River Laundry in Cuenca, Ecuador

It turns out that a husband who does the laundry, it’s very romantic when you’re older. And it’s hard to believe when you’re younger. But it’s absolutely true. 


Machine or River

Do you wash your laundry in a machine or a nearby river? If I were a betting woman, I would bet you use a washing machine. I do, too, as do most people in Ecuador. Some, though, wash laundry the old fashioned way – in a river.


Washing laundry in Tomebamba River, Cuenca, Ecuador
Washing laundry in the Tomebamba River
Cuenca, Ecuador


Whiter Whites

Someone once observed that people who wash their laundry in the river seemed to have whiter whites than they themselves have. They assumed that the technologically advanced washing machine they used at home should produce better results than hand washing in a river but that was not the case.

I think the explanation is quite simple. One by one, pieces of laundry washed in the river get personal attention. Each is reviewed prior to being laid on the riverbank grass to dry. The washing machine laundry is all one big collective bunch of cloth, thrown around together in a metal cylinder. No wonder the whites are not as white.


Washing laundry in Tomebamba River, Cuenca, Ecuador
Washing laundry in the Tomebamba River
Cuenca, Ecuador


Cold, Fast Flowing Water

Lest anyone think this looks like a fun way to spend an afternoon, I should mention this water is freezing cold and flowing quickly. Some people are wearing thin rubber boots that keep their feet dry, others are barefoot. Even those with boots surely splash some water into them. Then they have cold, wet feet stuck inside cold, wet rubber boots while standing in fast moving water.

Their hands spend a lot of time in the cold water, too. They need to hold tight to the clothing item they are washing or the item will float downstream and out of sight before they even realize they let go.

Gender Equality

I am impressed that the washers in the river seem to be a fairly equal mix of men and women. Since doing the laundry this way seems old fashioned to me, I thought gender roles might be, also. If we apply Sheryl Sandberg’s quote, perhaps some husbands are hoping for a romantic evening with their wife later.

Does anyone in your area wash laundry in a river?


Click here to read more about Cuenca, Ecuador.

I am a US Expat in Ecuador. I grew up on a Minnesota farm, worked in IT in California's Silicon Valley, then moved to a coastal Ecuador fishing village. My goal is to share Ecuador with you, one snippet at a time. Topics include attractions, compassion, ecotourism, Ecuador products, everyday Ecuador, and flora and fauna. Please let me know what you would like to read more about!


    • Emily Bloomquist

      Those are such great memories. I remember seeing
      a wringer washer but it was not in use. I think it was my grandmother who had one and explained to me how it worked. Good observation about washers being good for the ecohealth too. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  • Eva A.

    In my area (North Morocco) some people wash in the rivers. Not in the city where I live, but in the country. Mostly, because they haven't washing machine. But there are also some people that have, and use the river for sashing the big carpets.

    • Emily Bloomquist

      I think that it is similar here – that many of those who have washing machines still bring large rugs to the river. Morocco would be such an interesting country to visit. I hope to get there one day. Thanks so much for visiting and sharing, Eva!

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Emily – we had an early washing machine after the war, and a separate wringer and an old bath that had 'blue bag': Quote:

    "The blueing process was used to whiten material made yellow from soap and age. After washing, a ‘blue bag’ was dipped in a clean tub of cold water. Each piece of clothing was turned inside out and plunged into the water, then rinsed. ‘Blue bags’ were also handy as a remedy for bee stings."

    I just remember the blue bags – as we called them I think .. the quote above is from an Australian site …

    But I'd hate to wash in a stream!!! So many still do though … not here in the UK … cheers Hilary

    • Emily Bloomquist

      I looked up blue bags and they sound like wonderful products. Turing whites white and removing bee sting pain. What a great, unlikely combination! Thank you for sharing your memories, Hilary! They taught me something new today 🙂

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