Smart laundry catches eco-wave in Japan

You don’t need laundry detergent to wash your clothes in Kentaro Takanashi’s Wash-plus laundromats in Chiba, Japan.

His machines use alkaline ionized water, not detergent, and they are the first to do so. It does not contain synthetic chemicals that cause itching and its impact on the environment is minimal. Not only does it avoid adding chemicals into the environment, it doesn’t need a rinse cycle so it uses much less water than a normal washing machine. In fact, its laundromats use 30% less water than conventional ones.

Takanashi was looking into other business possibilities after his family-owned real estate management firm was damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake when he learned that patients with atopic eczema suffer from itchiness and other symptoms brought about by detergent. He discovered an alternative washing method using alkaline ionized water. 

He established Wash-plus in May 2013 and opened the first laundromat in Urayasu in June 2013. It expanded to other locations across Japan.

In 2019, Wash-plus was named one of three companies to receive the Japan Institute of Information Technology’s fiscal 2019 IT Award grand prize. That was because his innovation went beyond detergent – he turned his laundromats into Smart Laundries in November 2017, in collaboration with cleaning device maker Yamamoto Manufacturing Co. based Onomichi.

Photo by JStories

The technology lets users check the availability of vacant washing machines and the progress of their laundry via their smartphone, lets them remotely lock the doors to their washing machine and fog up the doors to conceal the contents, and pay via the app using credit cards and other online methods. Receipts are issued via email.

Smart laundry was a strategy for business growth, especially as coin-operated laundries became popular in Japan because people were busy with work and entrepreneurs liked them because they didn’t need a large staff and were open 24 hours a day. “We would like to attract more customers by providing services that can give them something extra,” Takanashi said.

By 2020, Wash plus was operating 18 stores in Chiba Prefecture and Tokyo, and had four franchise stores. The Smart Laundry system also has been implemented in regular laundromats, and app user numbers have risen to some 40,000. Wash-plus planned to begin full-scale operation of a franchise system from February 2021.

“Our laundromat is friendly to people and the environment, and creates more free time with its efficient features,” Takanashi said. “I’d like to further the benefits of using laundromats that create opportunities for new feelings of happiness caused by things other than washing laundry.”

It has teamed up with an award-winning major hotel chain, Hoshino Resort, to gradually introduce environment and allergy friendly laundry services at the resort’s facilities in Japan. “Hoshino Resort is focusing on “eco-tourism” that promotes the preservation of the local environment and heritage,” JStories reported last year. “Iriomotejima Hotel, which aims to be the first “eco-tourism resort” in Japan, will be the first place to fully feature wash+ services. Starting this April, OMO7 Osaka and other hotels have begun gradually introducing the service.”

Wash-plus is also exploring how its smart laundries can spread out customer usage according to the time and weather. In April 2022, its system began offering discounted rates on sunny days when there are relatively few customers – possible because of the customer behavior data obtained from the “Smart Laundry” application.

CEO Kentaro Takanashi is keen to expand overseas, J-Stories reported in 2022.  He has already obtained a patent for alkaline electrolyzed water in the US and wants to move into the Hawaiian market.


Company hopes to clean up with detergent-less washing machines JStories, May 5, 2022

East Japan venture’s detergent-free, smartphone-operated laundromats set to go national The Mainichi, Sep. 24, 2020

Laundromats tap smartphones to offer payment service and info on open machines Japan Times, Dec. 24, 2017

Cover image: Darya Sannikova, Pexels