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San Francisco laundry crisis: City pledges more cash for struggling laundromats

City officials announced more money for laundromats Wednesday thanks to an increased rebate amount for those who buy new, more efficient machines. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

San Francisco laundromats will have more money to spend on better, more efficient machines to lower water bills, officials announced Wednesday.

The funds come from bolstering an existing rebate for laundromats that install high-efficiency commercial clothes washers, with the amount increasing from $500 to $5,000.

The commercial washer rebate offers these facilities an opportunity to lower their water usage and bills, benefitting businesses and the environment.

People attend to their laundry at Oak Street Laundromat. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

The rebate hike comes amid the closures of dozens of laundromats in recent years due to rising rents and utility bills, inflation, shifting housing markets and dwindling foot traffic.

In 2018, at least 10 laundromats closed; 31 more shuttered between 2020 and 2021 at the height of the pandemic, according to data from the San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector's Office.

READ MORE: San Francisco’s Laundry Crisis: The Rising Cost of Clean Clothes

Laundromats are particularly important in San Francisco, where nearly half of the city’s housing stock was built before 1940, according to city records.

Older buildings may not easily be retrofitted for in-unit laundry, and research from Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office in 2021 showed laundromat locations are strongly correlated with high-density neighborhoods—such as the Tenderloin or Chinatown—that are made up of mostly smaller, older homes. 

Lixiang Wang leaves for work from her apartment in Chinatown, where many residents live in high-density housing, including single-room occupancy hotels, and depend heavily on laundromats and other shared laundry facilities. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

“Laundromats provide a vital service to our communities,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Dennis Herrera said. “We want to help these small business owners lower their bills and reduce water use, which also benefits the environment. It’s a win for everybody."

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin echoed the sentiment.

"Now we are investing real dollars into meaningful incentives for operators by increasing the rebate amount that they can use to upgrade their business infrastructure with sustainable and water-efficient laundry machines—thus maintaining a service that many residents critically need," said Peskin, who represents North Beach and Chinatown.

A man with gray hair and beard speaks at a podium outdoors, a crowd with masks in the background.
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin applauded the investment in San Francisco laundromats, which many residents he represents rely on. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

The increased rebate amount will be temporary, as the funds stem from a one-time $350,000 budget appropriation.

Eligible commercial washing machines have earned the Energy Star Label, a distinction awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Energy Star commercial washers use about 45% less water than standard models.

To be eligible for this rebate, high-efficiency commercial clothes washers must:

  • Be installed in a laundromat, commercial property, or in the common area of a multi-family property with 10 or more dwelling units
  • Be on the Energy Star Most Efficient qualifying product list
  • Be purchased within 90 days of submitting the application

Additionally, applicants must:

  • Be an SFPUC account holder
  • Have not received a washer rebate from the city Public Utilities Commission in the past 10 years
  • Complete an onsite installation verification inspection by the city Public Utilities Commission

Customers who think they may be eligible should apply as soon as possible at
sfpuc.org/washers.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com