Chapter 5: Soil Sorting for Greater Efficiency

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Eric Frederick |

To sort before or after, that is the question

ROANOKE, Va. — A good friend of mine used to have a sign in his office that read, “Sorted Soiled Linen is Organized Grime.” As managers, we must deal with the soiled linen that comes to our laundry. There have been two schools of thought over my career as to whether the linen should be sorted before or after it has been washed.

The argument for sorting after washing is that it protects the workers from disease, needlesticks and other harmful items in the linen. The theory is based on the fact that the washer will decontaminate the linen and foreign items found in the linen. I personally have never been a proponent of this style of handling soiled linen. I feel it makes it harder to get a quality wash, increases by 30% the weight of the linen that must be sorted (moisture retention), and destroys medical instruments, cell phones and other items mixed in with the linen.

Regardless of when you sort, you will need to make several key decisions once you get around to sorting the linen. Many of these decisions will be based on what will work best in your laundry, not what your competitor is doing down the street. The number of different soil-sort classifications is determined based on the volume of linen you are processing and the type of finished product you are producing. By type of finished product, I mean whether you are ironing your sheets and pillowcases or not.

Your sorting process should be done in such a way that it increases the efficiency of your employees doing final finishing on the linen. If you are doing a lot of bath towels per day and folding them on a towel folder, it makes sense to have one sort for just bath towels. If your volume is less, you might want to consider mixing washcloths and bath towels together. This will give you a constant supply of both products.

To begin the process, make a list of every linen item that you will be responsible for processing. Then determine how each item is going to be finished: large-piece ironing, small-piece ironing, large dry-fold by machine, large dry-fold by hand, small dry-fold by machine, small dry-fold by hand, steam tunnel finish, and surgical pack inspection. (If I missed a finishing step used in your laundry, please add it to this list.) Group linen items by how they are going to be finished.

Using this grouping of items, and estimating the volume of each type of item, you will be able to group items together into a sorting classification.

The larger the operation, the fewer mixed categories you will have; the smaller the operation, the more mixed classifications you will have. A large-volume healthcare laundry might separate thermal spreads from bath blankets. A smaller-volume processor will combine these two items into a single sort category.

Every decision should be based on the answers to the following questions:

  • How can I best maintain a good flow of product to my order fillers?
  • How can my soil-sort classifications support or increase productivity?
  • What soil-sort classifications promote a good, clean final product?
  • What works best in the washers and dryers?

Your initial decision on soil-sort groups will need to be changed over time. Equipment and staff changes may result in different sort classifications. Too often, the laundry manager simply does what has always been done and never seeks to understand the logic in developing sorting classifications.

As a manager, you need to constantly look for ways to improve the workflow, process quality and productivity of your laundry.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at elfrederick@cox.net or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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