Launderettes in Brussels

There are more than a hundred self-service laundries in Brussels. Four large chains occupy roughly a half of the market, and the rest is shared by scores of independent operators. The non-staffed, self-service approach definitely rules. Launderettes are interesting in their minimalism. They are fully automated and coin or token operated. From a legal perspective they are private spaces, but they feel like public spaces such as waiting rooms at bus or railway stations. For security reasons, visibility inside the launderette is always kept unfettered. The key operating principle is that there is as little to steal as possible. These places suggest that
self-regulation only works when there is very little to regulate.

Time and space almost disappear in the more clinical launderettes. The aesthetics stress rather uniform clarity and cleanliness with white and blue as the dominant colours. As regards signage and logos, bubbles are the favourite theme but clouds, water droplets and waves abound, too. Some launderettes have mural paintings with a blue sky, the sea or a swimming pool. Washing machines, clothespins, waves and white laundry hanging on line are popular motifs, too.

On the whole, the atmosphere of a launderette is simultaneously eerily intimate and impersonal, hospital-like and threatening. Staff only visits to maintain the machinery or to clean the place up. The only security is provided by a CCTV camera.

It is the clientele that creates the greatest variation in launderettes.

Riitta Oittinen