Why Doing Laundry Has Gotten A New Spin in Hong Kong

© Max Pixel
Photo of Matthew Keegan
20 April 2018

With a famous lack of living space, having a washing machine or dryer at home is a luxury for most people in Hong Kong. Forced to visit launderettes instead, they are fast becoming the city’s hot new hangout.

Believe it or not, self-service launderettes are a relatively new thing in Hong Kong. The first to open was only in 2014. Before then, drop-off commercial laundries dominated, but this often led to huge backlogs and day-long waits just to get your clothes back.

All hail the self-service launderette. Since Hong Kong’s first one appears to have opened in 2014, there has been no looking back. More than 180 launderettes have opened since, and the recent boom looks set to continue. Now, customers can wash and collect their clothes when they choose. The real reason for their success? Hong Kong’s famously small and expensive apartments – there is literally no room to keep your own washing machine or dryer.

Self-service launderettes are becoming the hot new hangout in Hong Kong | © Coffee & Laundry

Hong Kong is home to the world’s most expensive property market, and space comes at a premium. Therefore, most residents are forced to live in tiny apartments, with no room for basic home appliances like a cooker, washer, dryer, etc. A staggering 200,000 people in the city are already thought to be living in tiny, low-income apartments nicknamed ‘cage homes’ that are just 4.6 square meters (50 sq. ft.) in size, no bigger than half the size of a standard parking space.

With space such a rarity, having a washer/dryer at home is a true luxury. Enter the self-service launderette – they are popping up all over the city, and some are putting a new spin on things to make visiting a more pleasant experience. One example is Coffee & Laundry in the city’s Sheung Wan neighbourhood. In addition to offering ten self-service washing machines and dryers, they also offer customers a variety of drinks and pastries, and it’s become quite the hangout. Not only do people come to do their laundry, but also to socialise, have a coffee and chat while they wait for their clothes to dry.

© Coffee & Laundry

The owner of Coffee & Laundry hopes that his shop will become as much a neighbourhood hangout as a place to wash clothes. To encourage this, he has put tables on the sidewalk and even schedules local community events.

‘In Hong Kong, people aren’t always very neighbourly’, the owner told the New York Times. ‘Since opening Coffee & Laundry, however, I’ve gotten to know my neighbours and the owners of dried seafood shops nearby’, he said.

And so it seems, in Hong Kong you’re only one wash away from meeting your new best friend.