A self-service laundry, coin laundry, laundromat, or coin wash is a facility where clothes are washed and dried without much personalized professional help.
Laundromats are known in the United Kingdom as launderettes or laundrettes, and in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as laundromats (from the genericized trademark of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation). In Texas and other parts of the south central United States, the term washateria is still used by some older speakers. It is known that George Edward Pendray was the one to create the term "laundromat" for Westinghouse.
While most homes have their own washers and dryers in the US, laundromats are still very popular with some apartment dwellers and those who do not have their own machines. They are also used, even by those who have their own machines, for large bedding and other items that ordinary residential washers cannot accommodate.
Most UK households have bedding (such as duvets and comforters) which are far above the capacity of domestic machines, and UK households may not have dryers, making launderettes the only means available for cleaning them or drying them.
Laundromats are an essential business in urban communities. Laundromat owners may employ someone to oversee and maintain the general laundromat throughout the day. Some laundries employ staff to provide service for the customers. Minimal service centres may simply provide an attendant behind a counter to provide change, sell laundry detergent, and watch unattended machines for potential theft of clothing. If the business is big enough, the owner may employ a plumber to constantly upkeep the wellbeing of the machines and other workings.
Others allow customers to drop off clothing to be washed, dried, and folded. This is often referred to as fluff & fold, wash-n-fold, drop off, bachelor bundles, a service wash or full-service wash. Some staffed laundry facilities also provide dry cleaning pick-up and drop-off. There are over 35,000 laundries throughout the United States. Similar services exist in the United Kingdom where the terms service wash or full-service wash are also in use. The evolution of self-serve laundry services have been seen in some "fluff and fold" (also styled fluff n fold, fluff & fold, fluff 'n' fold, and fluff 'n fold) services provided by various laundromats. These services provide the end user with washing, drying, and folding services on a per pound basis. Some services offer free pickup and delivery, as well as complimentary laundry bags as part of their customer appreciation. Additionally, dry-cleaning services have been known to utilize the pickup and delivery as a means to help generate additional revenue.
On-premise laundromats are found in locations such as hospitals, student residences at universities, or apartment blocks. Facility managers/maintenance staff work directly with machine distributors to supply and maintain washers and dryers. Use of the machines are primarily reserved for the residents of these facilities.
Many building owners use on-premise laundromats as a way to increase revenue. They can do this through renting their laundry room to laundry companies for a fixed monthly price allowing the laundry company to keep all revenue from the machines. Building owners also have the option to create a revenue sharing system where the apartment owner and laundry company split the profits from the machines each month.
In Australia, self service laundries are widely available and in use by a good percentage of the population. Due to its mild weather, Australia has a much smaller percentage of dryer owners, as the mild weather allows for hanging laundry outside for most of the year, with the exception of a few months. The brief Australian winter sees a surge in the usage of drying machines, usually easily found in self service laundries.
In Israel, self service laundries are available and popular mainly in Tel Aviv, where there is a large network of laundromats.
In New Zealand self service laundries are available, but not widely used. The NZ culture tends to be reserved with in-house laundry facilities, but with the rise in apartment dwellers this is slowing. Most houses also operate their own dryer as the temperate climate can have often unpredictable downpours. There is a rise in delivered laundry and ironing services as New Zealanders better off are starting to outsource, in line with the value of their time.
The first UK launderette (alternative spelling: "laundrette") was opened on 9 May 1949 in Queensway (London). UK launderettes are mainly fully automated and coin-operated, and are either staffed or unstaffed. Some may be staffed during fewer hours than the operating time each week. They are generally found only in urban and suburban areas, and have been common features of urban life since the 1960s. In the last two decades there has been a decline in the number of launderettes, to approximately 3000 nationally.
Rapidly rising utility charges, premises rent and a lower purchase cost of domestic machines have been noted as principal reasons for the recent decline. High initial launch costs, specifically for commercial washing machines and dryers, have also been commented on as reasons for fewer new entrants into the market. Furthermore, machine updates can be prohibitively expensive, which has held back premises investment.
Many of the staffed operations in the UK have added value services such as ironing, dry cleaning and service washes, which prove popular to busy professionals, students, and senior citizens. Student accommodation blocks often have their own unstaffed laundries, which are typically commercially run at a profit by the accommodation provider.
Local directories, such as the yellow pages and Thomson, only show those laundries that have chosen to pay for an entry in their directories, so trends are difficult to assess. However, cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, London, and Manchester have significant numbers of launderettes, as do many coastal tourist areas.
The main manufacturers serving the UK in this market are Electrolux, IPSO, Maytag, and Primus. Brands such as Frigidaire and Speed Queen are also regularly deployed, with most originating from Belgium and the US.
Whilst the future of launderettes in the UK is not assured, domestic machine users experiencing breakdowns in the home, users of large bedding, and tourists are potential customers, thereby making the provision valuable to the community.
Self-service laundry facilities in the United States are most commonly called laundromats. "lavanderia" is an alternate name for laundromat, but is not in common use outside of Texas. The term comes from the first laundromat in the United States, which was known as a Washateria and was opened on April 18, 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas, by C.A. Tannahill. Though steam-powered laundry machines were invented in the 19th century, their cost put them out of reach of many. Cantrell and others began renting short-term use of their machines. Most laundromats in the US are fully automated and coin-operated and generally unstaffed, with many operating 24 hours a day. The invention of the coin-operated laundry machine is ascribed to Harry Greenwald of New York who created Greenwald Industries in 1957; the company marketed the devices through the 20th century.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that there are 11,000 of this style of laundromat in the US, employing 39,000 people and generating over $3.4 billion every year.
In popular culture
- Albert King's signature blues album Born Under a Bad Sign, released in 1967 for Stax Records, include a song called "Laundromat Blues".
- Nivea recorded the song "Laundromat" about a man caught cheating on his girlfriend.
- The children's television show Sesame Street produced a song about laundry called "At the Laundromat".
- The television soap opera EastEnders has a launderette as one of its focal locations, with several important characters having served as employees.
- Levi's released an iconic television advert (UK, 1985) by Bartle Bogle Hegarty/Roger Lyons, featuring a semi-naked Nick Kamen changing in a 1950s style launderette.
- The first act of The Young Ones episode "Bambi" concerns the main characters making their first trip to the launderette in almost three years.
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- "Texas History Headlines - 1934 - US gets first Laundromat. Fort Worth Celebrates". howdyyall.com. Retrieved 2016-11-29.
- D'Costa, Krystal. "Spin Cycle: The Social Realm of the Laundromat". Scientific American. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
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- "Industrial deals made in Brooklyn", The New York Times, p. 48, October 3, 1957, ProQuest document 114338456 – via ProQuest (subscription required)
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- "First Laundromat". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
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