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Yes, woolen blankets can be washed!

Anshul Gupta, Founder & CEO, Quick Clean Laundry Systems, which is the authorised India partner for the laundry solutions of Electrolux Professional Sweden, recently spoke to an audience of railway delegates about a pressing problem: washing blankets provided to passengers. In his talk, he underlined the scope of the problem, why it hasn’t been solved so far, and how his company has the technology to allow blankets to be washed after every use, without damaging them. Here are excerpts from his presentation, as well as his answers to some questions they provoked:

Our mission is to make our customers’ lives easier, more profitable, and sustainable. Hence, most of our solutions are energy-saving and water-saving.

Unmet needs

We all know that when trains resumed during the pandemic, passengers had to travel for days and nights without linen. But did hotels stop providing linen to their guests? Did hospitals ask their patients to bring their own linen from their homes? No! Because they have an ecosystem which they could rely on to hygienically process linen.

Right now, I feel BOOT laundries are covering only a fraction of the total linen requirements. Post-Covid, the number of linen bundles that need to be provided every day may go up to as high as 5,00,000 to 6,00,000. With new coaches coming up, this number is only set to grow.

Blanket washing

Some years ago, there was an article which said that Railways will wash blankets once a month, which means that the same blanket will be used by 5-15 passengers before being washed. There is no need to explain how unhygienic this can be.

The reason why blankets are not washed after every use is because if they are washed using conventional systems, blankets will have very short lives. What is needed is a system that hygienically processes blankets without impacting the life of the linen or the quality of the blanket.

As we all know, blankets are supposed to be dry cleaned. This requires the use of huge amounts of perchloroethylene; the world over, this use of this chemical is being curtailed, or banned.

For cleaning blankets, the Railways cannot go in for a technology that is already being phased out. It is also very expensive, and may have a harmful impact on human health. So, what is the alternative?

Wet cleaning

We have proposed a Woolmark-approved solution for wet cleaning, which has already been adopted by almost 200+ five-star hotels to handle their drycleaning requirements. In 2017, we conducted trials in Mumbai and Delhi where we processed new fresh blankets; even after we passed them through 10-20 cycles, there was no drop in the weightage of the blanket and no change in the size or dimension of the blanket.

Except for the first wash, when any new garment takes shape, there is no permanent effect of the washing process. The reduction is 200 gms after the first wash, but after that, it’s been only 5 gms per wash. With this technology, we can wash the current used blankets; there is no need to look for alternate blankets. The same blanket can be washed multiple times using this technology and can still survive 200 washes.

If the blanket is washed after every use, the Railways can eliminate one bedsheet from the passenger linen, leading to a massive overall reduction in both procurement and laundry costs.

The technology

We use a Woolmark-certified technology called Lagoon. It uses water as a base and some eco-friendly chemicals which are biodegradable. We give almost negligible mechanical action; it’s a baby wash. With low mechanical action, special chemicals and water, we are able to process a delicate garment like silk or pashmina in water, and we have dryers that have residual moisture control.

The shrinkage of any garment happens when it is overheated, or if it is exposed to mechanical action. Our process eliminates mechanical action and also eliminates heat; it’s a cold water wash.  The machines, programs and chemicals all come as a complete package, so that Railways can wash its blankets with no damage.

Can blankets be packaged automatically?

Yes, they can. This is already being done for airline blankets, which are not packed manually. They are picked up from a conveyor belt and folded automatically.

Can paper be used in automated packaging of linen?

No, not yet. Plastic is still the only alternative. Cornstarch can be used. However, the cost will increase. The packaging industry is already moving away from plastic, and towards cornstarch, which is biodegradable and does not cause pollution.

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