Self-service laundry

Self-service laundry
1950s Launderette sign, London, England
Part of the interior of a self-service laundry
Laundromat in Philadelphia that opened in 1947 and is believed to be the first coin-operated laundromat in the United States.

A self-service laundry is a facility where clothes are washed and dried. They are known in the United Kingdom as launderettes or laundrettes, and in the United States, Canada, and Australia as laundromats (from the genericized trademark of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation)[1] or washaterias. George Edward Pendray created the word "laundromat" for Westinghouse.[1]


Staffed laundries

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 washing powder, and watch unattended machines for potential theft of clothing. Others allow customers to drop off clothing to be washed, dried, and folded. This is often referred to as Fluff & Fold, Wash-n-Fold, 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.[2] Similar services exist in the United Kingdom where the terms service wash or full-service wash are also in use.

Fluff n Fold services

The evolution of self-serve laundry services have been seen in some "fluff n fold" services provided by various laundromats. These services provide the end user with wash, dry, 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.

Wash-A-Teria (United States)

The first washateria was opened in 1936 in Fort Worth, Texas by Noah Brannen. Most washaterias in the United States are fully automated and coin operated and generally unmanned, operating 24 hours a day.[3]

Launderettes (United Kingdom)

The first UK launderette was opened on 9 May 1949 in Queensway (London).[4] UK launderettes are mainly fully automated, coin operated and are either manned or unmanned. Some may be manned during fewer hours than the operating time each week.[citation needed] 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.

However, most UK households have bedding (such as duvets and comforters) which are far above the capacity of domestic machines, making launderettes the only means available for cleaning them.

Many of the manned 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 unmanned 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 London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds have significant numbers of launderettes, as do many coastal tourist areas.

The main manufacturers serving the UK in this market are Ipso Electrolux, Primus, and Maytag. Brands such as Speed Queen and Frigidaire are also regularly deployed, with most originating from Belgium and the USA.

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 all potential customers, thereby making the provision valuable to the community.

In popular culture

  • The film My Beautiful Laundrette was set in a launderette in London.
  • The television soap opera EastEnders has a launderette as one of its focal locations, with several important characters having served as employees.
  • "The world's hippest launderette" according to Wallpaper magazine is The Laundromat Cafe in Copenhagen, Denmark. It opened in 2004 and the second one in 2007. While washing, people can enjoy the café and the free wireless internet connection.
  • Scenes in launderettes have been used in television advertising such as one used by Levi-Strauss for their jeans, and a parody by Carling Black Label.
  • In the internet musical Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog, the eponymous character and his love interest often meet at a laundromat.
  • Nivea wrote Laundromat, a song depicting the girlfriend, Nivea, of a man talking of how he has cheated on Nivea.
  • The first act of The Young Ones episode "Bambi" concerns the main (and filthy) characters making their first trip to the launderette in almost three years. When one of the washing machines spits out the quartet's putrid clothing, Vyvyan decides to use a "special blend of psychology and extreme violence" to trick one of the machines: he mentions Felicity Kendal's underwear and then forces their laundry into a lustful machine.

See also

  • Laundry
  • Fulling, an ancient method of removing oil and dirt from cloth.


  1. ^ a b Livermore, Beth (1999). "The Way We Are - time capsules - Brief Article". Natural History. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  2. ^ "Starting a Laundromat Business". Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  3. ^ "Brannen History "Genealogy" by Noah Quinton Brannen". Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  4. ^ Khan, Yasmeen (August 13, 2010). "The rise and fall of the launderette". BBC News. Retrieved August 14, 2010. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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