Clean impression: Ironers in Bengaluru ditch coal irons for LPG alternatives to beat harmful fumes

Ironers on average save 133 minutes a day with LPG irons and are able to press 9-12 clothes more; they also save around Rs 850 on fuel a month, according to the non-profit which has developed the irons

By Kavitha Yarlagadda
Published: Sunday 07 August 2022

P Sathya, the first ironer in Bengaluru to shift from a coal iron to Udhyam Learning Foundation’s LPG-based iron

About four years ago, Gangadhar Babu was on the verge of quitting ironing, a job that had sustained him for more than 30 years. “It was getting increasingly difficult for me to stand over the hot coal iron,” Babu, whose shop is located in a dingy lane of Bengaluru’s Koramangala area, said.

He has heart disease and had developed a chronic cough in recent years. Babu blamed the fumes from the hot coal iron for his poor health. But he changed his mind after he learned of irons powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) offered by Udhyam Learning Foundation, a non-profit in the city.

“It is smokeless and more effective,” Babu said. He claimed that since the shift, his health had improved significantly and his income had increased by Rs 200-300 a day.

Ironers like Babu can be seen in almost every street in cities and towns, running their business from makeshift shops or a push cart near residential colonies. A majority of these ironers depend on coal to keep the pressing iron hot.

According to the World Health Organization, burning of coal releases particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other substances detrimental to human health. Moreover, the supply of coal is erratic and expensive and its specks can burn clothes.

Udhyam, which works on skill development of school students and small entrepreneurs, launched The Istri Project in 2019 to help clean up this business. Cyril Joseph, a team member of Udhyam, said the non-profit spoke with several ironers to choose an alternative to coal irons.

“We chose LPG as it was less expensive and more effective than coal,” he said. The non-profit designed a prototype and distributed it along with a 5 kg free trade LPG cylinder to 10 ironers in the city and trained them on using the set-up.

The iron box works in a manner similar to a gas stove — it is connected to the cylinder by a pipe, which channels the gas into the box. The ironer uses a lighter to ignite the gas to start a small flame inside the box that heats up the base. The flame can be controlled using a knob.

The gas cylinders, after use, can be replaced through any commercial gas agency. These free-trade cylinders do not require an address proof and can thus be purchased simply by depositing the cost of the equipment and subsequently refilled at the rate fixed by the state government.

Udhyam distributed more irons and cylinders on a larger scale, with support from corporate responsibility initiatives and other financiers, after obtaining initial feedback from the 10 ironers.

Like Babu, several ironers reported that LPG irons only took around two minutes to heat while coal irons took about an hour to set up. The non-profit claims that ironers on average save 133 minutes a day with LPG irons and are able to press 9-12 clothes more. They also save around Rs 850 on fuel a month.

“The shift to an LPG iron gives them an increase in income of up to 27 per cent per month,” Joseph said. Currently, 3,000-4,000 ironers in Bengaluru use Udhyam’s LPG irons.

P Sathya, the first ironer in Bengaluru to shift to an LPG iron, said 30 of her friends had got them after seeing her use it. The non-profit plans to introduce the iron in Chennai and Hyderabad later this year.

This was first published in the 1-15 August, 2022 edition of Down To Earth

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