Dhobi shop

Singapore Infopedia

by Koh, Lay Tin


Chinese laundry shops are colloquially termed dhobi shops, after the Indian dhobi man who operated a similar business in an Indian neighbourhood. The sign on the door is usually in Chinese, coupled with English the words "washing and dry-cleaning". The shops were run by Shanghainese and Cantonese who had migrated from China with little education but with a skill to offer. In the old days, long before the electric iron and washing machine were in common use, dhobi shops were very much relied upon for their services particularly by those in the upper and middle income bracket.

The laundry men's tools included a hot-plate iron which weighed about 5 kg compared to the ½ kilogram used today. It was heated over a tray of hot charcoal. The iron had to be dipped in a dish of cold water to get rid of the excess surface heat so as not to scorch the fabric. In the 1950s, the charcoal iron incorporated a charcoal chamber which was fed with charcoal to produce heat, replacing the hot iron plate. Although lighter to handle, sparks and ashes occasionally escaped, causing stains and damage to the clothes. For S$5 per person, per family, per month, the laundry man would collect soiled linen and return them fully laundered. Now, there is a charge for each item. The laundry man usually worked a nine-hour day with Sunday being a rest day. 

Andrea Craig

Days of the dhobi. (1980). Goodwood Journal, 3rd Qtr., 5, 7, 35.
(Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ) 

The information in this article is valid as at 1998 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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