Can house-elves do laundry without being freed?

‘Why d’you wear that thing, Dobby?’ [Harry] asked curiously.

‘This, sir?’ said Dobby, plucking at the pillowcase. ‘’Tis a mark of the house-elf’s enslavement, sir. Dobby can only be freed if his masters present him with clothes, sir. The family is careful not to pass Dobby even a sock, sir, for then he would be free to leave their house for ever.’

Chamber of Secrets - page 133 - Bloomsbury - chapter 10, The Rogue Bludger


‘Winky is still drinking lots, sir,’ [Dobby] said sadly, his enormous round green eyes, large as tennis balls, downcast. ‘She still does not care for clothes, Harry Potter. Nor do the other house-elves. None of them will clean Gryffindor Tower any more, not with the hats and socks hidden everywhere, they finds them insulting, sir. Dobby does it all himself, sir, but Dobby does not mind, sir, for he always hopes to meet Harry Potter and tonight, sir, he has got his wish!’

Order of the Phoenix - page 342 - Bloomsbury - chapter 18, Dumbledore's Army

Can house-elves do laundry, or would that constitute being allowed access to, thereby given by proxy, clothes? If a House-elf does laundry, will he or she be freed?

★ I'm looking for an answer based in canon (the Harry Potter novels, the three supplemental books, interviews with J.K. Rowling or Pottermore) and do not prefer an answer from the HP Wikia or the Wikipedia.

  • 1
    I suspect that your second quote answers the question.
    – Blackwood
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 18:48
  • I’m glad I’m not the only one who recognizes the Wikia as not as reliable as it bills itself.
    – Daniel H
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 23:25

9 Answers 9


I think Dobby is being careful with his words:

pre·sent2    [v. pri-zent; n. prez-uhnt] Show IPA verb (used with object)
  1. to furnish or endow with a gift or the like, especially by formal act: to present someone with a gold watch.
  2. to bring, offer, or give, often in a formal or ceremonious way: to present one's card.
  3. afford or furnish (an opportunity, possibility, etc.).
  4. to hand over or submit, as a bill or a check, for payment: The waiter presented our bill for lunch.
  5. to introduce (a person) to another, especially in a formal manner: Mrs. Smith, may I present Mr. Jones?
    From Dictionary.com

The first three meanings seem most relevant. Note, that there's no need for ceremony though it is common when presenting.

Thus, leaving out clothes for the house elves, implies the act of giving over the ownership of the clothes. Throwing a sock to dobby likewise. Commanding a house elf to iron doesn't require them to own the sock or other clothing item. I'd say it would be slightly more nebulous if you asked them to look after something for you.

There is also the likelihood that Dobby is just playing fast and loose with the rules. Other house elves seem far less keen on being free than he does, I think he may be just looking for any old excuse.

Of course I have no explicit canon to back up my judgement, but I think it's quite implicit.

  • 11
    I do like the theory that Dobby's twisting the rules a bit. He clearly doesn't want to work for the Malfoys since he jumps at the first opportunity for freedom (catching a sock that your master threw in your general direction without even knowing you were there can hardly be called "being presented with an item of clothing"). Although there is the bit about "being free to leave... forever". This, of course, does not imply that a house elf freed in this manner is forced to leave.
    – Steam
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 15:21
  • 3
    This theory is really a poor one. If that were the case then Dobby should never have been freed as there was no INTENT by Lucius to present him clothing and instead handed him a book that just happened to have a sock in it. The sock never touched his hand and could have been considered to just be "laying there" inside of the book much as clothing could lay inside a laundry basket. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 0:04
  • 4
    @RoboStalin Ah, but it was Lucius' intent to gift Dobby the book. He just didn't know there was a sock in it. He gifted Dobby a book containing a sock, and Dobby was freed. Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 5:50
  • 2
    @Pureferret Then why do all the other Hogwarts house-elves avoid the Gryffindor common room for fear of happening upon one of Hermione’s hats in their fifth year? Clearly, Hermione’s intention is to gift them clothes and free them; but that would not be the elves’ intention, so if it were their intention that mattered, they should be able to clear off the hats without being freed. Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 20:42
  • 7
    @JanusBahsJacquet: They avoid the Gryffindor common room because they find Hermione's intent insulting, not because they are afraid of anything.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 17:20

In chapter 3 of Chamber of Secrets, when Harry is talking about house-elves, we get this dialogue:

"I don't know whether the Malfoys own a house-elf..." said Harry.

"Well, whoever owns him will be an old wizarding family, and they'll be rich," said Fred.

"Yeah, Mum's always wishing we had a house-elf to do the ironing," said George. "But all we've got is a lousy old ghoul in the attic and gnomes all over the garden. House-elves come with big old manors and castles and places like that; you wouldn't catch one in our house..."

I suppose it's possible that Molly only wants the house-elf to iron tablecloths and the like. However, I think it's much more natural to read this as evidence that there's some protocol which allows house-elves to deal with clothing, even if it doesn't give any indication of what that protocol might be.


Yes. House-elves can do laundry for their masters without getting freed.

This is explicitly stated in Deathly Hallows (chapter 12):

“Nothing in the room, however, was more dramatically different than the house-elf who now came hurrying toward Harry, dressed in a snowy-white towel, his ear hair as clean and fluffy as cotton wool, Regulus’s locket bouncing on his thin chest. “Shoes off, if you please, Master Harry, and hands washed before dinner,”croaked Kreacher, seizing the Invisibility Cloak and slouching off to hang it on a hook on the wall, beside a number of old-fashioned robes that had been freshly laundered.”

So, we clearly see house-elves can do laundry.

Thus it seems to me that

“[House-elves] can only be freed if [their] masters present him with clothes…” (Chamber of Secrets chapter 2)

Meaning the clothes must be presented to the house-elf.

What does ‘presented’ mean?

From the books (how Dobby was freed, and with Hermione’s hats) it seems that presenting isn’t an intentioned ceremony, rather merely being that the witch or wizard must relinquish ownership of the item and the house-elf must be the one to take possession. If however, the witch or wizard still remains the owner of the article of clothing, there is no problem giving it to the house-elf.

Thus, giving the house-elf clothing to launder would be okay, but giving him clothing to dispose would not, because the house-elf would take possession of it (if it so desired) and be freed.

  • 4
    Great catch with that first quote! Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:55

House-elf rules are full of loopholes. Sirius tells Kreacher to 'get out'(meaning from the room), and he leaves the house entirely to consort with Bellatrix.

In addition, though Hermione is not directly presenting the woolly hats she knits to the house-elves, she leaves them hanging round Gryffindor tower in TOotP trying to liberate as many elves as possible. Evidently this counts, since the only elf who dares to touch them is Dobby.

  • 2
    She could be leaving them with notes saying they are a gift ?
    – JamesD
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 9:08
  • 2
    They were merely insulted by Hermione's efforts. Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 11:32

Not really a question based on canon so much as every day behavior, but...

Perhaps they just don't give him the clothes to do the laundry? I know that in my home, my wife and I have a communal hamper. When it's laundry day, whoever has the time does the laundry—without it being given/presented/et cetera.

This would enable him to carry out his requisite tasks without breaking the rules... or his bondage.


Dobby says that wearing rags is the sign of a house elves enslavement, and that he only way to free a house elf would be to give them proper clothes. now, taking a look at when Winky was freed, you see that she was given a dress that fit her perfectly. so to free a house elf you must present them with clothes that they can wear, and specify the clothes are for freeing.remember, house elves generally don't want to be freed, so they'll take a load of dirty robes as a chore, not a sign of freedom. plus, nearly headless nick said once that that mark of a good house elf is not knowing that they're there, so a house elf won't wait for its master to give it the laundry to clean, but would more likely take it upon itself to clean the robes when they get dirty. also, for those who will be like "but this didn't happen with Dobby!": Dobby wanted to be free. the rules and facts that I've just set out are for the majority of house elves who DON'T want to be free.

  • My problem: 'and specify the clothes are for freeing.' isn't at all how it happened with Dobby. Your argument against that doesn't really hold; the rules are the rules: it isn't about whether they want to be free or not. If that were true then Dobby would have been freed long before that, wouldn't he? The idea that the house elves might do the laundry on their own accord without request is certainly plausible though because in that case they aren't physically given the clothing. Otoh maybe if the owner says I am not giving these to you but you're to hold them still, it would be work?
    – Pryftan
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 0:04

I agree with AncientSwordRage. I think if the article of clothing was given (in any capacity) to the house elf as to pass ownership, then the house-elf is freed. Ex: Harry gave Lucius the sock, who threw it (not wanting it to be in his possession anymore)to Dobby. Harry/Lucius wasn't expecting Dobby to wash the sock and give it back. Hermione creates all the knitted garments for the house elves in the intent for it to free the elves so they may keep the garments.


Remember that the house-elf who has to do the laundry is likely the same house-elf who as to pick up the dirty clothes off of the floor or fetch them from the hamper, so he is not being given clothes, but is being told to go get them. The key passages state that breaking the magic requires the clothes to be presented by the master.

It's likely that a house-elf who is well-treated can, in fact, be handed an article of clothing, with instructions to launder it, and it will not see this as being given clothes, but as simply another order from the Master. The elf might actually be free, but in continuing to serve restores the binding magic.

On the other hand, a house-elf that has been mistreated as Dobby, and who has not yet acquired the Winky-level case of Stockholm Syndrome, will take any article of clothing flung in his/her general direction as an excuse to skedaddle.


Hats and socks are hidden because they are somewhat one size fits all. So a house elf that happened across them could wear them and be free. Human sized clothing won't otherwise fit them and so they wouldn't be proper clothes and would not free them. Hats and socks don't need ironing. House elves can do laundry and iron, just can't be allowed hats or socks.

  • Where is this information from?
    – Möoz
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 20:56
  • 2
    How does that work? The sock was Harry's. Yes he was fairly young and no I don't know immediately the size difference between Harry and Dobby but certainly they weren't elf socks. And it wasn't even Lucius's sock: it was Harry's so if you want to look at it that way Lucius couldn't have been 'giving' Dobby a sock that wasn't even his.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 0:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.