Potrero Hill Coin Laundry went out of business last fall, ending 18 years of laundromat service. Its departure from a central location in the neighborhood, at 1310 18th Street, leaves a void for community members who lack access to machines at home, and don’t have the funds to pay for more expensive services. Although the dearth of coin-operated laundry businesses is especially acute in Potrero Hill, it’s part of a greater trend of coin-operated laundries folding across San Francisco and the country.
Hoodline, using archived Yellow Pages, compiled data from the last 50 years and found that the number of laundromats in the City declined by 59 percent over the last two decades, and dropped by 82 percent since 1966. Author Shane Downing was uncertain as to the cause.
“We can’t say whether the decline in laundromats in San Francisco is because of lower demand, higher rents, or something else, but one present day theme exists: current and former laundromats are quite visibly being converted into restaurants,” he wrote. “Because laundry facilities are equipped with the requisite ventilation, gas, electricity and plumbing utilities that restaurants require to open shop, turning them into eateries is relatively straightforward.”
The Atlantic published a story on the topic that spoke to a national trend in the death of laundromats, especially in major metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, where new housing developments often cater to wealthy residents with amenities like in-unit washers and dryers. The piece cited dwindling profits for laundromat owners, exacerbated by high costs associated with repairing aging machines and increases in water and sewage expenses, as contributing to the sector’s decline. According to Buzzfile, an online company information database, Potrero Hill Coin Laundry generated an estimated $64,820 in annual revenues and employed two people.
While there are other clothes-cleaning options for Hill residents, a neighborhood laundromat isn’t among them. Laundry Locker, a dry cleaning and laundry service that operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week, has numerous City locations, including a few coin operated machines at its Folsom and 22nd streets location, and kiosks in office and residential buildings. The enterprise provides full service wash & fold – washing, drying and folding – dry cleaning and shoe repair, with home delivery offered. Customers can choose from three plans, ranging from $46.99 per month for 30 pounds of laundry to $104.99 for 90 pounds.
“We’ve had pretty steady growth in business over the past year,” said Aura Moser, customer service representative, Laundry Locker, “We’ve added more kiosks in new buildings. There are no plans to add more coin operated machines.”
Vermont Cleaners, at 600 Vermont Street, lacks coin operated machines but provides full service wash & fold, including home delivery. According to owner, Benson Xu, the business is a Certified Green Cleaner, only using naturally-derived ingredients in cleansing products.
Mulberry’s Garment Care, located in Mission Bay, provides pickup and delivery service to Potrero Hill. Mulberry’s offers dry and wet cleaning, alterations and shoe repair, among other services. Prices start at $2.69 per garment for wash & fold.
An option unbounded by neighborhood geography is Rinse. Operating in five major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, customers can schedule laundry service through a mobile application, text message or the company’s website. Once scheduled, home pickup and delivery service is available for dry cleaning, wash & fold – starting at $1.75 per pound – and hang-dry laundering.
Alternatives similar to Rinse include Instawash and Sudzee. Instawash serves most of the City, including the Hill, and is also based on a mobile application. Customers schedule service through the app; a valet arrives at the client’s home to collect the laundry. Cleaned clothes are dropped off within 24 hours, at which time payment is due, starting at $1.50 for wash & fold. After registering for an account online, Sudzee patrons leave their dirty clothes in a locked bag, provided by the business, on their doorstep. After returning home from work, the clean garments should be waiting at the front door. Prices for Sudzee service start at $0.97 per pound, plus an $1.01 per pound delivery charge for Hill residents.
For those seeking coin-operated machines, adjacent neighborhoods offer more options, especially the Mission. Burbujas Text-o-Mat has two locations with self-service laundry machines at 2899 24th Street and 3157 Mission Street. Prices for coin machines vary. Generally, dryers cost $0.25 for six minutes; washers clean 30 pounds of clothing for $4.50. Free fabric softener is available. Full service wash & fold service start at $1.15 per pound.
Those willing to lug their dirty clothes to the heart of the Mission can try a new laundromat at 2401 Mission Street, Laundré. It’s a destination for patrons who seek to do their garment cleansing in a comfortable gathering space equipped with coffee bar amenities. The self-service machines boast energy efficiency and speedy cleaning times. Free soap is thrown in. A short food menu is available alongside cafe beverages.
A similar laundromat-cafe duo South of Market, Brainwash, closed last year. Other relatively nearby establishments include Lily’s Laundromat, 2204 Bryant Street, Fiesta Laundromat, 898 South Van Ness Avenue, and Bubbles & Beans Laundromat, 3547 24th Street.