With hotels shut, hospital linen keeping Dhobi Ghats busy — but workers wary of infections
Manish Kumar, one of the laundry men at this dhobi ghat, says ever since the government announced a nationwide lockdown to control the Covid-19 outbreak, laundry services in the area stopped receiving clothes from restaurants, salons and government quarters in the vicinity.Updated: Jul 02, 2020 05:53 IST
The clothesline at dhobi ghat number 28, on central Delhi’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, wears a drab uniformity these days -- the sterile the green and white hospital linen have gradually inched out the colourful sarees, shirts and dresses that once adorned these lines.
Manish Kumar, one of the laundry men at this dhobi ghat, says ever since the government announced a nationwide lockdown to control the Covid-19 outbreak, laundry services in the area stopped receiving clothes from restaurants, salons and government quarters in the vicinity.
That was when a new kind of clientele appeared; nearby hospitals and their never-ending supply of laundry helped keep businesses afloat, says Kumar.
“We get clothes from GB Pant (GB Pant Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research), a few labs in the hospital complex and from some sections of the Maulana Azad Medical College. Bedsheets, pillow covers, towels, bibs, lab coats and uniforms -- we have to wash them all,” says Kumar.
A normal day here starts at the break of dawn, when the delivery person drops off the laundry from hospitals. “Earlier, hospital laundry got piled up and was delivered once a week, but now the piles keep coming every day,” says Kumar.
Around 4.30am, the laundry men go about separating the whites from the coloured clothes, after which they spray sanitizer on all the pieces and leave them for about an hour before washing them.
“We dip the clothes and linen in sodium hypochlorite mixed with caustic soda, which helps disinfect and whiten the clothes, and then put them in washing machines with regular detergent and warm water. Around five machines are set aside for washing hospital linen and the surfaces of these machines are separately disinfected with 70% ethanol liquid,” explains Kumar.
Once washed and dried, the clothes and linen are ironed and sprayed with a sanitizer once again before they are packed and sealed in separate plastic bags. The entire process takes about seven to eight hours, explains Kumar.
“We used to receive clothes from these hospitals earlier as well, but then the process was not so detailed -- we would simply put the linen in the machines for washing and after drying, send them back in bundles. The hospitals are now requesting that each piece is sanitised and packed separately,” says Kumar.
Sukhi Ram, another laundry man at the dhobi ghat near east Delhi’s Akshardham Metro station, says while they never received laundry from hospitals before the start of the pandemic, they have started doing so from Dr Hedgewar Arogya Sansthan, a designated Covid-19 hospital, as well as a few Delhi government dispensaries in the area and a few private hospitals in Ghaziabad and Noida.
“We try to wear a mask and gloves while laundering the linen, but the gloves are too inconvenient. Water seeps in anyway and the soap makes the gloves slippery. That said, we do not compromise on safety. So, all the pieces are thoroughly cleaned,” Ram said.
Although most of these hospitals have their in-house laundry services, the huge influx of patients and the high demand for bed linen meant that hospitals needed the dhobis and the dhobi ghats to keep their linens clean.
A senior administrative officer at Lok Nayak Hospital, Delhi’s largest Covid-19 designated facility, says the hospital is washing and disinfecting all bed linen from corona wards and centres internally. Only a few items -- such as uniforms or linen from low-risk parts of the campus -- are sent to laundry services.
“We have washing machines in the hospital where we disinfect, wash and then dry the linen. As far as I am aware, we are sending some piles of clothes, which are from the no-risk areas of the complex and medical college, to the laundry services. We do not want anyone to even inadvertently get exposed to any kind of infection,” he says, requesting anonymity.
Dr PK Sharma, an epidemiologist and former municipal health officer at the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), explains that there is a possibility of infection spreading through bed linen, and precaution must be taken while handling such items.
“First of all, the linen should be handled only with gloves. They should be collected and stored in air and water-resistant containers and after they reach the laundry, they should be dipped in disinfectant and compulsorily sun dried. The person handing over the linen and the person washing them must ensure that they have gloves and masks on,” Sharma said.
The World Health Organization recommends that to prevent the spread of Covid-19, laundry items should first be dipped in a solution containing quaternary ammonia, and then washed in water of a temperature between 60 and 90 degrees Celsius. The detergent should ideally contain bleach and after wash, laundry baskets must be disinfected.
These washermen say while the pandemic has come as a major blow to their livelihood, they are ready to provide their services in the fight against the virus.
“Times are tough but that’s not just for us; the entire country is going through this. It is time for everyone to step up and contribute. We have our entire life ahead to make up for this loss. Our contribution is small but it will be significant when we look at the larger fight,” avers Dhani Ram, a 65-year-old washerman from dhobi ghat number-11.