Choosing Wash Formulas (Part 1)


(Photo: ©iStockphoto/justinkendra)

Theresa Boehl |

Accounting for changing variables key to good results

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.


Jason Lang, director of RD&E Textile Care Division at Ecolab, says recent developments in laundry chemistry have been driven by scarce resources and restricted capacities, as customers are looking for formulas that use less water, fewer rinses and lower temperatures.

“Basically, wash formulas have changed to react to other changes in the market,” says Steve Tinker, senior vice president, Research & Development, Marketing at Gurtler Industries. He lists polyester fabrics and new washing equipment technology as some recent drivers of wash-formula change.

Developing wash formulas that increase longevity of merchandise and utilize less alkali and bleach in wash cycles has been part of the focus at Norchem Corp., according to Kevin Minissian, vice president at the company.

For Steve Kovacs, R&D manager for P&G Professional, a number of changes in the last few decades stand out as notable: the phasing out of phosphates; the emergence and dominance of liquid form; increased use of enzymes and polymers to enhance cleaning; and a move from alkaline wash conditions to near neutral, to name a few.


Making the most out of chemical formulas means paying close attention to what is being cleaned and how.

Soil-sort accuracy, load-size optimization, the linen’s fabric composition, and finishing capacity (folders, ironers, post-wash operations) are some key factors outside of the basic four that can play a role, according to Lang.

Kovacs adds other chemical considerations to the list, warning operators to think about, for example, whether using products from multiple manufacturers will result in harsh alkaline wash conditions that shorten linen life.

“One thing that people may not consider is quality,” says Tinker. “There are … some laundries out there that have very, very high quality standards. And that can definitely affect your wash formula, [as] opposed to others who might have standard quality requirements.”

Regarding textiles, industry professionals find that they can present challenges for choosing wash formulas, since a move away from traditional cotton materials often means a new approach to getting textiles clean.

Synthetic materials are rising in popularity, but they’re more “oil-loving” and “challenging to get clean,” according to Lang.

Kovacs adds that poorly woven fabrics often end up costing businesses more in the long run, and suggests that working with a reputable linen supplier is just as important as working with a good chemical supplier.

Staff members, too, can contribute to the effectiveness of a wash formula, whether they realize it or not.

“Sometimes employees select the wrong classification,” Tinker says. “They may not be paying attention … or they may underload or overload the washer, which can create a problem.”

There is also the issue of employees choosing shorter cycles, thinking it will lessen their workload, according to Kovacs. And neglecting to do preventive maintenance on equipment can further affect the quality and cost, says Lang.


Opinions were mixed from those polled on whether it is best to have a few, broad-ranging wash formulas or a formula for each specific classification.

“In general, simplicity will also drive good results,” Kovacs advises, saying that having too many choices is not cost-effective considering the additional inventory costs, and that having too many will increase the chances of formula mix-up. He suggests having a “detergent, bleach and softener.”

But Tinker says that having a wash formula for every classification will lead to increased efficiency, at least for a washer-extractor type of laundry.

He adds that in “a tunnel washer operation, it is difficult to modify wash formulas significantly, as these systems are best operated with a high-volume throughput of similar classifications to maximize efficiency.”

Lang calls choosing formulas for various classifications a “balancing act.” He points to each operator’s core competencies—what markets they serve and what they do best—as the most appropriate guide to questions of more vs. fewer formulas.

Formula development should take into account the specific conditions and needs of each plant, Tinker says, such as in the case of a facility that is focused on cutting down processing time, or a facility that deals with high wastewater costs.

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!

About the author

Theresa Boehl

Freelance Writer

Theresa Boehl is a freelance writer, and former editor of American Laundry News.



Maybe it will be adressed in the conclusion, but it has certainly effected what goes on in our washer wheels in regards the formulas, temps, times and ph.

keeping it simple.

i like this artical. we have been using a near neutral system like Steve Kovacs speaks of for the past three years and am very pleased with our results in all ares of performance.


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