothes remain damp for a long period of time.

  • If you don’t have a rod inside or outside your room window, buy a clothes drying rack.

  • Similarly, buy a smaller rack to hang your undergarments.

Your washing machine is too small for large items

Apartment-sized washers aren’t great for washing oversized items, like heavy winter jackets. Chances are there is a laundry mat or laundry service nearby (if you’re in a city) that has machines that can accommodate your larger items. It’s quite common to see people lined up every spring outside laundry service businesses with their winter coats and duvets.

Most laundry services also offer dry cleaning, so that’s a plus for your delicate fabrics.

Prevent mold in your washing machine:

A washing machine is unfortunately a perfect breeding ground for mold, especially if you only run it a few times a month. No one wants a moldy washer, so use products to wash your washing machine! It’s very simple and will help keep your clothing clean.

Storage Woes

Depending on the age and size of your apartment, your storage space will vary. You may have a normal closet meant for hanging clothes, a futon closet (very deep), a narrow coat closet, or no closet at all.

Futon storage closet in a Japanese home
If you don't use a futon, the futon closet is great for hiding away your plastic storage bins.
  • For folded clothes, get plastic dressers. Most home centers carry a large variety of sizes and colors. The plastic helps keep moisture out, which is objective #1. If you have a deep futon closet but don’t actually use it to store a futon, you can place a few plastic dressers in them.

  • Throw some moisture-absorbing products in all of your plastic dresser drawers and plastic storage bins. These further help to prevent mold from growing all over your favorite items.

  • If you need to hang clothes but have limited floor space, consider tension rods. These rods are a lifesaver and come in a variety of lengths. They’re easy to install and don’t damage your walls. You can place them inside closets, or across the whole room.

  • If you have floor space, clothing racks are another good option if you have a lot of clothes to hang.

The mistake a lot of people make is trying to create that ideal *minimalist aesthetic* in their Japanese apartment without taking into consideration how their new environment will impact their clothes and other fabrics. It’s quite common in normal Japanese homes and apartments for there to be some level of organized clutter and open face storage. Despite those infamous Japanese decor inspo pics, that's not how most people live. It's function over form. It doesn't mean your home can't be cute, but you may need to adjust to the idea that clothes hanging in a room are a semi-permanent part of your decor.

Sure, it’s nice having a cozy, uncluttered, picture-perfect Japanese apartment to show off to friends back home - but not if it’s at the cost of smelling like a basement. And certainly not if it means having to throw out clothing that’s been discolored by mold.


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