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今日ふくを洗う。 今日ふくを洗濯する。

昨日食器を洗った。 昨日食器を洗濯した。

I know that 洗濯する means: washing or laundering (clothes). And 洗う just means washing. When I'm talking about washing in general can I use the two words interchangeably? When do I have to use one word as opposed to the other?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

(I moved my old comment to this answer with more detail.)

洗う is a verb and 洗濯 is a noun. I assume that you want to compare 洗う and 洗濯する, which are both verbs.

When you are talking about washing in general, you cannot use 洗濯する because 洗濯する is only for washing clothes (as you wrote by yourself!). For example, it is incorrect to say 食器を洗濯する.

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Well I wrote: washing OR laundering clothes. I thought 洗濯 and 洗濯する could be used in both ways, since that's how the dictionaries define 洗濯. Here's an example. And yes, I did mean 洗濯する. Thank you. –  dotnetN00b Dec 30 '12 at 2:39
    
@dotnetN00b: (1) Ah, I see. I had read “washing or laundering clothes” as “[washing or laundering] clothes,” which is why I wrote “as you wrote by yourself”. (2) You might want to buy some Japanese-English dictionary for learners of Japanese. An online dictionary which defines 洗濯 as just “washing, laundry” is obviously insufficient to learn Japanese. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 30 '12 at 3:36
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Yes, but you have more information about the word. It says 洗濯 Noun, Suru verb, Common word. The sentences you need to enter in Japanese, either per copy-and-paste or per Japanese IME. I couldn't paste a Unicode URL as link, but if you copy-and-paste the following link, you should be able to see the example sentences: http://jisho.org/sentences?jap=洗濯&eng= –  Earthliŋ Dec 30 '12 at 12:45
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@dotnebN00b: I am not sure about American English but in Britain when we wash the dishes we "do the washing-up" and when washing clothes we "do the washing". If you look up "washing-up" (or "dish-washing") in the dictionary you refer us to (EUdict) then you will get "saraarai". Possibly a whole new "spin" on the phrase "two countries divided by a common language"? (Sorry, I could not resist the pun.) –  Tim Dec 30 '12 at 15:55
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My dictionary says: ディッシュウオッシャー〖dishwasher〗 自動食器洗い機 but I think people will understand ;) –  Tim Jan 3 '13 at 7:09
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