The Truth About Laundromats

Laundromats were in decline long before the "national coin shortage" — which you may or may not have noticed — was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. What used to be an urban staple, used by roughly 30% of the U.S. population in 1971, fell by half to around 15% in 2011 (via Foundation for Economic Education).

What caused the decline in use of laundromats? An influx of wealth into cities, which resulted in more and more people having their own in-home washers and dryers, as well as rising real estate costs, which in turn made laundromats more expensive to operate. As a result, the actual number of laundromats in the U.S. has declined by almost 20% since 2005 (via The Atlantic).

Some laundromat owners, like Adam Lesser, the owner of Fiesta Laundromat in San Francisco, have been watching which way the wind has been blowing, and says, "I'm over here cleaning out lint. What the hell am I doing?" Some of his peers have closed their doors for good, and turned their focus to building new apartment complexes on the land instead.

There will always be people who need a laundromat

While having more of the population able to wash and dry clothes from home is a good indicator of a growing middle class, some people mourn the loss of laundromats. A nostalgic look back sees laundromats as community-center-like venues, carrying a social significance that goes far beyond washing clothes. Others, though, note that any community-building role that laundromats once played has been diluted over the years, right in tandem with urban development.

Is there any chance that laundromats will one day become completely outdated, relics of the past? It seems unlikely. There will always be a segment of the population — travelers, those in transitional housing, those without washing machines or with broken ones, and even just those with bulky items they can't wash at home — who will need the service. They're likely to give us a warm, fuzzy link to the past for years to come.