Century-old Launderette Coming to the End of the Road

Currently manned by the fourth generation of the family, Vathi, Jeyabalan, and Susileea, who are in their early 70s, the century-old launderette is the longest-standing wash-house in Ipoh.

The launderette sits quietly at the back of Wesley Methodist School in the township of Silibin. Unfortunately, Vathi said the life of the historic ‘Dhoby Wallas’ (traditional ‘Washermen’) may be coming to an end, as they are unable to find a successor to inherit the trade.

Despite the burgeoning of modern self-service laundromats, Vathi told Ipoh Echo that her place still sees many repeat visitors.

With its reputation of being a pioneer launderette, this traditional Dhoby Walla is the top pick for locals when it comes to cleaning sarees or other Indian costumes.

The types of garments that they wash are sarees, dhoti/vesthi (a type of sarong or lower garment worn by men), kurta (collarless shirt), Punjabi suits and curtains.

As silk items cannot be machine washed, Vathi said that if they are not taken care of properly, the delicate fabrics would wear off very quickly. Thus, hand washing them can prolong their lifespans.

The clothes take less than half a day to wash and dry. And Vathi shared how she works her magic, where she would first soak them in water mixed with detergent for five minutes before preparing them for dry cleaning.

Fabrics being dried in the sun

If she spots any stains, she would give them a gentle scrub and then place the clothes into the water with a dry cleaning agent dissolved into it. Lastly, after a minute or two, the clothes would be left to dry under the sun.

The cleaning service is offered at an affordable price of RM20 per piece and drying would cost about RM10 depending on the material of the garment.

The Dhoby cannot take any more orders due to the lack of manpower. But if you want to have a chat or witness first-hand how the cleaning process works, you can drop by Silibin Traditional Wallas Dhoby at Jalan Silibin, 30100, Ipoh.

Thanks to Sundralingam for his help on bridging the language barrier!

Anyone interested to follow his heritage walk can make an appointment via 012-5057654.

by Gisele Soo

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