Life at India’s Largest Laundry

If you send your clothes out to be washed in Mumbai, India, chances are good that they’ll end up here at Dhobi Ghat. But you won’t find any machines here. Close to 200 dhobis (traditional Indian laundrymen) wash clothes by hand in row upon row of concrete wash pens called ghats.

The clothes are soaked in sudsy water, thrashed on flogging stones, then tossed into huge vats of boiling starch and hung out to dry. Next they are ironed and piled into neat bundles. The work is a hereditary occupation passed from father to son, and dhobi families live their whole lives here alongside the ghats.

Photos by Adeel Halim

A dhobhi trashes clothes on the flogging stone fitted inside the wash pen.
A dhobhi trashes clothes on the flogging stone fitted inside the wash pen.
A man is seen through smoke caused by burning of woods used to boil vat of caustic soda.
A man is seen through smoke caused by burning of woods used to boil vat of caustic soda.
A boy splashes water on a boy having bath. A boy splashes water on another boy bathing in a wash pen.
A boy splashes water on a boy having bath. A boy splashes water on another boy bathing in a wash pen.
A man stands on a tumbler filled with clothes for washing. A dhobi immerses clothes in a vat filled with boiling caustic soda.
A man stands on a tumbler filled with clothes for washing. A dhobi immerses clothes in a vat filled with boiling caustic soda.
A man shows his brush and soap that he uses to wash clothes.
A man shows his brush and soap that he uses to wash clothes.
A dhobi throws a garment into a house while washing clothes.
A dhobi throws a garment into a house while washing clothes.
A dhobhi washes clothes in the traditional manner, by beating them vigorously on a 'flogging stone'.
A dhobhi washes clothes in the traditional manner, by beating them vigorously on a ‘flogging stone’.
A laundry man takes a bath in soap water. A dhobi bathes inside a wash pen filled with soap water.
A laundry man takes a bath in soap water. A dhobi bathes inside a wash pen filled with soap water.
Men wash clothes.
Men wash clothes.
An old dhobi prepares to hang clothes for drying on ropes in the open.
An old dhobi prepares to hang clothes for drying on ropes in the open.
A boy bathes in between wash pens from a water pipe.
A boy bathes in between wash pens from a water pipe.
Dhobis sleep on a pile of bundled clothes.
Dhobis sleep on a pile of bundled clothes.
Men iron clothes. Dhobis press clothes using heavy wood-burning irons.
Men iron clothes. Dhobis press clothes using heavy wood-burning irons.

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