Cleanly review: Do we need a Netflix for laundry?


Adam Cecil

Adam Cecil

Former Staff Writer

Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

Published September 27, 2017|5 min read

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Like a good number of New Yorkers, my girlfriend Chloe and I do not have either a washing or drying machine in our apartment. Instead, almost every weekend, we haul our dirty clothes over to a laundromat three blocks away in two big blue Ikea bags. This is rarely fun or convenient, but the laundromat does have free WiFi and free donuts if you get there early enough.

There is an alternative. You can always do drop-off service – dropping off your dirty clothes at a laundromat and picking them up a day later. This, of course, is expensive, and usually reserved for special occasions or for a unique breed of New Yorkers who can afford to pay someone else to do their laundry but can’t afford an apartment with a washer/dryer combo.

What if I told you there was a third option? What if I told you that someone could come to your apartment, pick up your dirty clothes for you, and then bring them back a day later, washed and folded? What if I told you that you could do it all in an app?

There are actually a ton of apps and services that do exactly that, but only one of them calls themselves the “Netflix of laundry.” That would be Cleanly, a VC-backed company that’s been around since 2015. Cleanly calls themselves the Netflix of laundry because they’re spending billions of dollars every year to create original content that you can watch on your phone while you’re waiting for laundry to get dropped off. Just kidding – they call themselves that because they have a monthly subscription service, and Silicon Valley folk only know how to describe companies by comparing them to another company with a completely different business model.

To be fair to Cleanly, it’s technically Brit+Co that calls them the Netflix of laundry, but Cleanly does run the article as a sponsored post on my Facebook feed all of the time, so I’m blaming them for endorsing this viewpoint and forcing me to see it every time I just try to engage with my East Coast liberal bubble.

When Chloe and I spent a recent weekend in Philadelphia, we pretty much eliminated any chance that we’d be able to go to the laundromat. “Why don’t we try getting our laundry picked up from our apartment and then delivered back to our apartment using an app?” Chloe said. “Yes, that sounds great, but only if that app could be described as the ‘Netflix of laundry’,” I replied.

The experience of downloading the Cleanly app and setting up the order was easy, primarily because I didn’t do it. “It was super easy,” says Chloe, who actually downloaded the app. Cleanly offers three different services: wash and fold (a.k.a. “laundry”), laundered shirts, and dry cleaning. There are also a few extras you can throw in – for example, bath mats cost extra, as does most bedding. You can also pay extra to have items hung out to dry.

We went with the regular wash and fold, which cost $1.50 per pound. We had a tough time trying to estimate how much laundry we actually had. How much do you think your outfit weighs in aggregate? How much does it weigh when soiled? These are the kind of existential questions we found ourselves asking to our cats, who stared back, blankly. In the end, it was 15 pounds, twice as much as the average birth weight of a child of European heritage.

Cleanly charges a delivery fee of $4.99 on orders under $30. Cleanly also charges a delivery fee for same day service and overnight service. (Pay attention, because here’s where this regular old cleaning service turns into the Netflix of laundry.) You can get all of these delivery fees waived if you join Cleanly Reserve, their premium subscription laundry service.

What do you get out of a premium laundry service? Free delivery, as already mentioned, plus exclusive RUSH delivery, which guarantees same day and overnight turnaround for your clothing. (Which, by the way, implies that the non-subscription same day and overnight delivery is not guaranteed.) You also get free hang dry, waived cancellation fees, and “more to come,” which I can only assume refers to their upcoming original television content.

Cleanly estimates that you could save up to $400 annually by becoming a Reserve member, though you can save a lot more than that by just doing your own laundry. I can see Reserve being useful for people who constantly need clothing dry cleaned, however – dry cleaning is already expensive, and rarely something you can do on your own. I can see how Cleanly can definitely make that experience a hundred times more convenient.

Me and Chloe’s Cleanly “Valet,” a.k.a. delivery guy, came with branded Cleanly laundry bags, which we got to keep. He gave us two bags for wash and fold and one bag for hang dry items. I imagine that if you request laundered shirts or dry cleaning, they may give you additional bags. We stuffed our clothing into the bag and handed it to the man, who whisked it away to Cleanly’s processing center.

Now, here’s where things get fun. Like many laundry startups, Cleanly doesn’t actually clean the clothes you give them. Instead, they partner with vendors across the city that actually clean your clothes. Cleanly weighs and organizes the orders, packages them up for vendors, and supposedly uses some kind of algorithm to intelligently assign orders to different vendors so no one gets overwhelmed. Vendors then pick up orders from the processing center, clean them, and deliver them back to Cleanly. A Cleanly Valet then takes it back to you, the unwitting consumer.

We got our clothes back a day later, washed and folded as we requested. They smelled like summer, and there were no socks missing, which already gives Cleanly a leg up over our normal laundry routine.

But was it worth the cost? For sure – especially because Chloe found a $10 off coupon online. We only paid about $17 for the order. Would we do it every week? Probably not, as it would easily cost over $120 per month. Would we sign up for a subscription laundry service that doesn’t even get you award-winning content like Master of None or The Crown? Almost certainly not.