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Laundry day during a pandemic: Keep space in laundromats, use hot water

Laundry day during a pandemic: Keep space in laundromats, use hot water

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Isadore Branch folds his laundry at East Wash Laundry on Friday. COVID-19 presents a set of challenges for those who use laundromats.

As households across Dane County are urged to stay in place and ordered to limit gatherings to 10 people to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, decisions to take on everyday household tasks that require going outside the home are more fraught.    

Households without a washer and dryer in their residences may be facing those decisions come laundry day. Keeping clothes clean, especially if someone in a household has been ill, is critical. 

“Laundromats are providing essential service as a matter of public health and hygiene in light of the coronavirus outbreak,” said Brian Wallace, director of Coin Laundry Association.  

On March 17, Gov. Tony Evers ordered bars and restaurants to close and restricted any gathering to a maximum of 10 people.  

Three days later, Evers and state health officials issued an updated order closing down tattoo parlors, tanning facilities, hair and nail salons across Wisconsin, effective Friday at 5 p.m.. 

The latest guidance, which builds on a previously issued directive limiting gatherings of people, also clarifies that banks, credit unions and other financial institutions are able to remain open if they practice social distancing, as well as all components of the food delivery system ranging from farms to stores. 

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Elizabeth Goodsitt said laundromats are excluded from the governor’s orders. 

“While there may be groups of people present, they are generally not within an arm's length of one another for a period of time,” Goodsitt said in an email Friday.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, people should also keep a distance of about six feet between themselves as others. This may be more in line with how laundromats typically operate as the social norms for these facilities are to give strangers their space when folding their personal clothing.

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Laundromat owner Mark Lessner demonstrates his increased efforts to clean high-touch areas at East Wash Laundry.

Mark Lessner, owner and operator Wash for Less Laundry in Madison and Edgerton, said Madison’s laundromats are less busy than those in cities that are more densely populated. Though he would like to see more than 10 people at a time in his facilities for business purposes, that’s just not the case in Madison. 

“Usually if we got five, six, seven people in a laundromat, it’s hopping,” Lessner said. 

Lessner said his facilities — Schenk's Corners Coin-Op Laundromat, East Wash Laundry and two Wash Basket locations, one each on Atwood and Atlas avenues — saw an uptick in business over the weekend but quiet days at the beginning of the week. 

Lessner said he is implementing more stringent cleaning procedures at his facilities. Instead of using soap and water, Lessner said he is using a bleach solution to disinfect all areas of a laundromat that are frequently touched like coin slots and laundry carts. 

“There’s a push within the industry to say, ‘Hey, we need to keep laundromats open as a public health service,’” Lessner said. 

The Center for Disease Control recommends washing clothes and other linens at the warmest temperature possible. Also, those washing materials that have been in contact with a sick person should wear gloves when handling items. 

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Dirty laundry should not be shaken as that could disperse the virus through the air. Also, clothes hampers should be cleaned and disinfected. 

The Coin Laundry Association, the national trade association for the laundromat industry, provided guidance of heating water to 140 degrees. However, Lessner said that can be dangerous if, like in his facilities, the hot water heater feeds handwashing sinks. 

“There's always been a line of how hot water could get without scalding issues,” Lessner said.  

Briana Reilly contributed to the report. 

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