Washday, when, once a month, kilos of dirty washing would have to be boiled, trampled, swung, rinsed and wrung, was not something that people particularly looked forward to in the past. The invention of the washing machine turned this back-breaking job into a thing of the past. But the notion of ‘washday’ remains.
“For us, every day is washday,” says Astrid Wozniak, Brand Communications Manager at hygienic and work apparel suppliers, CWS-boco International. The company runs 47 sites in 16 European countries and maintains over 40 industrial laundry units. There, everything and anything that’s been put down for more than three seconds gets washed: leased linen and work apparel for tradespeople, doctors and firefighters, hotel linen and – in highly specialised clean-room laundries – clean-room textiles used in chip manufacture.
CWS-boco washing machines launder hundreds of tons of washing every day. Standard retail household washing machines, on the other hand, cope with just five to eight kilos per wash. And even if these have become significantly more energy-efficient in recent years, the positive impact on the environment is mostly – wouldn’t it just! – negated by the consumer. “Most readers of the Texprocess Blog use their washing machines when they feel like it and set them going, even though they are not full – alas, they aren’t exactly doing the environment a lot of good!” says Wozniak.
And she gives an example, to wash away any lingering doubts. A modern washing machine needs about ten litres of fresh water to clean around a kilo of heavy protective jacket – an industrial laundering process requires only around half the amount of fresh water, washing powder and energy, because the size of the load, temperature and amount of washing agent used are determined by the machine. “Industrial washing machines are more sparing of resources,” says Wozniak. And they need to be, given the amount of washing that has to be got through: some 175 000 tons of soiled washing (175 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower) finds its way through the high-tech tubs of CWS-boco every year.
The Romans invented it
The earliest examples of commercial laundries, incidentally, come from excavations in Pompeii. The Romans gave their dirty white garments (clothes were not dyed until later) to what were called the ‘fullones’ – the ‘fullers’ who ran the laundries in ancient Rome, on the banks of the Tiber. In subsequent centuries in Europe, it was principally the women who took on this work – often in the river, using laundry mallets or washboards. Absurdly awkward, as John Tizack observed at the end of the 17th century. As a result, shortly afterwards, he invented a machine for laundering textiles, subsequently protected by an English patent – number 271. It was, however, another 200 years before the electric washing machine was invented – the forerunner of every domestic and industrial machine today.
The highly complex process of industrial cleaning has a number of similarities to that in people’s homes: to do the job that often falls to parents with (some) truculent teenagers, there is a service driver; but he works on an industrial scale. He fetches the dirty washing from the customers and brings it to the laundry, in containers. There, the staff sort the various textiles and put them onto conveyor belts, which take them to various washing machines. Each load involves around 500 bundles of items for the wash called ‘batches’, which then make their way through various bits of the plant where they are dealt with according to the level of dirt they contain and the nature of the material they are made of – with up to 16 different settings.
A laundry cycle starts with arrival on the premises and ends with dispatch: the whole process from dirty to clean lasts four to five hours. And who, for instance, irons 1,000 tradesmen’s trousers in one go? “The finishing processes are all done mechanically. Steam is used both for ironing and for drying. Only the little details are perfected by hand,” says Wozniak. To ensure that not a single item goes missing, each one is given a barcode and all the hangers have an RFID chip. “That way, we can deliver, let’s say, a freshly laundered tiler’s outfit right to his or her locker on site,” says Wozniak. Almost like the old days, therefore, when one’s previously soiled clothes suddenly reappear “as if laundered by a loving and magical hand”, smelling sweet again and hanging in the wardrobe once more. +++
Title image source: CWS-boco