Oil field clothes can tear up a washing machine. Several laundry businesses have had to close their doors to workers but others are building their businesses around the boom.
A sign on the door of King Koin Laundrette Car and Dog Wash at 2125 E. Thayer Ave. reads “Because of odor & residue problems, we no longer allow oil field clothes in this establishment.” Owner Mike Walsh hung it there about two years ago when damage to his washing machines and dryers became too much.
“We tried for about three years,” Walsh said. “Now we refer them to somebody else when they call ... It was just getting out of hand.”
A similar sign hangs at Interstate Laundry and Carwash at 1438 Interstate Loop. Customers can be charged for washing oily clothes at Boulevard Laundromat at 1310 E. Boulevard Ave. A new machine can cost as much as $10,000 and the upkeep became too high as more oil field workers made their way to Bismarck.
Walsh said the gloves the workers wear are saturated in oil and it was getting left behind in the washers.
“It wasn't a good fit for us,” Walsh said. “We had to protect our other customers so when they bring their stuff in they don't get their stuff ruined.”
Walsh also is short on dryers. It can take as long as an hour and a lot of cleaning supplies to get one back in working order after oil field clothes have been in it.
“The dryers are the worst because it just bakes in there,” he said.
Soap and Suds Laundry Mat at 122 W. Bowen Ave. has opened its doors to the rig workers though. Owner Louis Baltrusch thinks he is the only self-service laundromat to allow oil field clothes in Bismarck.
“Why shouldn't I work with them,” Baltrusch said.
It just takes a lot of soap to make it work.
“Before guys would come in and use the top loaders and leave a mess behind,” he said.
Baltrusch now has three washing machines at the front of the laundromat that he asks rig workers to use. He sees at least 30 to 40 workers each week.
“It's really picked up the last couple years,” he said. “I'm going to have to get some more of them because they're used so much.”
Interstate Laundry and Carwash used to have machines set aside for oily clothes too, but had to stop when the number of oil field customers increased.
Baltrusch watches for any workers as they come in the door to tell them which machines to use and what to do.
“If I see somebody coming in with a pretty dirty tote it's a pretty safe bet he's a rig worker,” he said.
Baltrusch has oil field customers put two scoops soap to the washing machine in each of the first two rinse cycles. Then he has them take a towel and wipe it down when they’re finished.
“You could put in a white comforter right after and not have a problem,” he said.
Baltrusch said the water in the washer looks like mud during the first rinse cycle, but by the final cycle the water is clear. The oily clothes are then clean and don’t mess up his dryers.
Rig workers can drop off their oily clothes at Arrowhead Cleaners and Laundry Inc. at 1140 N. Third St. The company has two older machines that it uses. Turrito’s Dry Cleaners at 1041 E. Interstate Ave. and 1131 E. Main Ave. and Dakota Dry Cleaners at 820 E. Broadway Ave. do not take oil field clothes.
With very few places in Bismarck taking oil field laundry, many workers are dropping their clothes off in other towns on their way home and picking them up on their way back to work.
“I have a lot of guys call me and ask if I take oil field clothes,” said Melvin Pirkl, owner of Superior Laundry Cleaners in Dickinson. “They say we just came from Bismarck and they won’t let us.”
Pirkl said his business has more than doubled because of the oil boom. It really picked up for him about a year ago.
“I’m so busy I don’t know which way to turn,” he said. “I have laundry bags sitting in front of me and I don't know what to do first.”
Pirkl said he even comes in to work at night to try to get caught up. The biggest problem he faces is equipment damage due to overload.