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Laundro-Math: Does It Pay to Buy a Washer and Dryer?

A simple way to calculate how long it takes for a laundry set to pay for itself.


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Do you save money by going to the laundromat, or does it pay to buy your own washer and dryer? There are way too many variables from person to person, family to family to say for sure. However, we can guide you through the math to help you decide for yourself. We’ve even developed a formula for determining the payoff period of buying a washer and dryer set.

First, you need to figure out the prices at your local laundromat. Next, determine the price for the machines that you use. Factor in how many loads you usually run, as well as how often you do your laundry. I tend to do a single load of laundry every week. Kirkland Cleaners, my local laundromat in Cambridge, MA, charges $2.25 per load, and $0.25 per 7 minutes of drying time. I usually dry my clothes for 49 minutes, so an entire week's worth of laundry costs $4.00.

We’ve developed a formula for determining the payoff period of buying a washer/dryer set.

Transportation can factor into the cost, too. I'm fortunate enough to be within walking distance of my laundromat, but obviously that isn't the case for many folks. If you have to drive or take public transit to your Laundromat, estimate how much money that’s going to cost per trip, and add it to your weekly cost.

Here’s my yearly cost of coin-op laundry. We’ll call this variable L.

$4.00/week = $16.00/month = $192.00/year

Of course, we have to add the cost of detergent to the mix (excuse the pun). I use Xtra, which costs a mere $4.00 at my local bodega and lasts me roughly 4 months, in my case. If you use fabric softener or any other laundry doodads, here’s the place to add them in. It's probably smart to add a buffer to your total for miscellaneous costs—those times when you fall in the mud and need to run an emergency wash; your detergent gets stolen; or you drop your change down a storm drain. I’m a klutz, so I’ll add $15 to my total.

This will be variable D.

Detergent: $4.00/4 months = $12.00/year
Misc. Expenses: $15.00/year

Now let’s weigh these figures against the cost of owning a home unit. There are a bazillion different washer and dryer combos, from compacts to top-loaders and front-loaders to combination sets. Even if you opt for the cheapest available, you’re going to end up spending at least $800 for the set.

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Since I mostly care about cost, I’m going to go with this cheap, not-very-good Hotpoint washer/dryer set, which will cost a total of $898. This will be variable P.

Hotpoint HSWP1000MWW Washer: $469.00
Hotpoint HTDX100EMWW Dryer: $429.00

Once again, we need to factor in the cost of detergent, fabric softener, and other miscellaneous expenses—including maintenance and energy consumption. Since I don’t own a washer or dryer and therefore don’t have experience to call upon, I’ll just use the same detergent figures as variable D—plus the efficiency costs associated with the Hotpoint washer and dryer set. You can consult any of our WDI reviews for precise water/energy costs. If you can estimate other auxiliary expenses, factor them in here and call it variable W.

Detergent: $4.00/4 months = $12.00/year
Misc. Expenses: $10.00/year
Dryer Energy Use: $85/year
Washer Water/Energy Use: $73/year

Lastly, we need to calculate the payoff period, which is the time it takes until the initial investment of your washer/dryer pays off. Here’s the formula (remember PEMDAS!):

Y = P / (D + L – W)

The Variables:
L = Laundromat/Coin-Op Cost Per Year ($192)
D = Coin-Op Detergent/Misc. Cost Per Year ($27)
P = Price of Washer/Dryer Unit ($898)
W = Washer/Dryer Detergent/Misc. Cost Per Year ($180)

Y = Years Until Laundromat Becomes More Expensive Option

Take a close look at the equation above. It's really weighing the yearly expenses of a laundromat against the up-front cost of buying units. (Because the miscellaneous costs of owning a washer and dryer are mostly just water and electricity costs, they don't typically swing the equation too far in either direction). But your mileage may vary. Here are my results:

I would have to use my laundromat for 23 years before a cheap washer/dryer combo would pay for itself. I imagine that many other young city-dwellers will come to a similar conclusion.

Y = P / (D + L – W)
Y = $898 / ($27 + $192 - $180)
Y = $898 / $39
Y = 23.03 years

Yes, you read that correctly. I would have to use my laundromat for 23 years before the above mentioned Hotpoint unit pays itself off. Clearly, I should stick to doing my laundry at a laundromat—I imagine that many other young city-dwellers will come to a similar conclusion. But for folks who need to travel to a laundromat, the cost of gas could sway the result. Or if you have a big family and you need to do a half-dozen or more loads of laundry per week, it'll probably work out in your favor to do them at home. That’s the laundro-math!

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