Laundromat Owners Are in the ‘Business of Clean’ – Now More Than Ever, Your Facilities Must Truly Reflect This Mindset

A recent survey conducted on behalf of the American Cleaning Institute showed a 14 percent decline in handwashing practices for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After nearly a year of quarantining, social distancing, protective mask-wearing and staying up to date with the latest cleaning and hygiene protocols, perhaps more than of few of us are suffering from a bit of pandemic fatigue.

“While we’ve been dealing with the pandemic for many months, we cannot afford to let our guard down when it comes to common sense hygiene and cleaning routines,” stressed Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications, outreach and membership for the ACI. “Cleaning is essential for all of us for quality of life and illness prevention. In facilities like laundromats, it’s especially important to ensure the environment is clean in order to help keep people safe and healthy. Regular cleaning, disinfecting and laundering can help keep us healthy and safe every day.”

Pandemic or no pandemic, successful laundromat owners through the years have always understood that they’re in the “business of clean,” and that their facilities must reflect this mindset. After all, no one wants to wash their clothes in a dirty store.

The events of the last several months have just reiterated this fact, and have spurred on all owners who care about their businesses and their customers to up their games in this regard. If there is a silver lining to the past year we’ve endured, it’s that it has cemented the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in the minds of most store owners.

No doubt, we can argue all day about the validity and actual need to disinfect hard surfaces in order to stop the spread of an airborne virus. But that’s not really the point. Customers’ perceptions of the cleanliness and safety of your store become their reality. And, for today’s owners in today’s environment, an ultra-clean laundromat can serve as your best advertising campaign – just as it did during the industry’s infancy… and as it will when we put this current crisis behind us.

Training Your Cleaning Staff

Looking to take your store’s cleanliness to the next level? Where do you begin? What type of basic training should a laundromat’s cleaning personnel undergo – and what specifically should that training include?

“Laundromats are places of business, and workers are covered by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration,” explained Stephen Ashkin, a corporate trainer who has worked with the Building Service Contractors Association International on the development of its COVID-19 Disinfection and Safety Certificate Course. “One of the specific requirements is that workers understand the hazards associated with the products they are using. So, make sure that training is available on those chemicals and that safety data sheets are available.”

He added that attendant training should be based on the specific products used and the items and surfaces that need to be cleaned, to assure that the products are being used correctly.

“For example, many disinfectants require that the surface remain wet for 10 minutes so that the chemicals can kill the pathogens before it is removed,” Ashkin explained. “Workers need to understand basic things like this. Plus, they need to learn how to do their jobs without harming their own health – both from exposure to the chemicals, as well as from ergonomic problems where cleaning can hurt their backs, shoulders, hips and knees.”

Perhaps the most critical disinfecting procedure is for your cleaning staff to follow the label directions with regard to “contact time.” This is the amount of time it takes for the chemicals to actually kill the pathogens, and it can be as long as 10 minutes. As a result, simply spraying on a disinfectant and immediately wiping it dry is insufficient.

“The cleaning process should include pre-cleaning the surfaces if they are dirty, then applying the disinfectant, letting in work for the prescribed amount of time while the workers are handling other cleaning tasks, and then coming back to the disinfected surface after the necessary contact time and wiping the surface clean,” Ashkin noted.

Building Your Cleaning Arsenal

Of course, having the proper cleaning products and other tools on hand is crucial to ensuring that your attendants can do the best job possible.

It’s likely that a disinfectant will be used on high-touch surfaces, such as the controls for washers and dryers, coin mechanisms, folding tables, and faucets and toilets.

A neutral pH, all-purpose or general-purpose cleaner can be used for cleaning most other surfaces in your laundromat, including the floor. A glass cleaner should be used on windows and mirrors. And, depending on the hardness of the water, which will leave stains in toilets, an acid-based bowl cleaner may be necessary.

“The use of ‘green’ cleaning products are recommended to reduce the risk of harm to workers in the event they misuse a product,” Ashkin said. “Most local janitorial supply companies will carry products that are certified by Green Seal, EcoLogo or the EPA’s Safer Choice program, which makes it easier to buy these green/safer products with confidence.”

In addition, a dual-compartment bucket and wringer are important. Ideally, use microfiber mops – they require less water than a conventional string mop, resulting in less risk of slips and falls, because the floors will dry faster. Clearly, this can be especially important for laundromats, where cleaning is often taking place while customers are in the store. And don’t forget the appropriate signage to identify when and where the floors are wet.

And, let’s face it, no one likes scrubbing toilets and cleaning the restrooms. So, don’t neglect purchasing quality toilet bowl cleaning tools, including those with longer handles, so your attendants can do a great job without having to bend over or get down on their knees to clean the toilet.

Organizing Your Clean Routine

Your laundromat should be cleaned as necessary, focusing on the things that customers see. This includes restrooms; glass doors and windows with fingerprints and smudges; floors that are littered or showing visible soils; and, of course, your washers, dryers, bill changers, payment kiosks and vending machines. Trash cans must be emptied and cleaned as often as needed.

“When cleaning to protect health, focus on the things customer’s touch,” Ashkin said. “Disinfecting high-touch points should be done on a daily basis at a minimum. In some cases, high-touch points should be disinfected between customer uses. Although disinfectants don’t need to be used for all cleaning purposes, they really can help reduce the spread of pathogens from surfaces that multiple people touch.

“Cleaning is incredibly important, thus make it clear which worker has to do the cleaning, what they have to clean and when,” he continued. “This is especially critical if workers are rotated for cleaning assignments.”

In addition, checklists can be placed on the backs of restroom doors so that it’s clear who cleaned the restroom last and when, Ashkin added.

Owners Who Are Cleaning Up

This month, we asked a few laundromat operators to share their own personal cleaning strategies:

Stephen Gramaglia
CleanFresh Laundromat
Yonkers, N.Y.

For my business, having an ultra-clean laundromat is what sets us apart from our competitors and is vital to our success. My business plan had always been to be the cleanest laundromat in my crowded market, but when we opened our doors this past May, it was more important than ever that our customers felt safe.

We continue to sanitize the store all day, and we do a deep cleaning overnight. We’ve had extremely positive feedback from our customers about our cleanliness, and our business continues to grow by more than 10 percent every month, in large part due to this factor.

When customers come into my location for the first time, their first comment is, “You can eat off the floor in here. I’ve never seen a laundromat so clean.” This leads to repeat business, word-of-mouth referrals and many five-star Google reviews. I get a lot of new business from the friends and family of happy customers, as well as people who search Google and see our reviews.

We continue to be extra diligent about keeping the store as clean and sanitized as possible all day, every day. I don’t see this changing. It has become part of the fabric of this business, and our customers have come to expect it.

We have a daytime and overnight cleaning schedule that our employees follow and we monitor. The laundromat is fully attended, and our operating hours are 6:00 a.m. to midnight. Our attendants are responsible for cleaning the restrooms at least once during their eight-hour shifts, and more often if needed. The folding tables and seating area are sprayed with disinfectant and wiped down hourly. We clean out the soap dispensers at least four times a day. We sweep and vacuum hourly, and we spot mop any spills as needed. We have an overnight attendant who does a much more detailed deep cleaning and sanitizing every night between midnight and 6:00 a.m.

I have no pre-COVID experience, as we opened just last May. However, my research of the industry showed that many store owners are absentee owners, and some of them don’t pay much attention to the cleanliness of their stores. They see this business as passive income. I look at it very differently. I’m a hands-on operator, and I make a point of showing my customers that I care about their well-being. I’m constantly pushing a broom and wiping down folding tables – and my customers see that and appreciate it. When my customers see me and my staff cleaning, they thank us.

Our cleaning and disinfecting practices are absolutely a difference-maker in our marketplace. We are the highest priced laundromat in our market. But our customers are more than willing to pay a premium for what we offer, and our cleanliness is a contributing factor to our success.

We are the largest laundromat in our market, so we are constantly advertising two related items – our cleanliness and spaciousness. We take full advantage of it.

My advice to other laundry owners would be to spend a little bit of time and money on keeping their stores spotless and they can achieve a tremendous return on that investment. Show your customers that you care about their health and well-being, and they will be loyal customers and will help promote your laundromat for you.

Bo McKenzie
BBM Coin Laundry
Rome, Ga.

I think the cleanliness of our laundromats tells our customers that we respect them and take pride in providing them with the best possible laundry experience. Our customers comment to us all the time about how much they appreciate coming into a clean laundromat. Word-of-mouth promotion is still our best advertisement.

Clearly, in recent months, we’ve become even more conscientious about more frequently cleaning all of the door handles, the washer and dryer tubs, the change machines and the vending machines. In fact, we went from cleaning those items twice a day to seven or even 10 times a day.

What’s more, each store receives a deep cleaning once a day. We follow a checklist when cleaning our stores. We also started disinfecting all of the door handles multiple times a day.

We are wiping down machines, folding tables, chairs and handles more often now. We also use an aerosol disinfectant after most washing and drying cycles.

Lastly, although I don’t think customers will choose a laundromat strictly because they like the flooring, I know that all store owners are concerned with their flooring – keeping it clean, maintained and free of the possibility of slip-and-fall accidents.

Along those lines, we’ve recently removed the old VCT tile flooring in our first store. We’ve sanded the cement, had it professionally cleaned and then laid down several coats of a clear sealer over it. And it’s amazing how much better the entire facility looks. We feel that the floor is now much safer, and it’s also much easier to keep clean.

Ken Barrett
Washin Coin Laundry
Golden Springs Laundry Company
Anniston/Oxford, Ala.

What is the key item that has come up in laundromat customer surveys for decades? Cleanliness. And what are the three main things that we all strive to offer our customers? A clean, safe laundromat with equipment that works.

Everything else is just details – personal touches that we all add to make our businesses stand out from the competition, to “brand” our stores and to provide a better overall experience. However, paint colors, layouts, decorations, seating, door sizes and all of the other smaller details won’t get you as many positive comments as a clean store will. And nothing builds business better than customers letting others know, “I come here because it’s always clean!”

Our customers understand that a laundromat can have some dryer sheets on the floor and maybe some dirt from a construction worker’s clothes and yet still be clean. They look past these items; however, they definitely will notice dirt built up in the corners of the store, dust on the table bases, a smelly restroom trashcan and so on.

For a number of years, I’ve used a small cleaning company – a husband-and-wife team – to clean all of my stores. As we run 24 hours unattended, some days they are the face of the business to my customers. They take pride in what they do and have been invaluable in informing me about any issues in the stores – from error codes to coin jams to ceiling tiles that were out of place. They clean each store daily and twice on the weekends.

A clean, safe laundromat with equipment that works – your customers shouldn’t have to settle for two out of three.

Ed Ellis
1 Clean Laundry
St. Cloud, Fla.

The idea of having a super clean laundromat has always been an area of great focus for us. “Clean” is in our name on purpose. Being clean was part of our core strategy from Day One, when we built our first store 11 years ago. We believe that customers are coming to our store to get clean clothes. If the store were to be dirty, would they feel as though their clothes are truly clean? Obviously, the answer is no. And our attendants take great pride when customers tell them that we have the cleanest laundromat in town.

Our definition of a “clean” store has changed slightly in the last several months. We’ve added a sanitizer to our cleaning routine. Prior to the virus, we would use only a disinfectant while wiping down tables and chairs, but we’ve now added a sanitization step – and all touchpoints are treated several times per day.

We have cleaning checklists in place for opening and closing that cover the basic cleaning tasks: floors, machines, restrooms, glass, laundry carts, chairs and tables. What’s more, there is an additional checklist for the employees to follow during their shifts, which includes extra sanitizing and disinfecting.

My goal is to seek out the necessary cleaning supplies and keep my attendants well-stocked with the tools they need to keep the store clean.

A store needs to both look clean and smell clean. The first thing a customer should notice when walking through your doors is the cleanliness. First impressions mean the most. As the owner, I feel that our customers appreciate seeing me with the sanitizer bottle and a broom helping the attendants keep everything safe and tidy.

Although I don’t actively promote our cleanliness – other than in our stores’ name – our customers do the promoting of it via Google reviews and other social media platforms. I believe it carries much more credibility in the eyes of the public than whatever the business may say about itself.

My best advice to other laundry owners is clean your store, then clean it again… and again. One of my favorite phrases that I share with my attendants during initial job interviews, training and staff meetings is: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

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