(This is mainly for you prospective float center owners, but the curious are also welcome.)
Our washer at Float is out of service while we wait for a replacement part, so I’m sitting here at our local laundromat with a day’s worth of towels taking up eight dryers. What better time to write a post with my thoughts on laundry! It’s a scintillating subject, so strap in.
If you’re thinking about running a float center and you’ve never run a business like this, it may be a detail that hasn’t occurred to you. You can’t have floating without towels, so you have two options: a washer and dryer on-site, or a laundry service. (Only the tiniest part-time float business will be able to keep up just using a home washer and dryer, and that will get old fast.) The second option really can be split into two: your own towels, or the service’s towels. All of these are viable options; we have our own towels and washer onsite, so that’s mainly what I’ll discuss.
At Float, we have stacking, full size front load washer and dryer. They are high capacity and energy efficient. We use Seventh Generation fragrance and dye free laundry detergent. An onsite washer/dryer will get heavy use, so get the best quality you can afford, and budget for repairs and a total replacement within three years. If you have more than four float tanks and/or the luxury of space, consider having two washers and dryers.
How about some pros and cons?
Onsite washer upside:
- In the long run it is easily the cheapest option.
- Laundry can be done throughout the day.
- You pick your own towels and determine the acceptable level of wear and staining. (A laundry service may have different standards.)
Onsite washer downside:
- You need to devote space to the washer and dryer, and dirty laundry.
- Laundry is a constant and everyone needs to be thinking about it all the time.
- If your business is in buildout stage, there is a high upfront cost to buying a new washer and dryer when cashflow is at its tightest.
- The heavy use entailed in a float center means that you should plan on a washer replacement in under three years.
- If (when) it breaks, someone has to go on laundromat duty.
Laundry service upside:
- Somebody other than you is dealing with the laundry.
- Someone else gets to fold towels.
- Broken washers are their problem.
- You and your staff can use that time for more interesting projects.
Laundry service downside:
- It is expensive. The going rate here is around $1.00/pound, but with a daily pickup contract you may be able to negotiate a lower rate.
- In addition, laundry is weighed before it is washed, and wet towels are heavy. With just three tanks currently running at Float, we easily generate fifty (possibly even 100) pounds of laundry every day.
- There will be a giant pile of dirty laundry somewhere in your space at all times, which you need to include in your plans.
- You need to have double the number of towels you would normally carry if you did your own laundry, in case of mistakes, mixups, and lost deliveries.
Double the number of towels? Let’s talk about that number. How many towels do you need to keep on hand? At a minimum – even if a service is providing the towels – you should have enough for two full days at full capacity. You can get away with one full day in the short term, but if (when) something goes wrong you will be scrambling, and what should be an inconvenience easily turns into a major disaster. At Float, we put out two bath towels for each float, although not everyone uses two towels, and two washcloths (one for the shower and one at the tank so you can dry off your face). Each tank has eight appointments on a normal day. Four tanks means 4 x 8 x 2 = 64 each of towels and washcloths for a full day, and 128 of each to be safe. If you contract a laundry service with your own towels, you’d want to double that.
Needless to say, that’s a lot of towels. 100+ towels requires some serious thought about storage space. We built in open shelves in otherwise unused corners. (There’s a reason part of the “spa look” is decoratively rolled towels everywhere. Those towels have to live someplace.) If you elect to have a washer onsite, some proportion of those towels will be in use or in the laundry at any given time, which requires a little less actual storage space than a full day’s number.
We store our “safety day” towels in Space Bags, and we’ll rotate them once a year, when we cull and replace towels that are too worn. Space Bags are great: in addition to shrinking down, they protect against mildew, bugs, and water damage. When towels come out of Space Bags they should be fluffed in a cool dryer for a bit, but other than that they’re ready to go.
Another option, which I didn’t explain but exists: Laundry fairies, or bartering floats for laundry. This requires some significant administration. If you do this, cultivate a large group of fairies and maintain a healthy safety margin of towels.
One more thing: once your towels get frayed and worn, instead of throwing them in the garbage, please consider donating them to a local animal shelter or veterinarian – they always need clean bedding.
Thanks for getting this far! What decisions have you made around laundry? Have you ever pulled the short straw for laundromat duty?