AUSTIN (KXAN) — Both large and local cleaners are stepping up and servicing frontline workers for free during the COVID-19 crisis.

Austin-based Rick’s Cleaners and franchise Tide Cleaners each produced programs for those protecting and saving lives over the past weeks.

Local laundry love

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Ian Noble, the owner of Rick’s Cleaners, took over the family business from his dad five years ago but this year’s been tricky because of the outbreak.

“Foot traffic is down quite a bit,” Noble said.

So Rick’s had to close stores last month, and fewer customers means fewer employees they could hold onto. Despite so much loss, Noble still wanted to help out the community.

A comment from his wife, an intensive care nurse at a local hospital, left Noble inspired.

“She said, ‘Look, you really need to step up and help [frontline workers].”

And the rest is history.

The essential business offered a uniform-cleaning promotion for both healthcare workers and first responders last week at their Cameron Road location. They say the typically only give first responders heavy discounts year-round but wanted to extend the branch further.

“It was something really little. But it was a feel-good project for everybody,” Noble said. “What was really nice about it was that people were coming in and it made the transaction on both sides much more enjoyable. This was fun because our staff got to feel like they were doing something good for the community… They actually would call and say, ‘We had this many people come in today.’ And it just made them feel very good.”

The response left a mark on him.

He believes they will bring the promotion back, especially if the stay-at-home order is extended even longer.

Turning the Tide

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Mat Styer, the vice president of operations for Tide Cleaners in Austin, has worked in the cleaning business for almost 20 years. Like Rick’s Cleaners, he didn’t expect his year to go the way it is.

“Coming out of Houston, [I’ve seen] a lot of hurricanes… this is something that — especially in Austin — never seen anything like it.”

But Tide wanted to turn the tide and help out communities all around the nation, Austin included, so they developed the “Loads of Hope” program and took their own approach to helping those on the frontline.

“It’s a great program. It’s for our first responders. Everyone’s doing a little something for them and we just chose to do what we can, which is take care of their cleaning, inside and out.”

Tide Cleaners’ program offers “no charge” pickup and delivery of four 13 gallon trash bags per person, per week along 10 routes through the Austin metro area (from Georgetown to Buda, Manor to Dripping Springs). It started two weeks ago and they’ve already seen an encouraging response.

A little slow in the beginning but as the word got out, other first responders are talking to their coworkers and their families and it’s really picked up quite a bit over the last week. Word of mouth has really generated a lot of cleaning for us. Over the phone and text, the response has [been]: oh my god thank you very much. Very grateful. I mean, in the beginning, they’re like is it free, really? Wow. We get a lot of wows and a lot of just thank-yous. A lot of it and it’s very heartwarming. It really is.

Mat Styer

And the numbers have been steady, Styer said.

“Yesterday alone, I know that we had at least over 50 pickups requested. Walk-ins, I don’t have that number but it’s been averaging, Monday is kind of a big day for us, it’s been averaging 40-50.”

He says while they’re probably in the multiple hundreds a week, he hopes those numbers pick up — especially if the May 9 deadline is extended.

Tide Cleaners owns two stores in the Austin-area — one in Round Rock and one in West Lake. You can drop off at either location or visit their website and register to have your clothes picked up weekdays, Monday through Friday.

Cleaning clothes and COVID-19

Staff at both Rick’s and Tide use safety measures at their locations to reduce the risk of spread.

“We took different approaches on both sides. Again, our staff was wearing gloves, a mask, we had the protective shield as a barrier. But then once we had take the clothing we separated those, they were in there own batch. And so, that was one of the reasons that we decided to do it on site at one location. It really allowed us to control that process and to make sure that we took every precaution necessary to keep our staff safe and to make sure that it was all clean just by itself,” Noble said.

And they also offer curbside.

“We’ll come out if the customers call us or [if they ] honk their horn, we’ll run out and get their order.”

Tide Cleaners asks families to separate their clothes from those being washed to those being dry cleaned. Styer’s service will then pick up your trash bags (with your name in each) from your porch or doorstep and his staff with gloves and face masks will take care of the rest.

Styer shared some insight if customers prefer to clean their clothes at home.

“The hotter, the better,” Styer said. “I would say be cautious with your cleaning and clean everything with as hot of water as you can. It’s so new, the virus is so new, we do not know if cleaning actually kills the virus, but from what I’ve been told, is we’re about 90% sure because past viruses we had like H1N1, Swine Flu, all that, that has been proven to be killed in a proper [water] temperature, and dry cleaning as well.”

RELATED: Sanitize your clothes to help prevent illness

But some aren’t as fortunate to do their own cleaning at home and he says that for those people, the service works as an alternative to take care of their laundry.

Learn about what the CDC says you should do when cleaning and disinfecting your home.

Paycheck Protection Program

Both Rick’s and Tide Cleaners received their Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan on Friday, April 17. Styer was able to bring back 100% of his staff this past Monday. For Rick’s, Friday was the last day of their initial promotion and couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We were fortunate to receive funds,” Noble said. “It allowed us to re-open stores that we had originally closed once the shelter-in-place ordinance became effective.”

On March 25, Rick’s shut down several of their stores while keeping a few remaining open due to the loss of business. Just like Styer, the loan allowed Noble’s staff to start working again.

“That was the whole intention of the program that if you receive the money, you can then put your staff back to work, and it gets them on the payroll again and so, in turn that will help boost the economy and gets the people back into work.”

But not all have had success with the program, and Noble admits “it’s a little cloudy on how people are allowed to use it.”

“So the PPP, people are going through their primary bank and essentially that loan, you can call it a loan, it becomes forgivable so as long as you adhere to certain measures or certain things they require to do. So for example, 75% of that money that you receive has to go back to your employees through means of payroll, health insurance premiums, which we provide as well for our staff. You really have to be careful on how to allocate your funds. It’s not just money to start using for advertising or to decorate your stores.”

Noble made sure to allocate “the money specifically for rent to make sure that all of our rent gets paid, but primarily and more importantly, our staff – 75% of that goes directly to them.” He does think he’s “going to be at 100% staff in the next couple of weeks” as Rick’s begins to roll it out and customers start to come back into their stores.

Learn more about the PPP program and others at