December 1st, 2020 by Johnna Crider
Back in October, I wrote about Oxwash and its partnership with EAV Solutions. I discovered that this gem of a company had plans to do to the laundry industry what Elon Musk is doing in the auto industry with Tesla. So, naturally, I reached out for an interview with Oxwash’s CEO, Kyle Grant, who was happy to share his experience and passion for this hidden yet vital industry. Kyle saw a problem and aimed to solve it by using his background in aerospace to do so. I asked Kyle four questions:
- What problems has Oxwash solved so far?
- What inspired Kyle to go from NASA to laundry, and how has his experience at NASA influenced this sector?
- Mission to Mars — Oxwash’s strategy.
- Anything else Kyle wanted to share (he mentioned Oxwash’s work with the Covid-19 vaccination trials).
“I really got inspired to try to bring some of the engineering approaches of aerospace into laundry.”
Interview with Dr. Kyle Grant
JC: Oxwash has the goal to disrupt traditional laundry service and is making headway. What problems have Oxwash already solved so far?
KG: “There are many. The one that obviously you’ve touched on before is the logistics. When you have a service like ours, there are two things you really need to get right. One is that when you’re going to somebody’s house and they booked a service, is that you turn up when you say you’re going to turn up. You’re not late; you’re not calling them on the day to say, ‘Hey,I’ve been held up. Sorry about that.’”
Kyle explained that with the partnership with EAV, Oxwash was able to use electric cargo bikes, which are easier to filter through traffic and “make sure that we do arrive when we say we’ll arrive.” He also pointed out that it was very economical for Oxwash than to rent, own, or lease a van, which is what he pointed out were the traditional vehicles used in laundry services.
“And also,” he added, “It’s a lot more sustainable. Our customers are often living in city centers. The last thing they want is their neighborhoods to be congested with lorries bringing animals and boxes, food, dry cleaning laundry. Ideally, it would be zero-emission, silent and you would maintain a nice community to live in whilst having a service come to your door at the same time so you can get on with your life. Solving the logistics, be on time, be super flexible, and cleaning was the first problem which we solved. The next is cleaning.”
Details On Cleaning
Kyle gave me a deep dive into the details of how Oxwash works. “How do you wash something where there’s barely any environmental impact whatsoever but the clothes are as clean as they possibly can be — you know, are cleaner than anybody else can achieve on the planet? Luckily, we’ve managed to crack that nut, too and we’ve recently won an award two weeks ago for the world’s best laundry service which was pretty cool.”
It’s not accolades like the Oscars, that everyone knows and sings and dances about, but it is big for us. It’s very important and it’s very tough to win, because obviously there’s competition from China, the U.S., Australasia, Africa — all over the place so that was great.”
Key Things Around Washing
“The things around washing to get something clean you need four things to work with. You need the machine to go round and round and add mechanical action to the clothes to allow the stains and things to be removed and that kind of energy to allow the fibers and garments to release the stains and anything like that,” Kyle explained.
“You need water — obviously it’s not just going to fall out. The water is a solvent that dissolves stains holds them in liquid, carries them away, and then doesn’t redeposit on your clothes. Then there’s the chemistry. The chemistry is what allows the harder to remove stains to be to be ripped out — things like oils, greases, pigments from grass, coffee, red wine — things like that — and also prevent those stains once they’ve been lifted off from just going straight back and redepositing on the fiber. And then the final thing that is usually the big silver bullet is heat. The hotter you wash things, obviously, there’s more thermal energy — the thermodynamic reactions — happens faster, so you’re able to remove more stains quicker and your cycle times can be much shorter.”
Changes & Innovation
“The way we’ve attacked this is by each of those four things — we have completely changed and we’ve used new technology to replace some of them. For example, we do not heat our water. We wash everything at whatever the temperature is — the cold water that’s coming out the tap. As long as it’s coming out the tap and not frozen, we can use it.
“That means that we’ve had to change the chemistry so traditional detergents and enzymes that work at 40 or 60 degrees, which is traditional in much of the western world, don’t work for us. So we have to use completely different biodegradable chemistry that works at cold temperatures, as well as the fact that we use ozone to disinfect and deodorize our clothing. This is a gas that’s created the air that we breathe. It travels through basically a lighting storm in a tube and then comes out the other side ionized, and the ozone is then bubbled through the laundry, which removes smells of any kind, such as body odor, which is the big one.
“It also kills microorganisms — bacteria, fungi, and obviously coronavirus, influenza, rhinovirus, and other things like that. It’ll kill those too, which is one of those key bits of tech that we’ve brought in. Another thing is the mechanical action of the machine.” Kyle explained that normal machines will bang a few times and then go round and round, such as the side loaders in the UK or the mixture of the top loaders and side loaders in the US. Oxwash has created a way to prevent the usage of that excess energy while keeping your clothes from being destroyed — which traditional machines often do to clothes over time.
“You can imagine just rubbing clothes against each other causes them to bubble up fray, and if you’ve got fleeces, then the microfibers that come off and pollute our oceans — it’s catastrophic. The machines that we’ve got are adapted to have a shower in them. Instead of the washing machine drum going through a bath and basically moving the clothes through a bath, the drum sometimes doesn’t move and the clothes are just sat in the bath, and then a shower will actually take water from the bath and shower it on top of the garments or the textiles, and then the stains and things will actually just seep through and go down into the bottom of the machine.
“It’s much more gentle and saves a vast amount of energy — it means the clothes, garments, or textiles that we have last a lot longer. We use less energy to wash it, and also the water requirements are reduced as well.
📚 Founder Insight 📚
🚀 One to watch in UK #Eco Laundry
🧦 Disrupting environmentally-costly washing and dry-cleaning processes
🧑 Founded in 2017 by Kyle Grant 👏 pic.twitter.com/11NgXooRgu
— Invigorate Platform 🚀 (@invigorateplat) October 2, 2020
JC: You have a background with NASA. What inspired you to take on laundry and how has your NASA background influenced this sector?
KG: “I actually got into laundry completely by accident. I was washing some laundry at the college when I was doing my Ph.D. at Oxford. It was in a laundry room — you’d expect Oxford University to be pretty good, right? Well, it was crap — stuff everywhere thrown on the floor, missing clothes, irons left on — a nightmare. Half the machines were out of order and had been for the last decade. I thought, ‘this can’t be the only way this is done.’ So I kind of entered the laundry space as a side project to learn about starting a business.
“I’d always at the end of my Ph.D. go back to the states to either NASA or SpaceX, Boeing or Blue Origin or something like that, and go back into aerospace. But the service took off so quickly that I needed to get a partner to help me with the laundry. I went to visit my first laundry, which is in the next city over from Oxford where we started, and it was awful. Honestly, it was like going back in time to a Victorian-era workhouse. There were people being paid barely anything, working stupidly long hours in very cramped awful conditions.
“When you go to the International Space Station, there’s no 7-11 that you can nip to (go to) for your Gatorade. You’ve got to take everything you need with you.”
“And then, when I look at the process, you know these big old machines are very inefficient, using tons of water, gallons of chemistry, boiling the clothes and the items, throwing bleach down the drain, no filtration, no reclamation — it was awful. I thought, ‘this can’t be the case,’ so we went to see a few more laundries around the UK and Europe and they were all the same — all exactly the same. And then I thought that this is perfect — an unsexy, forgotten industry that kind of remains hidden. Nobody goes to commercial laundries, right?
“I really got inspired to try to bring some of the engineering approaches of aerospace into laundry. Things like redundancy, minimizing consumption of overheads — things like that. When you go to the International Space Station, there’s no 7-11 that you can nip to (go to) for your Gatorade. You’ve got to take everything you need with you. Laundry’s not like that traditionally. You just throw stuff at the problem and hope that it gets clean. Our approach is much more ‘close the loop,’ make sure you use as little of those things as possible, recycle them where you can but at the same time getting things cleaner than you could possibly do even before — and that’s where the inspiration comes from.”
“Can you close the loop so you recycle every single bit of water? That’s the challenge.”
JC: Your aim is to be the first laundry service on Mars. What’s your strategy and how do you plan to implement this once you get there?
KG: “The strategy is to build a container — almost like a shipping container kind of size — that you can basically take them on orbit, put in the fuselage rocket and put it on the surface of Mars, but you still have gravity and a lot of the principles of laundry hold but can you close the loop so you recycle every single bit of water? That’s the challenge. We can recycle up to about 65% water, but when you get higher than that, you end up with sludge-like crap — you know, massive fibers and stains and God knows what else. What can we do with that? Can we use that?
“Actually, we do it now at our London site to insulate the walls of new offices that we’re building instead of using fiberglass. So maybe we could use that for kind of building a Mars base.”
JC: Is there anything you would like to add or share?
KG: “I think one of the things we’re really proud of is that we’re helping — in the UK specifically, our national health service and the vaccine trial. Both myself and Tom, our COO, are on the trial. Tom got the job, I didn’t, but we’re actually doing the laundry for all of the staff who are running the trial that will hopefully be rolled out across the world soon.”
Kyle explained that the trial was for the coronavirus vaccine. “The one that has a 95% kind of hit rate, which is great. We’re very, very proud to be providing the laundry service for them, because they’re the people who absolutely have to be wearing clean clothes. Otherwise, cross infection and all of that stuff just screws up the trial. So, we’re really proud of that.”
Images courtesy Oxwash
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