In Praise of Laundromats.

Five Thôt columnist Laura Zander is a book nerd on a perpetual quest to satiate her curiosity and observe the magic of juxtapositions. A veteran of the tech world, she's widely acknowledged as a product, marketing, and operations guru. You can follow her reading life at or @lz

You approach the doors to the laundromat, struggling with an overflowing bag of smelly, dirty clothes, balancing detergent on top of the pile. The place is empty, but every washer is churning, sending a too-clean smell into the air. Sighing, you drop your clothes and walk the aisles to determine which washer will finish first. A thirty-year old machine appears to be approaching its final spin but perhaps there is one more left in it. You turn bills into quarters through the magic of the change dispenser and post up in front of the nearly-done machine. It creaks to a stop, you look around. Still no other people in sight. Reluctantly, you open the washer, and rummage some stranger’s wet clothes onto the lid of a nearby machine. This is acceptable laundromat behavior, machines emptied to make way for the next batch, the next customer. The show must go on, laundry marches endlessly into the sunset. You sprinkle detergent, start up the cycle, cram your bag of clothes into the washer. 

It’s been several years since I’ve used a laundromat, lucky enough to reside in buildings with facilities on site. This makes me an unwitting participant in the war on laundromats: gentrification. They are disappearing one by one out of up-and-coming neighborhoods transforming from low-income to upwardly mobile (read: tech workers). Their spaces shift away from basic human needs (clothing) to more frivolous coffee shops (artisanal drip, micro roasted) or boutique optometrist shops that feature reclaimed wood. This disappearance creates a higher demand for the laundromats still around, funneling volume into those remaining. Saturday mornings I’ll see entire families towing bushels of laundry, settling in for a day at the laundromat. 

Despite not using them, I’m delighted by the fun names of neighborhood laundromats: Get the Funk Out, Sit and Spin, Mr. Burbujas, Rub a Dub Dub, Light’n Your Load, The Missing Sock. There are also hipster-themed ones like BrainWash, a combination cafe/laundromat with live music. Please note that Fiesta Laundromat defines a party as flat screen TVs and free wifi but not (as I’d expected) piñatas filled with detergent. 

This is where the revolution will begin. These are the dispossessed, the weary, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the left-behind. These are the eagled-eyed scanning the floor near the change machine. These are the grey hulks of men, slouched napping in the hard plastic chairs. These are the nearly-robotic folders, an army of daughters wading through the crop of laundry harvested from the dryers. This is the place where handmade signs abound, advertising services and roommates and music lessons, with takeaway slips pre-cut for your convenience. This is a place where you can smell boredom. And that smell will cling to you until you shake it off and rise up and take to the streets and march to save our laundromats. Take one for a spin today before it folds.

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