CHICAGO — “The only constant is change,” the old saying goes. Laundry operators know this to be true, and when it comes to the elements that affect wash formulas, change is especially ever-present.
While the four basic variables for achieving good cleaning results—processing time, water temperature, chemical action and the washer’s mechanical action—are mainstays, even they must make room for additional factors, both internal and external to an operation.
Finding the right mix of chemicals, resources and procedures is often a combination of careful orchestration and constant vigilance.
To help uncover the most important factors to consider when choosing a wash formula, American Laundry News polled several vendors about changing chemical composition, new health and safety initiatives, and ways that a facility’s management and personnel can help or hinder wash-formula selection.
STAYING HEALTHY, GREEN AND CLEAN
Chemicals can have an impact on the environment as well as the health of the people who come into contact with them. The laundry industry continues to be affected by new requirements and regulations for safe chemicals, and efforts to keep up are ongoing.
Kevin Minissian, vice president at Norchem Corp., says that the company, like most chemical suppliers, is focused on developing environmentally safe products and practices following recent health/safety and green initiatives. He mentions fully automated chemical dispensing systems as one way to prevent chemical exposure.
“Sustainability initiatives have certainly made their mark,” says Steve Kovacs, R&D manager for P&G Professional. “Phosphates are phased out and certain manufacturers have compacted detergents, thus shipping less water, using less packaging, [and] all in all reducing [their] carbon footprint.”
“When we’re trying to develop a new detergent, we are trying to use the latest technology that’s available that we know will have the most minimal effect on the environment,” says Steve Tinker, senior vice president, Research & Development, Marketing at Gurtler Industries.
An added push toward greener formulas is the phasing out of nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) in detergents. The Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) has been collaborating with EPA on efforts to eliminate NPE from detergents by 2015.
But where are detergents, and in turn, wash formulas, left without this key ingredient?
Minissian says the “quality has remained superior with or without” NPE, which has already been phased out of his company’s detergents.
Jason Lang, director of RD&E Textile Care Division at Ecolab, however, hesitates to deem NPE-containing and NPE-free detergents equal in every case. “No single surfactant has been found to be an adequate one-to-one replacement for NPE surfactants,” he says, adding that soil level and soil type “have a way of differentiating detergents and the components that are within them.”
But in the majority of applications, NPE-free detergents are effective, he says, though considering the overall wash process can help identify better soil-removal methods. Also, pre-made surfactant blends that match the properties of NPE surfactants are being produced by major chemical suppliers to meet soil-removal needs, according to Lang.
With regard to alternatives, Kovacs says that “there are many other surfactants one can select from [in] formulating detergents to deliver the desired cleaning results at a cost-effective level.”
Tinker agrees that newer, NPE-free detergents work well and don’t present quality issues, as long as operators are dealing with a “medium-soil situation with not a lot of fatty greases or oils in [their] soil load.” Boosting the detergent with additives, however, can help combat those difficult soils.
Developing NPE-free formulas has been an important turning point for the industry, but consideration of health and the environment is certainly not a new practice.
“The environmental issues never go away,” Tinker says. “We just get a little bit deeper and deeper into the technology.”
For those we polled, testing facilities play a role in development of chemicals that meet environmental, health and quality requirements. While many tests are done in-house, chemical suppliers say they have also partnered with outside facilities to analyze formulas and their effectiveness.
“We do use external testing labs for a variety of reasons—for example, when unique techniques are required or when external testing is very cost-efficient,” says Kovacs. “And we do a significant amount of testing in-house as well, using our state-of-the-art facilities in which we have invested significantly.”
Wash studies, chemical analysis, water analysis and microbiological identification are some examples Lang gives of testing activity at Ecolab.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Focusing again on the role of employees in wash-formula selection, the chemical suppliers polled stress the need for ongoing training and education.
“We try to give our customers kind of a very quick Laundry Chemistry 101-type class,” says Tinker, “[to] give them an idea of what their role is and how the other factors of the laundry work.” For example, does the employee understand how water hardness can affect soil removal and linen quality?
Kovacs adds that training is especially important in environments where turnover is high, and that chemical providers should be willing and able to provide training materials or in-house training to washroom personnel.
“The key to any facility’s success is to ensure that the personnel is knowledgeable and capable of managing day-to-day operations effectively,” says Minissian.
While it’s important for washroom personnel to understand the nuances of wash-formula selection, it is also crucial for chemical suppliers to be familiar with a facility and its operations, according to Lang.
“Chemical suppliers need to have an overall knowledge of the total plant process,” he says. “That knowledge creates a situation where the supplier can help deliver exceptional quality the first time and every time.”
And when it comes to laundry managers, are they well-versed in how formulas work?
“Laundry managers are as busy as ever,” says Kovacs. “And when they work with a reputable chemical provider, there is little need, other than personal interest possibly, to become well-versed in the details of the chemistry involved in the wash process.” But he adds that managers should be familiar with some basic parameters in laundry chemistry.
Knowledge transfer is key to keeping managers informed now and in the future, according to Lang.
“Overall, I would say that laundry managers understand how formulas work, but I think we all have to recognize that there’s a risk moving forward,” he says.
Minissian agrees that ongoing training is crucial for managers trying to navigate the long list of variables that can affect wash formulas.
“Today’s laundry environment is ever-changing, with sophisticated and automated advanced technology requiring [a] higher skill set and knowledge,” he says. “This is an area that demands continued education and training.”