Laundromats Enter Underfilled Recession Cycle

Are you doing laundry this weekend? Are you running fewer loads than you used to, going longer between washes, or even using a friend or relative’s equipment in order to avoid unloading a pocketful of quarters at the laundromat? If so, you’re not alone. Laundromats, once thought to be a recession-proof business, are surprisingly vulnerable to economic downturns.

People always need to do laundry—the question is how often, and where.

Yet in a measure of the potency of this particular downturn, some coin laundries are closing, and many others are battling sales declines. Job loss and economic woe are forcing Americans to cut back even on their laundry costs, either by using the home equipment of friends or relatives or by wearing items multiple times between washes. Even urban flight and reverse migration due to economic hardship appear to be agitating the industry.

“Now more than ever the adage that we’re recession-proof is being tested,” says Brian Wallace, president of the Coin Laundry Association.

Where do you do your laundry, and have your habits changed in the last few years? Do you try to save a few quarters by wearing jeans an extra day or two?

Even Laundries Tumble in This Economic Cycle [Wall Street Journal] (Thanks, PecanPi!)

(Photo: malias)

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  1. TheObserver says:

    Next up on the recession hit list: coin operated car wash centers.

    • Dont lump me into your 99%! says:

      @TheObserver: I have not washed my car in months. Of course that will have to change when the salt starts flying.

      • TechnoDestructo says:

        @csparks:

        States don’t have budgets for schools, but they sure have budgets for salt!

        • shadow67 says:

          @TechnoDestructo: deicing the roads are important. if not even the ones who can go to schools cant reach there. So yeah… salt is important.

          • sonneillon says:

            @shadow67: Sand is more important than salt, takes a while for the de-icers to work while sand allows people to stop on the ice and snow immediately. Sand stops accidents, luckily they mix sand with a de-icer (different counties have their own mix) and get the best of both worlds, sort of if it is left too long the ice and sand melt through and then it freezes over both and you get something nasty slick then.

        • kaleberg says:

          @TechnoDestructo: Last winter Seattle thought they could get by without salt, and the city ground to a standstill. A schoolbus skidded down a hill and stopped halfway out over the interstate. They say they are going to use salt this year when it snows.

      • oloranya says:

        @csparks: I haven’t washed my car since I got it a year ago. The rain keeps it clean enough for me.

    • mbz32190 says:

      @TheObserver: The Coin-Op car washes are probably okay for now…there is one near me that charges three dollars for a basic wash…and to me, I would gladly pay three bucks for not having to spend an hour washing a car. It’s the full-service car washes that will probably be in trouble though…there are tons of them near me, and are pretty pricey.

  2. Coles_Law says:

    I haven’t cut back on my laundromat use. That said, I only use 1 machine and it’s nearly filled, so there’s not much room to cut back. I think people may be trying to use fewer machines-no longer separating colors from whites, etc.

  3. AppleAlex says:

    we have 2 laundromats, about a block apart for eachother. I wonder which one will close first

  4. RandomHookup says:

    The problem is that several families have moved into the dryers and set up house.

  5. morganlh85 says:

    One word: Febreze. lol

  6. TVarmy says:

    I’ve cut back on clothes. I don’t mean I stopped buying new clothes. I’ve stopped wearing clothes, period. Think about it. If you spill something on your naked body, you just wipe it off. If you spill something on your clothes, you need to deal with cleaning, which is sometimes, but not always, done with bleach, and it takes a ton of water to clean them. It’s just confusing.

    I figure that if you’re going to shower daily anyway, why bother with some frilly clothes you don’t need? And I stay perfectly warm with my Snuggie.

  7. Copper says:

    I have cut back on doing laundry because it’s now up to $4 to wash and dry one load of clothes in Corpus Christi, TX. In the summer of 2008, it was $1.25 to wash and $1.25 to dry. A little over a year later and it’s up to $4.

    If I know I’m going home soon, I won’t do laundry for a few weeks and haul up seven or eight loads to my mom’s. Maybe if these laundromats weren’t increasing prices at a ridiculous rate more people would be using them.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @Copper: I read a while ago that the MOST economical way to handle laundry would be for a block (like 24 single-family houses or so) to have a small building at the center of the block and have several top-end washers and dryers there, with everyone paying a small monthly (or yearly) fee toward maintenance and water cost. The article broke down the cost of owning, using a laundromat, and using a communal unit.

      It was part of a larger article about how, since WWII and largely because of advertising, we buy a lot of stuff for convenience that simply isn’t economical … the authors thought such a small building could also store communal lawn mowers, a tool library (tools you need often enough that renting is a PITA, but not often enough to take up space in your house and pay the price to own), and certain other things.

      Some planned communities, mostly “green” ones, have these kinds of shared appliances/tools/etc. It’s an interesting idea, but I’d have a hard time giving up the convenience of a personal washer/dryer. Some friends of ours who live in a “green” development, though, said that enterprising 10 year olds make a little money by collecting laundry from people who don’t want to haul their own back and forth, running the washer/dryer while doing homework, then folding it and taking it back to the owner.

  8. diasdiem says:

    I’ve been renting a washer and dryer for the last couple years, and actually bought one last week. Hoarding quarters is a pain.

  9. AvatarofBelle says:

    I haven’t changed my laundry habits at all. I recently got hired back at my last job so I’ve actually been doing more laundry due to umm…my wardrobe extending beyond pajamas. :D

  10. balthisar says:

    The best thing I ever did when I was still on the lower end side of the middle class was to scrimp and save and buy my own washing machine and dryer. It’s been 12 years since I’ve had to go to a laundromat, other than working on the road and just using drop-off service.

  11. VA_White says:

    One of my favorite ways to retain good babysitters is to hire college students, pay them what I’d pay a sitter anyway, and offer them free use of my washer and dryer while they are watching my children. My favorite sitter said it saves her $40 when she does laundry at my house so she almost always says yes when I ask her to sit for me.

    • Charity Froggenhall says:

      @VA_White: What an excellent idea! I would have gone for that when I was in school big-time.

      • VA_White says:

        @Charity Froggenhall: @Laura Northrup: Thanks! I started doing this when I hired our intern at work to babysit for me. She had just graduated college and was still living in an apartment with her student roomies. The first time she came, she was hesitant and only brought one load. Then she saw that our giant front-loader would accommodate a queen-sized comforter. Next time, her whole car was loaded with hampers full of her roommates’ sheets and blankets. :)

    • Laura Northrup says:

      @VA_White: Brilliant! Must remember this.

    • twophrasebark says:

      @VA_White: Brilliant.

    • runchadrun says:

      @VA_White: It’s not just for babysitters. We have a friend who housesits for us when we go away for more than a couple of days. She’s an apartment dweller and part of the deal is that she can use our washer and dryer so she brings her car full of baskets and spends a day doing laundry. She considers it payment enough just because of the convenience. The arrangement works out great for everyone.

    • colorisnteverything says:

      @VA_White:
      I know a lot of friends that would jump all over this. Our laundry service is cheap. It’s like $2.50 for a load from wash to dry as opposed to $7.50 like when I was living in England at uni. Still, for those who live in complexes here where you have to pay suffer greatly. It is easily $5.00 a load! This is a great idea and it will make them feel more at home and more inclined to want to come back!

  12. H3ion says:

    When I last used a laundromat, the trigger was when I was down to my last pair of underwear. Otherwise, I didn’t bother.

    A lot of apartments are now offering washers and dryers on-site which saves carrying stuff to the laundromat. I don’t know how the prices compare.

  13. CommanderLogjam says:

    I don’t use a laundromat, but I have greatly reduced the number of loads of laundry I use.

    Not having a job has eliminated my need for a clean shirt for every day of the week and I can get another day or twos wearing out of pants before they get washed. My clothes don’t seem to get as dirty when I don’t even get out of my pajamas some days.

  14. humphrmi says:

    When my wife and I got married 17 years ago, her great aunts bought us a brand new washer and dryer for our wedding present from them. Which was interesting because we didn’t have a house yet, and couldn’t afford to buy one. So we ended up looking for (and finding) an apartment that let us hook up our equipment (this apartment had a basement with segregated hook-ups for each unit.) So it was cool being a renter and still having our own washer and dryer. And we always have had our own equipment ever since.

    We use the laundromat near us for the heavy duty washers and dryers to clean stuff that we don’t want to potentially break our equipment – like sleeping bags or rugs and such. And for a few months when we were having our basement refinished. That’s about it, but we’re not using them any more or less now – just about once or twice a year still.

    I can’t fathom going to work in clothes that have not been laundered since the last time I wore them.

  15. calchip says:

    A lot of people don’t realize that washers and dryers — particularly older ones — can be bought on the cheap and (if you buy the right brands) will last practically forever.

    Here in northern CA there’s a gigantic used appliance place where you can buy an old-but-quite-serviceable Whirlpool washer and dryer for about $200 for the pair. At $3 per load, it takes maybe 70 loads to pay for the washer/dryer, after which the only cost is electricity, which is pretty negligible, and water, which is nearly free.

    And I’ve heard from many appliance repair people that the older equipment is actually far, far more reliable than new appliances, so even though older washers are less efficient, you will still save substantially in the long run.

  16. Razor512 says:

    I wash clothes at home, much cheaper.

    laundromats overcharge. they double prices for no reason.

    and now that the economy is bad and less people are using them, the laundromats seem to now want to increase prices for the few people that still use the laundromat.

    This is why they go out of business, instead of lowering prices to gain more customers which eventually makes them more money, their brains are unable to think intelligently, so they increase the price for the few remaining customers to help pick up the slack left by there being less customers.

    the cycle of price increases causes the laundromat to loose even more customers and for prices to get even hire until the laundromat runs it’s self into the ground.

  17. rachaeljean says:

    My dryer is busted right now, and good old Best Buy took 10 days to get me a service appointment, and then it is still a week away. So, I’m actually using the laundromat when I normally wouldn’t. :) Although, the giant dryers there mean we can cram 3 loads of washed-at-home clothes into one and they’re still dry in about 30 minutes – way quicker than at home!

  18. TechnoDestructo says:

    [m.assetbar.com]

    This is the essence of laundromats.

  19. lchen says:

    i haven’t changed any laundry or dry cleaning habits. luckily our laundromat is great,it’s on the same block as my place and it’s pretty cheap with lots of new machines. my aunt actually stopped using her own washer and dryer in suburbs and drives out to brooklyn with her laundry when visiting my my mom every week. i don’t know if her machines are broken and she finds it cheaper to wash out here than to fix it or in general the machines costs less than energy/water costs. or she likes to use the giant washers and multiple dryers to save time.

  20. pollyannacowgirl says:

    We’ve had a washer/dryer in our apartment for years. We splurged and bought a Malber, which requires no hookup or ventilation. It was small and imperfect, but it beat hauling laundry up a steep hill and then four flights.

    Hadn’t set foot in one until recently when my daughter completely soaked our king-size down comforter in urine. The laundromats around here in NYC don’t have coin machines anymore. You’re supposed to purchase a card for $3 and add dollar amounts to it, which can be used in the machines. I refused to pay an extra $3 for something I’d never use again, so the manager let me use his. It cost me $10 to wash and dry that sucker.

    I daily thank the universe for three things: my Tempur-Pedic mattress, my 20 year old dishwasher and equally ancient washer & dryer in the apartment. With three kids, I can’t imagine life without them.

  21. jparadise says:

    I just went to the laundromat tonight. The change machine wouldn’t take my second $5 and I was pretty bummed to have to put a $10 in it.

    If anything I’ll be going to the ‘mat more now, as my plans for buying a washer and dryer have been put on hold indefinately and it’s hard to justify driving 45 minutes to my parents house to do a load.

    I’m a pretty grungy person no matter what the economy is like- I wear my jeans at least 4 times before I wash ‘em. I hand wash my bras to preserve the elastic. I do change my socks ever day, though!

  22. nybiker says:

    Since I bought my house in 2000, I haven’t had to use a laundromat. But when I was using one, I didn’t do the laundry myself, I dropped it off and they charged by the pound for the service. I’d drop 40 or so pounds stuff into a sack. At the time it was about 50 or 60 cents per pound. I realize it’s gone up by now. But what about your time? And you don’t have to worry about it eating your quarters or dollar bills. Just something to think about.

  23. JonBoy470 says:

    The townhouse complex I live in provides hookups, but no washer and dryer. I spent $608 at Best Buy (including tax and delivery) for a Whirlpool washer and dryer. Nothing fancy, but gets the job done, and I estimate that, by avoiding a complex that actually included the washer/dryer (and charged more rent for the convenience) they paid for themselves in a year or so. Quicker, if I count the savings of not paying to do the laundry at a laundromat, in addition to the rent savings.

  24. BytheSea says:

    I would guess the downturn is due to more and more apartments including washers and dryers as modern apartment and condo owners, and especially home owners, consider washer/dryers to be a necessity. They are not the luxury for the rich they used to be.

  25. Dyscord says:

    This is almost a no brainer really. Whenever I was in college, I avoided laundromats like the plague. Even afterward, if I didn’t have a washer or dryer, I’d try to use a friend’s. While washing clothes isn’t a problem, I find that drying them is usually a pain and can end up being pretty expensive.

  26. ElleDriver says:

    If I’ve been to a smoky bar or restaurant, instead of throwing my clothes or jackets in the wash (or taking it to the dry cleaners) I hang the item in my bathroom while I take a shower or two. The steam will naturally freshen up the garment, as well as de-wrinkle.

    I also invested in a large drying rack, so that I rarely ever have to use the dryer anymore. My apartment is super-dry, and the drying clothes actually adds a little humidity (as well as making the whole place smell like fresh laundry.)

  27. ElleDriver says:

    Also wanted to add that if you own your own dryer, to ensure that you clean out the lint trap and exhaust tube on a regular basis. (The tube is the big silver thing that vents out the hot hair.)

    If the tube is clogged with lint and not venting properly, the lint will actually blow BACK into the machine, clogging the mechanisms. Not only will this drastically affect the efficiency of the machine, but is potentially a fire hazard.

    (I work in a yoga studio where we do about 15 dryer loads a day with our little energy efficient dryer. The thing hadn’t been cleaned in years – when we finally cracked it open, there was enough lint clogging the machinery to knit a very large sweater.)

  28. infopubs says:

    We use laundromats all over the country as we travel full-time in our RV. While I haven’t changed my laundry habits, I have spoken with washateria owners in Ohio, South Carolina and New York who have said their business is way down.

    Okay, technically, they are only called “washaterias” in Texas…

  29. snowmentality says:

    @VA_White: What a great idea.

  30. CaptZ says:

    CaptZ regrets to inform you that due to the economy and budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel is now turned off.

  31. richcreamerybutter says:

    My immediate neighborhood lacks a 24 hr laundromat, or one that provides any comfort if you want to sit through the process. If they had even a few washers with a gentle cycle option, my life would improve…so like other NYC women I end up hand washing and air drying half my clothes.

  32. theblackdog says:

    A few years ago I used to use one of the laundromats instead of my apartment complex’s laundry room because overall it was cheaper to wash clothing for two of us. Then the laundromat raised prices, and I dumped the guy and moved into my own place elsewhere, and it became way cheaper to use the laundry room at my new place.

    Unless the laundromats come back down in price, I see no reason to go back to one.

  33. MartaMyrrha says:

    I enjoy the ‘mat sometimes – getting five loads done at once is pretty cool. However, noticed the price thing too: $2.25 to wash and the washer is so small it takes 2.5 machines to do the “one load” I can do at the apt I live in for $1.25. It’s already expensive when you are a woman to maintain clothes…this just adds insult to injury.

    ALways surprised to learn how many ppl only wear things once, then lauder (unless it is the obvious socks/underwear or you have a smelly job). My clothes would be falling aprt I think if I washed everything after one use and used a dryer.

    As far as using laundry less…yeas ago I started waiting until I truly had full loads before washing and foregoing using the dryer all the time…it was more of an environmental consideration than economic…although that is a plus.

  34. yevarechecha says:

    @Nicole: Our complex is $1.50 for the washer and $1.50 for the dryer. These prices have caused me to do laundry half as often. Which is major for me, because I have some OCD issues with re-wearing things, pajamas in particular. I have 7 pairs. I wear each twice, and even that was a bit of a mental battle. I cannot re-wear shirts at all. Pants/skirts I manage about ~3 times. Underwear…well, that’s just gross. I start feeling pretty skeevy about the sheets and towels by the end, but the saved money is worth it. Back when I didn’t have to pay, I was running 3 loads a week.

  35. GirlCat says:

    @yevarechecha: Here’s a tip: Take a quick shower before bed; it will keep your sheets clean longer.

    And Naked Snuggie Guy: Don’t you launder your Snuggie? If not: Gross! I will never sit next to you on the bus.

  36. sponica says:

    @yevarechecha: that 3 dollars a load is still cheaper than my laundromat prices the last time i used a laundromat. i think the machines in my old building were 1.50 to wash, 1.25 to dry, but the laundromat in my neighborhood before that ended up being 5 or 6 dollars a load.

    now i live at home…and its so nice not having to put quarters in the machines.

  37. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    @snowmentality: We have it here! When I was about 8 zillion months pregnant and my washing machine broke and one of my cats was sick, and opted to be sick on every towel in sight (better than the carpets, I suppose), I took all my towels, bathmats, and big-ass comforters to the Squeaky Clean, which is a full-service laundromat (with wifi!) AND does a wash-dry-fold AND does dry cleaning AND does pick-up/delivery on orders over $25.00.

    Anyway, I dropped it, went and had lunch with my husband downtown, and picked it up on my way back out of town. It was so fresh-smelling and clean and FOLDED and it cost me $1.05/pound, which was a LOT OF FREAKING LAUNDRY for $11.

    Anyway, when I hear someone is having surgery or something, I totally get them a gift certificate to the Squeaky Clean. Because that place freaking ROCKS!

    If you’re doing your laundry there, they also have Game Boy rental. And three sattelite TVs. (They also own this place: [squeak1.fatcow.com] )

  38. katia802 says:

    @littlemisslondon: You can find washboards at music stores. Weird, I know, but other than antique stores, is the only place i’ve seen them.

  39. MisteriosaNYC says:

    @Nicole:

    thats my problem. my apt doesnt have washer/dryer hookups and we are not allowed have a washer that can be hooked up to the sink. we do have a “laundry center” in the basement. small wash (20lbs) is $1, large wash (30lbs) is $1.75, and drying is 25¢/8 mins.

    ive become good friends with my wash board and drying rack, and try to get my laundry soap from the ethnic areas (they have hand wash directions for use on them) the smaller items like undergarments and shirts are hand washed. the larger items like jeans and bedding go down to the washer.

    i’m getting in touch with my inner “old school” ^.^

  40. SunnyLea says:

    @jparadise: You should probably comparison shop washer/dryers a little more there.