Earning extra income at home by doing laundry

March 10 2014 | Guest post by Alaina Hollander

doing-laundry-800x800

There are a lot of articles and blogs out there about making money from home. Most of these are targeted at stay-at-home moms and include things like, "Get a job as a virtual assistant" or, "Sell your handmade goods through an Etsy shop." These are great ideas, and I am sure they work for a lot of people, but in my experience with this a lot more time is spent scouring the interwebs for opportunities than actually generating any income.

There are lots of online opportunities out there, but what I have found works best for me is low tech and old fashioned. I wash clothes and I bake bread.

Let me introduce you to, quite possibly, the easiest at-home business you can have… Wash and Fold laundry services! It isn't glamorous and at some point you will feel like Divine in Hairspray, but it generates a decent bit of cash and is most likely something you already know how to do.

First, the legal side

Laundry is considered a service, which, in a lot of US states, means you don't need to charge taxes, which means no messy filing of business income and quarterly returns. It is also covered by cottage industry laws, which means for the most part you can operate out of your home without dealing with your local zoning board, or registering your business as anything more complicated than a D.B.A. The only thing I would recommend looking out for is if you have any persnickety neighbors. Certain areas have cottage industry laws that state you cannot disturb/greatly affect traffic flow and parking; even if your patrons park in your private driveway, the increased traffic on the street is something someone could complain about.

Before you begin, consider how much it will cost, both long and short term

  • Are your washing machine and dryer ready to be running all day every day?
  • How will this affect your utility bills?
  • If you have a septic system, will increasing your waste water production tax your system?

If all of those questions can be answered, and you feel ready to begin, consider your asking price. Where I am at, I can charge $1 per pound (or a little more). Do your research, and charge according to your costs. Think of it like any other business venture, and make sure you are netting a minimum 30% profit (from my personal experience it will be significantly more).

But where do you find your customers?

Look for a local business that has out-of-state contractors present and talk to them directly — there will likely be an HR person who has answered a few calls about the subject. Also consider advertising at extended-stay hotels (if you get a nice business card printed — even from your home printer — hotels are happy to keep these at the front desk, because it is a service they can refer their guests to, which makes them happy and more likely to return to and/or recommend the hotel to others). Once you find a client or two and make them happy you can rely on word of mouth. Also, hit up your local community boards and find customers that live in your town. Even if you live in a poorer community there are people who will pay to have their laundry done for the convenience (I live in a rural, blink-and-you'll-miss-it town in northern New Mexico with only one major employer and still have clients from the community).

Then, get to washing, and folding, and repeating!

A couple of bonus tips:

If you have access to it, and can coordinate a schedule, you can offer to drop off/pick up service for dry cleaning. This is great if you have weekly errands you would do anyway that are near the dry cleaner. If you go grocery shopping every Monday, and take your kids to soccer practice every Friday, you can turn those two days into your drop off and pick up days. It'll more than pay for the gas to run your family errands.

You should expect to make killer tips. Most of the loads I take in are between 15-25 pounds, I end up getting $40 for the work, at times more than a 100% tip.

The best stain removing pre-treater I have found is one I make myself: equal parts hydrogen peroxide, water, and a healthy squeeze of Dawn dish soap. Most of the folks I wash for are miners — this mix gets out everything they have thrown at me.

Once you get established with your laundry business parlay the influx of people in your home into a second stream of income

For me, this is selling bread and jam. Again the legal issues here are practically nil. In most states, jam and bread are the only two foods you can legally sell without having produced them in a commercial kitchen. As with the laundry, the business side is covered by cottage industry laws.

This will not make nearly as much money as the laundry service, but at $3 to $5 per loaf/jar it is a great little bonus that will generate enough to cover the smaller incidentals in your life, like school field trip fees, and that eggs/butter/milk trip to the grocery store. I found this to be a great option considering that many of the people I see are away from home, staying in hotel rooms and RVs, and eating whatever microwave meal is cheapest.

I am not saying this will make you rich, but it is a great way to supplement income while home and still affords you plenty of time to do the things you need to do for yourself and your family.

  1. This is a great idea for some extra income, but before you dive in please please please check with an accountant and your local department of agriculture (if you're doing food) before proceeding. I know the statements in this article about taxes / food prep definitely don't apply to my particular state, and while it costs some up-front cash to meet with an accountant it is 100% worth it down the line.

    13 agree
    • I'd second that. Here in Ontario, Canada, there are all SORTS of regulations on small businesses. I'm trying to start up a work-from-home freelance graphic design business, and I need $2 million in liability insurance to get a business license. Here, sales taxes are based on how much you sell (fortunately the threshold is reasonably high — grossing $30,000/year), and apply to both goods and services. I'm also fairly confident that you can't sell processed food out of your home here, unless you're a farm and the ingredients are primarily grown on your farm (or, you know, you have a certified kitchen — but you have to have three sinks and all sorts of fanciness for that, so most of us can't go that route). Look into your local regulations before making any decisions!

  2. Find a few other parents and wash cloth diapers. They will go through extra cycles, so it will cost more and make more, and will require a bit of 'cloth diaper knowledge', but lots of people don't want to do that.

    8 agree
  3. I think someone in the building next to ours does this. Unfortunately they have their machine running at all hours! 🙁 We've put up polite notices (as we don't know who is responsible) but they haven't stopped.
    so please be considerate to your neighbours 🙂

    6 agree
      • It depends on your living set up. We have an upstairs apartment and can never hear our neighbors doing laundry, but our downstairs neighbor can always hear ours. And I've definitely lived places where the machines could be heard a long ways off.

        2 agree
      • You might be surprised. We live in a townhouse with cinder block walls. The only thing I can hear from my neighbors is the water running/draining because the pipes are between the two walls. I don't even notice it during the day usually but if I'm lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep I do.

  4. To second Sylvia from the U.S., definitely check the tax laws in your area — my state (Washington) does require you to get a business license and report service income, though for a small business like this you will probably only have to file yearly and may be under the B&O threshold to actually *pay* taxes. There may be city or county taxes/licenses required as well. (Not saying it's a bad idea, mind you, but don't assume that service doesn't equal taxes.)

    3 agree
  5. Also, be sure to understand the difference between SALES tax (which as the author notes, you may not have to pay in your state since it is a service-based business), and self-employment income tax, which is almost guaranteed that you will need to pay (quarterly!).

    12 agree
    • There is an income threshold to hit before you're required to pay quarterly taxes, but it's a good idea to do it anyway just to get that money out of your account and safely put towards the taxes so you don't get hit with a huge crazy bill come tax time.

      ASK HOW I KNOW. *weep*

      7 agree
  6. I would like to add that before you begin, you'd be well-served to examine your potential liabilities. Laundry doesn't seem like it, but it is a service that involves a chemical product, which can create a liability issue. Be very, very upfront with any potential customers about any detergeants or other substances you use (fabric softener, starch, etc.). You might wish to allow customers to provide their own detergeants and washes if you're so inclined. A lot of people using laundry services are new parents or have kids, which makes the chemical issues even more pressing.

    Another potential liability is lost or damaged pieces. Some cleaners now, when they take you on as a client, have actual waivers you sign just for this purpose. You might want to consider one that lets any potential client know exactly what kind of cleaners you use, any disclaimers of liability, etc. A good way to come up with a waiver is to meet with a lawyer who has experience with small businesses, but there are also plenty of templates online that work well for basic needs.

    I don't want to seem like I'm trying to take the piss out of anyone's business dreams at all – quite the opposite. But I do just want to add a friendly reminder that it's better to get your ducks in a row now as opposed to having a dissatisfied customer ranting and dropping the L-word later. It saves a lot of aggravation.

    9 agree
    • A short waiver doesn't have to be intimidating, just some common sense words about the possibilities of clothing damage or the inability to get out a stain.
      As far as chemicals go, I bet you could get some extra money per load by offering "organic" laundry services, with organic, dye-free, scent-free detergents and cleaners.

      10 agree
  7. Don't forget to contact your home insurance company either. You must let them know that you're running a business out of your home. If not, you risk a claim being denied. Also, if any of your customers file a suit against you, your home insurance will generally not cover that. Make sure you're properly covered.

    5 agree
  8. Neat idea! I hate laundry and find that it's always the last thing left on my list. If my husband hadn't started doing loads on the weekends I would totally consider hiring this kind of service. And I would find the organic home-made detergent very appealing, I've always wanted to try it but my hatred of laundry is still currently winning.

    1 agrees
  9. If my mom had her own washer/dryer, I would definitely recommend this to her. It sounds like a great idea, and she needs extra cash in the off-season (november – april or so) because she works in service industries. I know she has ironed clothes for one woman in the past. I am trying to think of options for someone who doesn't have constant access to a washer/dryer . . . ironing? hand-washing? any thoughts?

  10. Good idea, I like that it is old-fashioned. I feel creeped out by a lot of the online options for at-home jobs. I really like the idea of cottage industry, but I don't know exactly what I would like to do. I don't think I could do this, but something along these lines would suit me. I have done a lot of babysitting/tutoring/companionship type things (and even house cleaning) to get out of having "real" jobs in the past, but I am kind of burnt out on childcare.

    3 agree
  11. I love this idea of non-complicated home business stuff. Supplemental income is always helpful & the simplest you can make it the better. Honestly I wouldn't be too concerned with the tax laws & legalese of something as simple as selling jam or bread out of your home to friends/regular customers. I think we get a little carried away when worrying about the minutiae of things that most likely won't even ever be a factor & it scares a lot of people away from doing things like this & thinking out of the box.

    Obviously, it's up to you to do your research on your local laws & whatever type of business you want to pursue… but do we really think the IRS is going to come down on us for selling a jar of homemade jam here & there on the side to make a few extra bucks for our eggs & butter this week? Use your own good judgement, get creative & be cautious but not paralyzed by taxes & laws & "what if" scenarios.

    4 agree
    • On the other side, I think it's important to make sure you're on the up-and-up with stuff like this just in case. I actually remember seeing on the news a couple years ago that the cops shut down a kid's lemonade stand because they didn't have a business permit…….. now *THAT* is ridiculous, but because things like that happen, I wouldn't want to start a business without consulting the rule books.

      2 agree
  12. Ooo, this is interesting! I'm always trying to figure out something feasible to do from home for extra income, and this gives me some things to consider. Thanks!

    • You could get a hook type scale you can get at a luggage store or the kind you use to weigh fish. With a scale like this you would hang the bag from it to check it's weight. Much easier than trying to get it on a bathroom scale.

      Is anyone else concerned by the safety aspect of bringing all these strangers to your home?

  13. Hi do you use a contract, or terms of service agreement? If you do are you able to provide a sample or draft?

  14. I am wanting to do this for residents in my town like the elderly that can’t do their laundry anymore because it’s so hard, but I’m not sure what to charge I live in Buena Vista Va.

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