1660s, "to wash linen," from noun launder "one who washes" (especially linen), mid-15c., a contraction of lavender, from Old French lavandier "washer, launderer" (12c.), from Medieval Latin lavandaria "a washer," which is ultimately from Latin lavare "to wash" (from PIE root *leue- "to wash"). Criminal banking sense first recorded 1961, from notion of making dirty money clean; the word in this sense was brought to widespread use during U.S. Watergate scandal, 1973. Related: Laundered; laundering.
updated on May 21, 2017