This annual list of the best dry cleaning and laundry franchises was revised and updated on February 17, 2021.
While it’s become common to have a washer and dryer at home, not everybody has space for these, and no one has the facilities for specialist cleaning services like dry cleaning at home. This has kept the dry cleaning and laundry industry going decades after its peak and provided a space for franchises in this industry. It is an industry that currently employs over 100,000 people in the US, in more than 30,000 businesses.
These businesses generally offer three kinds of cleaning services: dry cleaning, full service laundry, and specialty cleaning for delicate garments and textiles. They have two main sources of business: households and commercial clients, especially restaurants and hotels.
The dry cleaning industry has been in decline for the past twenty years. The market was already at a ten-year low of just over $9 billion in value in 2019, and fell below $8 billion in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its annualized growth over the past five years has been -3.7%. Changes in the clothes people wear and the prevalence of washing machines at home have diminished demand, as have coin-operated laundromats.
But while the established industry has been in decline, this comes partly because of the rise of franchises, which are taking business from the older operators. No single company has more than 5% of the market in this industry, and the lack of massive established companies has made it easier for franchised competitors to expand. The coin-operated businesses undermining some of their competitors are often the work of these franchises.
Like almost every industry, dry cleaning was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-essential businesses were often shut down and people were less willing to go out in search of a cleaning service. Formal dress, whether for the office or for special occasions, provides much of the business for dry cleaners. With many people working from home instead of in offices, and with formal events cancelled, the need for dry cleaning plummeted.
The industry is expected to see a small recovery in 2021, as people return to formal settings and economic stabilization increases the money people are willing to spend on cleaning services. But the economic downturn, combined with the industry’s long-term trends, means it will still not see as much demand as before the pandemic, reaching an estimated $7.8 billion in 2021.
For those working within the dry cleaning industry, there are still opportunities to grow by offering services of interest to modern customers. The chemicals used in cleaning have raised environmental concerns, so using eco-friendly products and processes can help in attracting and retaining customers. Additional services, cheaper coin-operated options, and long opening hours have also allowed some franchised cleaning operations to grow.
The future for dry cleaning and laundry franchises lies in taking business from the existing industry, as established operators fail to adapt to changing demand. There will always be some need for cleaning businesses, both because of specialized services and because of people without washing machines, but franchises in this industry need to adapt to working in a shrinking market.
1. Speed Queen Laundry
Speed Queen Laundry is a relatively new business from a long-standing and well-known brand name. Speed Queen has been making washers and dryers since 1908. Now the company has started its own chain of laundromats it positions as “A Better Place to Do Your Laundry.”
Like most laundromats, it offers both self-service coin-op washers and dryers and laundry services for customers who want their laundry washed, dried, and folded for them. Locations are bright and open in their design, include free high-speed WiFi, plenty of comfortable seating, and a kid-friendly lounge area that includes complimentary iPads to keep kids entertained with educational games and content.
According to the company website, there are currently 399 locations (up from the previously reported total of 385), of which 44 are company-owned and 371 are located outside the US (311 in Europe and 60 in China). So far there are only 16 locations in the US, of which 14 are company-owned.
2. Martinizing Dry Cleaning
Martinizing Dry Cleaning offers a range of services that includes dry cleaning, shirt laundry, alterations, wash-and-fold, bulk laundry, leather cleaning, wedding gown cleaning and preservation, and cleaning of bulky items such as comforters.
In addition to a wide array of services, the chain has also upped the convenience factor with free pick-up and delivery at home or work along with 24/7 locker service for after-hours drop-off and retrieval. Modern technology features include customers placing orders online or through the Martinizing mobile app. The company also features eco-friendly methods and solvents.
Founded by Henry Martin in Loveland, Ohio in 1949 and franchising since then, the number of locations has been declining in recent years from 458 in 2011 to the last known reported total of 369 in 2019, of which one was company-owned and 175 were located outside the US.
3. Tide Dry Cleaners
Tide Dry Cleaners has a very recognizable brand name most are familiar with as a laundry detergent. As a recent entrant into the dry-cleaning industry, the chain is big on the convenience factor. It offers 24-hour drop-off using their drop boxes, and if customers can’t pick up their clean clothes during business hours, they can be accessed at any time through secured lockers. They also offer drive-thru service and/or curb-side valet where employees come out and get the clothes from customers. Home or office pick-up and delivery are available at some locations.
Services include dry cleaning, laundry (wash-dry-fold), cleaning of outerwear, special care fabrics, wedding dresses, bedding, and household items. Alteration and repair services are also offered. Tide Dry Cleaners uses GreenEarth eco-friendly solvents.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations has expanded rapidly from six in 2011 to the current total of 185 (up from the previously reported total of 145), of which 14 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
4. Comet Cleaners
Comet Cleaners remains the biggest dry-cleaning chain that is family-owned. Services include dry cleaning and laundry, wedding gown cleaning, cleaning for various specialty items including leather and fine linens, and alterations.
Comet is big on the convenience factor, offering 24-hour drop-off, same-day service (in by 9, out by 5), and Express Bag service – a reusable bag just the right size to fit through a car window. Why does that matter? Because many Comet locations have a drive-thru or, if there isn’t space for that, car-hop service.
Founded by R.L. “Jack” Godfrey in 1957 and franchising since 1967, the number of locations has been steadily declining in recent years from 258 in 2011 to the last known reported total of 152 in 2019, of which none were company-owned and five were located outside the US.
Lapels is a “green cleaner” using eco-friendly solvents for dry cleaning provided by the industry’s only green supplier: GreenEarth. This full-service chain provides same-day dry cleaning, shirt service, tailoring and alterations, shoe repair, wedding gown preservation, suede and leather processing, box storage, fur storage, rug cleaning, and shoe/boot cleaning (including UGGs).
Using the chain’s app, customers can schedule free pick-up and delivery to home or office. Franchising models include owning and running a dry-cleaning plant, a boutique retail store with the services rendered off-site at the nearest plant, or both.
Founded in 2000 and franchising since 2001, the number of locations has nearly tripled in recent years from 39 in 2012 to the current total of 102, of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
6. ZIPS Dry Cleaners
ZIPS Dry Cleaners has a pricing structure that’s hard for consumers to resist. It offers same-day (in by 9, out by 5) one-price dry cleaning. There is a single low price per item, no matter what it is – a shirt, a pair of pants, a necktie, and so on. This is a great approach for people who only have a few items that need to be dry cleaned. And their per-item single price is significantly lower than the national average.
The dry cleaning is also done on-site, unlike many places where the clothes have to be shuffled off to a nearby plant for cleaning. Unlike other companies, ZIPS only does dry cleaning – not all the other extra services others offer. It does not use eco-friendly solvents, but does recycle hangers and use biodegradable garment bags.
Founded in 1996 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has steadily expanded in recent years from 28 in 2011 to the current total of 67 (up from the previously reported total of 62), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
7. Oxxo Care Cleaners
Oxxo Care Cleaners is the only company on this list that has an ATM-style retrieval system. You can pick your clothes up 24/7 by using your special OXXO card at a large window for the conveyor to bring your order to the window.
This chain has a similar array of services to other companies on this list, including dry cleaning and laundry services, alterations, shoe repairs, and cleaning of gowns, comforters, rugs, leather and suede, cushions, and stuffed toys. Most locations also offer corporate, hotel, and couture services. The company is eco-friendly through GreenEarth equipment and solvents.
Founded in 2001 and franchising since 2002, the number of locations had been rising in recent years from 35 in 2012 to 65 in 2019 but has since dropped to the current total of 61, of which five are company-owned and 10 are located outside the US.
8. WaveMax Laundry
WaveMax Laundry sets itself apart from other laundromats by emphasizing the quality of its washers and dryers. Their washers automatically weigh each load and then put in the exact amount of water needed for optimal cleaning. While many washing machines only extract water at 80G-100G force, WaveMax washers spin with 200G force, which means clothes come out less moist, which saves on drying costs. Its dryers track the dryness of clothes and automatically adjusts the temperature for optimal drying so clothes never get scorched.
Similar to other laundromats, locations offer both self-serve coin-op washers and dryers, as well as drop-off wash, dry, and fold services.
Founded in 2012 and franchising since 2016, the number of locations stands at 16 (up from the previously reported total of seven), of which one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.