ROANOKE, Va. — Last month’s article dealt with trying to narrow down the source of the stain, trying to understand the nature of the stain. This can be a very long and frustrating journey. 

So, it is necessary to understand why this effort is so very important. 

Many years ago, I ran across a stain that only appeared after the linen was washed. You could not detect it on the linen before washing, but it showed up as a yellow or brown stain after washing.  

Test runs by various organizations could not determine the source of the stain or a way to remove it. It was a permanent stain that left the linen unusable. 

My customer service representative spent a lot of time working with the hospitals to determine the source of the stain. Once we determined it was an active ingredient in one of the disinfectants, we set about trying to understand what caused the stain when the linen was washed. We determined that the stain was caused by a combination of heat and chlorine.  

That information allowed us to develop a wash formula for our tunnel washers that had a cool rinse (under 100 F) with a little alkali and hydrogen peroxide in the first two compartments. The offending product could be rinsed out under these circumstances before it caused a stain. 

The science of washroom chemistry and experience of laundry managers can be harnessed once we can determine the source of the stain. Until we have determined the source, we are like a blind man trying to find his way out of a room. If we try hard enough and long enough, we might accidentally stumble out the door, but we will have to endure the same process each time we are left in the room. 

Stain management is an evolutionary process. What we learn treating one stain makes us better at treating the next. 

Another example from my past is that we were getting large, oily looking stains on our reusable barrier surgeon gowns and isolation gowns. The stains would disappear after washing or reappear at another location. The normal laundry science says that in treating oil-based stains you should use high levels of alkali, but this process was not good for the garments. 

Our research showed that these particular products did not need any softeners in the wash process because they were 100% polyester. We also discovered that the softeners were often responsible for the oil stains we were seeing on the gowns. Some of the stains came from oil used in certain procedures the gowns were used in. Since the products were 100% polyester, they loved oil. 

We found the best way to remove the oil was with a solvent-based detergent. To allow the detergent to work, we needed to wash at low temperatures. This worked extremely well and was very economical because the wash formula required very little alkali, no bleach, no softener and very little sour.

It is only by taking the time to research the nature of the items you are washing and the nature of the stains you are seeing that you are able to find solutions to many of the staining problems facing managers in today’s modern laundries.

There may be a product that comes along that represents a tremendous increase in patient care but will stain linen items. It is my experience that if the benefits are great enough, the staining problem in the laundry is considered an acceptable cost. 

If this happens to you, being able to define the cost associated with this new product is important so that you can justify an increased budget or higher prices. It then becomes the healthcare provider’s choice as to whether the benefits outweigh the costs.