The lifting of trading quotas and India’s increasing popularity as a top class tourist destination are bringing the right conditions for laundry and drycleaning to turn into a more profitable, better quality industry, but big changes are needed.

In the past 10 years, India has advanced considerably, developing a strong economy and is seeing “phenomenal growth.” It is now one of the world’s busiest and most vibrant markets.

The infrastructure progresses steadily, but services still lag behind international standards and laundry is perhaps lowest on the list.

The social structure is also changing. Urban areas in particular, have seen a big shift from extended family households to small ones with parents and children. More people are staying single and so have more to spend, and different priorities. As a result demand for services, including laundry and drycleaning, increases.

Higher numbers of foreign tourists have also helped this increase. Most stay in mid- or low-priced hotels and motels and use street-corner laundries and drycleaners, but in the last few years, both consumers and institutions have been seeking better quality services.

More sophisticated, professional cleaners have opened and these use imported washer-extractors, flatwork ironers, marking systems and even electronic point of sale.

Indian laundry and drycleaning services are usually grouped together and most see them as premium services, even though offered by local, street traders.

The business divides roughly into retail and institutional sectors.

Most retail businesses are family-owned, single shops, passed on from one generation to the next. Traditionally, laundry has been done by a particular service class, dhobis, which used to collect personal and institutional linen, wash and dry it at the local river, and then finish it with coal or electric irons.

Dhobis still provide the main service in some country areas, but in towns their significance is declining, and some have switched to using basic drum washers and hydro-extractors.

The institutional sector is changing quickly. Government policies are making mechanised systems mandatory in hospitals and hotels. They have switched over to new commercial laundry services. These are equipped with drum washers with some basic features such as reverse, inching and in some cases auto-drain and temperature control, and hydro extractors.

Most of these units have both retail and institutional customers. The institutions provide the bulk work needed to fill the capacity, but the retail business adds to the revenue.

The number of mid-price hotels rises rapidly, leading to more demand for such units as, with few exceptions, they have limited space and outsource laundry services.

However, five-star hotels mostly have their own OPL with modern equipment from the USA and Europe. An outsourced service would not produce the high quality needed for guests’ clothing and for the in-house linen.

Here, a premium market is opening which can be turned around by putting in large volume, automated plants. As rooms are being added in this sector, there is definitely a need for well-planned, well-marketed laundry services.

Already groups such as Dhruv India, Four Seasons Drycleaning, Akash, and Clean Plus are being set up to serve both retail and institutions. Even some single-store businesses are installing perc drycleaning machines and semi-automated finishing equipment, but they are struggling to provide the right quality at an economical price. Large automated plants are needed.

Serving the tourist

India is a “hot” tourist destination. International hotel chains like Shangri-La and Aman Resorts, Carlson Companies and Marriott are looking at India with great expectations. Some have already gone in. Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, has added more than 2,000 rooms in last the two years, but reservations are still hard to find with occupancy around 80% year round.

But the steady rise in inbound tourism means that foreign chains are also considering the budget market. Religious and leisure tourism are combining as a result of the high interest in religion and the home population’s increased ability to spend. More than 40% of inbound tourists visit religious places.


The clothing industry has advanced, and with quotas lifted, wants a larger share of the world market.

Cotton’s strength means a greater requirement for water-based processing. Now the sector needs to find international quality, high capacity laundries. However garment exporters have seen Indian products as low priority. Capacity has been fragmented although quality has improved.

India now needs experts who can turn the laundry sector round, so that it can offer a better service.

With the exception of a few hotel chains, the laundry industry is not well-planned. Skills are good but information and expertise are needed.

There are no professional laundry courses available in the country. Environmental awareness is low, and the effects of effluent discharge are largely ignored, as the laundry sector is not equipped to cope with the problem.

A recent study showed that India spends USA$22billion (5.2%GDP) on healthcare and that spending will reach USA$47billion by 2012. By the same date, the sector could generate 8million jobs and can contribute 7% to 8% of the GDP.

Medical tourism is starting to grow so there is potential for well planned hospital laundries with more modern equipment. The same could apply to commercial operations dealing with healthcare. There is a market of around 1million patients and the healthcare industry must take advantage.

Again laundry services are overlooked here. Outsourcing non-clinical services is becoming an attractive option, but hospitals do so only to save money. They do not understand the laundry business and make few checks on linen life, or wash quality, let alone try to put effective infection control practices in place.

Hardly any healthcare institution realises the importance of creating an effective laundry service that selects the right linen and works to effective quality parameters.

The healthcare industry offers plenty of opportunities in service areas and a well planned and designed laundry can bring immense satisfaction to those who run it as well to its customers.

Source of supply

The development of the laundry and drycleaning services links directly to the suppliers’ approach. At present many concentrate on Indian-made equipment with a basic specification.

The big manufacturing companies include Ramsons, Stefab, Fabcare, Super Shine, Nat Steel and Vision, but there are many others throughout India. These other businesses supply most of the government institutions, with suppliers chosen by tender.

The market for imported machines is relatively small, and upgrading to produce equipment to international standard needs heavy investment.

The garment export trade is the largest customer for conventional equipment and though demand for laundering continues to grow, there are few modern laundries, partly because of the lack of local suppliers. The solution could be a mix and match of local and International supply.

Current suppliers of imported equipment are Wotek Engineering, Akash and my own company.

Industrial Laundry Consultants Group (ILCG), focuses on turnkey laundry solutions, design and planning and supplying energy saving equipment. It also specialises in systems to improve infection control.