Universities turn to contactless laundry service in pandemic

Thanks to partnerships with cleaning companies, the pickup and return of items from those in quarantine or isolation is something they 'don't have to worry about.'

Where can college students do their laundry during a pandemic? More importantly, where can students in quarantine or isolation do theirs?

For university leaders thinking about adding an extra layer of safety and convenience to their campuses over the coming months, a look at how laundry is being serviced on campus might be worth a spin.

Students in isolation can’t leave their temporary housing locations. So, universities must provide accommodations that include washing machines or offer other measures to get their potentially hazardous linens  cleaned.

Some institutions, such as Georgetown, Penn State, Drexel and Texas A&M, have turned to an easy-to-manage and cost-effective option: contactless laundry service. Through partnerships with national chain Tide Cleaners, they have been able to get those items removed, washed and returned. And through those set contracts, institutions cover the costs, making it free for isolated students.

“This program has been absolutely worth it,” said Melissa DePretto, senior executive director for Student Life at Drexel. “Knowing that a student who is sick and not feeling well can put their laundry outside their door and take advantage of this service is so helpful. For students and staff who may be more susceptible to the coronavirus, they’re also appreciative that the program is another step we’re taking to limit the spread of the virus on campus.”

The unique initiative, called the “Quarantine Wash and Fold Program”, has made its way onto several campuses nationwide, piggybacking on the everyday services that the company provides in its locations across the U.S. This latest initiative provides enhanced safety measures – such as a 24-hour window for pickups from the time students leave their laundry to when it is picked up – which gives colleges, students and their parents added piece of mind.

“It’s so easy and convenient and takes one more thing off their plate so they can focus on getting better,” says Brittany McDermott, coordinator of Student Support and a health educator at Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s also been reassuring to our staff. Dealing with student laundry that may spread the virus is not something we have to worry about.”

Photo courtesy of Tide Cleaners

How the program works

There are scores of cleaners across the country that provide services, including dry cleaning. Tide Cleaners takes garment care a step further by offering concierge laundry pickup and delivery services. At universities, it offers a subscription-based wash-and-fold model for students that can be leveraged in most major cities across the U.S. Universities such as Texas A&M are taking advantage of Tide Cleaners other campus services such as uniform cleaning for Corps of Cadets students. The newest service being offered has developed out of a necessity for campuses to protect isolated COVID students.

“We are really trying to adapt to what campuses are needing right now,” says Allison DeLoach, Associate Director of Campus Development for Tide Cleaners. “There are so many things to be considering. We know that quite a few of the universities returned this fall and more are opening their doors come spring. The main priority is keeping students safe, particularly in Residence Life.”

In partnering with Tide Cleaners, DeLoach says universities agree to a specific plan. The most-popular model allows institutions to essentially pay-by-the-pound. Tide does pickups of the laundry and returns it but does not charge a premium for each time it shows up on campus.

More specifically, students in quarantine or isolation receive laundry bags. When they need to have laundry cleaned, they leave the bag outside their rooms to be picked by university staff. Those items are taken to an area where Tide crew members, wearing proper PPE, pick them up 24 hours later. They then return the items cleaned and folded 48 hours later. An app alerts them when they are ready.

It sounds simple, but the logistics can be tricky with so many elements in play – COVID-19, city vs. rural campuses, how and where trucks can park in safe locations,  and the safety precautions for those doing the picking up and those university staff members getting and handing out items.

Deloach says Tide Cleaners is expanding to college and universities in their existing markets, which includes most major cities across the U.S. Because each campus is different, it customizes operations to meet their needs.

“Ordinarily, we do have to be mindful of the amount of schools we’re taking on at one time, because we do customize the service so much,” DeLoach says. “It takes several weeks to spin up operations under normal circumstances. But with COVID cases rising, we know campuses are in a hurry to get a service in place to protect students. We are working hard to meet the demand while still providing the highest quality service.”

For more on the program, colleges and universities can check out the campus partnership possibilities here.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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