Century-old traditional dhobi shop in Ipoh faces demise with no one to take over the business

·2-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

IPOH, Aug 10 — For nearly a century, septuagenarian K. Elangovathi’s family has been operating a traditional dhobi (laundromat) in Silibin.

The business started out in India before the family moved to Ipoh, and Elangovathi is the fourth generation to operate it.

But with age catching up, the 73-year-old wonders how long she can continue to run the operations which she took over from her husband, who passed away last year.

Elangovathi said none of her four children want to take over the business, which is located near the Wesley Methodist School Ipoh (International).

Assisted by her sister-in-law and a male worker, Elangovathi now takes things one day at a time.

“During the good old days, we could get at least 20 kilogrammes of laundry daily but now we are lucky if we can get five or six pieces of clothing,” she told Malay Mail with the assistance of heritage tour guide S. Sundralingam, who acted as the interpreter.

Despite that, Elangovathi still insists on operating the business six days a week starting at 9am before ending for the day at 5pm.

The types of garments that they wash are sarees, dhoti/vesthi, kurta, Punjabi suits and curtains.

Elangovathi said when customers sends their clothing to her, she would first soak it in water that has been mixed with detergent.

After a while, they wash the garments.

Susileea handwashes the items brought in to the family's launderette. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Susileea handwashes the items brought in to the family's launderette. — Picture by Farhan Najib

Susileea handwashes the items brought in to the family's launderette. — Picture by Farhan Najib

If there are stains, Elangovathi said they would give it a gentle scrub before placing the clothes in the water with a cleaning agent to dissolve it.

When this process is done, the clothes would then be left under the sun to dry.

“If weather permits, we need two days to complete an order,” added Elangovathi.

Once the garments are dry, Elangovathi irons them before returning them to the customers the next day.

For their services, Elangovathi charges between RM10 and RM20 for each piece of garment.

She said the charge largely depends on the quality of the garments.

“I charge RM20 per piece for materials such as wedding sari,” she added.

Sundralingam described Elangovathi and her trade as a living heritage.

K. Elangovathi, 73, is the fourth generation running this launderette in Ipoh. — Picture by Farhan Najib
K. Elangovathi, 73, is the fourth generation running this launderette in Ipoh. — Picture by Farhan Najib

K. Elangovathi, 73, is the fourth generation running this launderette in Ipoh. — Picture by Farhan Najib

“Sadly as more self-service laundromats start to mushroom, Elangovathi’s services will not be required.”

He added the advantage of using the services of traditional laundrette’s such as Elangovathi’s was they are dedicated and trustworthy.

“They will ensure your garments are well taken care of compared to machine-washed clothing that tend to get destroyed after several washings.”