Laundromats and Common Area Laundry Facilities

Coin Operated Laundromats

Coin-operated LaundryHigh-efficiency clothes washers (HEWs) can reduce water use in a laundromat by more than 50%.  Most coin-op washers are vertical-axis and have a Water Factor (WF) rating of 9.5 to 12; using 32 to 38 gallons per load (132.5 L to 170.29 L).   Recent federal standards require vertical-axis machuines to have a WF of 9.5 or lower (lower WF rating equates to less water use).   As the older model machines are replaced, all washers in laundromats will become significantly more efficient.  The advent and use of newer machines with better efficiency will garner even greater water and energy savings.  More information on water use and energy use ratings can be found at the EnergyStar website.

Click here for the latest Energy Star Specifications for Residential and Commercial Clothes Washers.

While many laundromats include a few large capacity horizontal-axis washers (Water Factor ratings of 3.5 to 6), these are usually a small minority of the machines installed in most facilities.  Newer HEW models have a Water Factor rating of 3 to 6; using as little as 9 gallons per load.    The majority of HEWs are horizontal-axis and front loading, although there are a few models of h-axis washers that have top loading capabilities.  

Water savings projections require frequency of use estimates, and this is difficult data to obtain unless the business owner/operator regularly records accurate “coin counts”.   These machines are often owned and maintained by contracted vendors known as ‘route operators’, where the laundromat owner receives a portion of the machines’ gross revenues.    It is often difficult to obtain accurate “coin counts” from small businesses that operate on a cash basis.   Often the projected water savings have to be based on industry estimates of 6 loads per machine per day.  A simple savings projection might be as follows:

  • Pre-existing conditions:  50 washers, 3.2 ft.3 capacity, Water Factor = 12, avg. use = 6 loads/day 
  • 50 washers X (3.2 capacity x 12 WF) X (6 loads X 364) = 4,193,280 gallons per year (15,873 m3) 
  • Proposed replacements:  50 HEWs, 3.2 ft.3, Water Factor = 6.5, avg. use = 6 loads/day 
  • 50 washers X (3.2 capacity x 6.5 WF) X (6 loads X 364) = 2,271,360 gallons per year 
  • Savings Projections:  4,193,280 – 2.271,360 = 1,921,920 gallons of water saved per year (7,275 m3) 

A successful water conservation strategy requires participation and cooperation from both the laundromat owner (who pays the water bills) and the route operator (who owns the machines).   The Laundromat owner wants to reduce water and wastewater costs, but does not want to lose customers because of their preference for top loading machines.  The route operator does not want to lose revenue due to customer preference for top loaders, and does not want to increase capitol investments due to the higher cost of high-efficiency washers.   To date, the purchase price of HEWs is often $400 or more than a traditional washer of the same capacity.   The business interests of both parties must be satisfied for the utility to garner participation in its water conservation program.

Replacing traditional vertical-axis top loaders with front loading HEWs requires special promotion, education and instruction for the users.  Some user dissatisfaction stems from improper usage: too much detergent and softener, improper loading, and underestimating the washer capacity.   Users often complain of having to stoop down to load and unload the laundry; this can be easily resolved by installing the machines atop pedestals.   Water utilities initiating washer replacements in this market should consider the merits of providing assistance to help the laundromat owners overcome customer reluctance towards using the HEWs. 

In the past, manufacturers were unable to design a vertical-axis washer with a Water Factor rating below 9.2.  Recently, manufacturers have designed and manufactured an innovative type of vertical axis washer (using impellers in the wash drum) that has proven to be very effective at lower water volumes while garnering high customer satisfaction. This allows consumers who prefer the convenience of top loaders to be as water efficient as the users of front loading machines.  The newest generation of vertical-axis washers may solve some of the resistance to the use of efficient washers - time will tell.

Common Area Clothes Washers

Coin-operated clothes washers (sometimes free washers) are often found in common areas multi-family buildings and apartment complexes. These types of multi-user laundry facilities can also be found at college dormitories, motels, detention facilities, homeless shelters, family shelters, hostels, RV parks, campgrounds, mobile home parks, truck stops, etc.   Common area clothes washing facilities provide excellent opportunities for water conservation because the frequency of use for each clothes washer is much greater than in-home machines.  While an in-home machines average only 6 to 8 loads per week, common area machines often wash 20 to 50 loads per week per clothes washer.  

Most coin-op washers have a Water Factor rating of 12 to 14 (top loaders); using 35 to 45 gallons per load (132.5 L to 170.3 L).  Newer water efficient models have a Water Factor rating of 4 to 8; using as little as 15 gallons per load (56.8 L).   Water savings projections require frequency of use estimates, and this is difficult data to obtain unless the building owner regularly records accurate “coin counts”.   It is seldom the property owner actually owns the clothes washers located in the common areas.  These machines are most often owned by vendors known as ‘route operators’; where the property owner receives a portion of the machines’ gross revenues.   Any effort to replace the machines with more efficient models requires the cooperation of both the property owner and the route operator that owns the machines.   The impediments to success are similar to laundromats, see above.

There is conflicting research on the potential water savings offered by providing common area washing machines rather than in-apartment unit clothes washers.   A study sponsored by the Multi-housing Laundry Association found water savings associated with this practice.  The National Multi-Family Submetering and Allocation Billing Program study also looked at this same issue with a much larger sample size and found no water savings associated with common area laundry facilities. 

It is reasonable to presume the convenience of in-unit clothes washers probably increases the overall frequency of loads washed per resident, but the magnitude of the effect on water use is uncertain.   Recent research reveals the residents wash fewer loads on the premise, resulting in reduced on-site water use, but no one knows how often clothes are washed off-site (at laundromats, fluff & fold services, etc.).   Anecdotal evidence suggest, where in-home washers are not present and only common area washers are available, residents use off-site facilities to wash as much as half of all laundry.  Eliminating in-unit washers certainly saves on-site water, and probably reduces overall water use; but the quantity overall water saved is uncertain.  Water utilities should be wary of promoting common area clothes washers to achieve net water savings, for some of the gross water savings at the building site might only be supplanted by and increase water consumption at a different location within the utility’s service district.  

Multi-Load Washer Replacements

Replacing single load washers with multi-loads washers might offer additional water savings in both coin-op laundries and common area laundry facilities.  Multi-load washers are named such because the machine capacity is 2 to 4 times larger (25 to 50 pounds of clothes/load) (11.3 kg to 22.7 kg) compared to the typical coin-op top loading washer (12 to 14 pounds clothes/load) (5.4 kg to 6.4 kg); hence the clothes washer can wash multiple loads at once.  These large capacity machines incorporate horizontal-axis drums and other water efficiency features.  In general, multi-load washers can wash clothes with up to half of the water used by the traditional coin-op top-loader.

A multi-load clothes washer study conducted in San Diego found substantial evidence that replacing traditional top loading washers with multi-loaders can provide substantial water savings.  The study indicates there are several factors that will greatly affect savings, including: overcoming customer customers’ initial hesitation to use the “new” machines, educating customers on the proper use (filling the wash drum and using proper amounts of detergent and softeners), and improving the customers’ perceived value of the additional charges to use the multi-load washers.  The best results appear when the vast majority of single loaders are replaced with multi-loaders; forcing the customers to become accustomed to the proper use of the multi-loaders.  As with residential studies, most consumers say they prefer top-loaders when they have little or no experience using front loader washers.   After becoming more familiar with the advantages of front loading washers, the bias often disappears.

Additional Research Studies

Brown, A. (2009) Laundries Water Efficiency (Options Report, Yarra Valley Water, Melbourne Australia) 

Sullivan, G et al (2008) PG and E Commercial Laundry Program Measurement and Evaluation 

CUWCC (2006) Potential Best Management Practices (PBMP) Report – On-Premise Laundries 

WMI (2006) Assessment of Water Savings for Commercial Clothes Washers 

Riesenberger, J. and J. Koeller (2005) Commercial Laundry Facilities