As far as modern life’s necessities go, clean clothing ranks somewhere between food, shelter, water, and a decent wifi connection. But the prospect of heaving 20-odd pounds of clothes to the laundromat every couple of weeks can drop it down to the bottom of a city-dweller’s priority list. Factor in buying detergent, waiting around for machines, and scrounging for coins, and procrastination is inevitable (‘That t-shirt at the top of the hamper doesn’t look that dirty after all, right?’)
Naturally, there’s an app that gets around all of this inconvenience—several, actually, if you happen to live in New York City or San Francisco. The one leading the pack right now is Washio, an on-demand pickup and delivery service for laundry and dry cleaning, which touts a slick interface, 24-hour turnaround, and a team of “ninjas” that bring your stain-free threads to your door along with a fresh-baked cookie for good measure.
On Monday, the startup announced that they’ve scored another $10.5 million in funding and are planning to use the cash to expand into a host of other cities, including NYC, Boston, Seattle, and Miami. They also have a bold-faced list of early backers, including Ashton Kutcher, Nas, and Scooter Braun, best known for the Herculean job of being Justin Bieber’s manager.
Washio’s CEO has said he plans to “like, demolish laundry,” but he’s hardly the only one trying. In New York alone, there’s FlyCleaners, an app open for on-demand orders from 6 a.m. to midnight; there’s Cleanly, so far available so far only to Upper East or West Siders; another app called LaundryPuppy partners with local mom-and-pop cleaners, as does Delivery.com‘s laundry platform, although they let the cleaners handle pickup and delivery.
Everyone, it seems, wants to be the “Uber of laundry”—no wonder, given that the on-demand car service was valued at a jaw-dropping $17 billion this week. For the busy, lazy, or merely laundry-averse, it’s a good time to be alive.
Of course, “fluff-n’-fold,” the cutesy name commonly given to paying strangers to do your laundry for you, has been offered for decades at laundromats around the country. Free pickup and delivery is also common, although coordinating schedules with the cleaners can be a pain without a doorman.
I remember discovering drop-off service in sophomore year of college—it was a revelation, despite finding the occasional stray sock or towel in my load. But I’m still wary of trading the friendly interactions I have with my local cleaners for the ease of a touch screen order.
The novelty of on-demand anything—print cartridges delivered within the hour! an apartment rental secured with a swipe!—has its consequences, after all. In Europe today, tens of thousands of cab drivers are protesting against Uber, claiming stolen customers and lost profits. Laundry and dry cleaning is a $10-billion-a-year industry in the U.S. If Washio really does “demolish” it (or even part of it), will the neighborhood coin laundry operators do the same?