Educate Users on True Cost of Linen Abuse (Part 2)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

"My 'customers' need to be instructed or reminded about the costs of linen abuse. What steps can my laundry operation take to train them and minimize these occurrences?"


tom langdonApproaching this issue from a textile sourcing and laundry processing point of view, we see varying degrees of linen abuse, depending on how our customers process. With the development of more resource-saving equipment, the linen has to be more durable today that it has in the past. For example, most of the newer tunnel washers reuse water from the first cycle, and if linen (especially apparel) is not colorfast, you can end up with cross-contamination staining on other items.

Everyone throughout the supply chain is cost-conscious, so one of the first steps is making sure your linen has been properly processed when you receive it.

There have been instances in which PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) used in the weaving process was not completely removed in the finishing process. This can end up creating a buildup on flatwork ironer equipment. Depending on the process, this linen may process fine in one laundry and create havoc in another. PVA is water-soluble and disperses in wash temperatures of 160 F. It can redeposit on the linen, however, if not thoroughly rinsed.

The second step is to test suspect linen for abuse. There are ways to determine if the fibers have been damaged through chemical or excessive heat during processing. One method is the Fehling’s solution test. This process can detect the presence and amount of certain chemical residue that can damage cellulose fiber, primarily cotton. If these fibers become damaged, they weaken and will wear out prematurely.

Historically, the primary test for evaluating linen durability has been the AATCC 1961-IVa method for Colorfastness to Commercial Laundry. This test is becoming outdated with regards to the healthcare industry. It calls for a 2% solution of chlorine bleach, and most of our industry has moved away from chlorine in favor of hydrogen peroxide or other less aggressive chemistry in efforts to extend linen life. The industry or related agencies need to develop and publish an updated test method that includes the newer formulas and equipment being used in the industry.

The third step is to evaluate your linen. You could be using the wrong type, construction or blend. The move to higher-content synthetic fibers has raised the bar for the life expectancy of today’s linen. If you try comparing a 100% cotton bath blanket or terry towel to a blend, you will see a significant difference in life expectancy.

The fourth and final step is to be an educated user. Many of you that have been around a long time may be familiar with some of the information I’ve covered. But those of you who are less experienced should enlist your linen provider’s help. Your provider can help you get acquainted with the techniques and quick checks to help manage your linen purchases and usage. Also, check with your chemical supplier, as many can provide a troubleshooting guide to linen abuse.


JR NorrisIsn’t this the pot calling the kettle black? During almost 20 years in the restaurant business, I witnessed my fair share of regular linen abuse. Now, after being in the linen supply business for the past several years, and seeing the other side of this equation, I find myself cringing at the condition of items I see coming back. Some might think that’s a good dose of Karma for me, but I like to think my experience gives me an alternate viewpoint and advantage in identifying and solving the problem.

When items come back damaged or discolored, I try to identify where the abuse took place. I inspect the facility before approaching the client; the worst thing you can do is point the finger at the client without inspecting your facility and processes first (I learned that the hard way).

Sometimes during this process, I’ll even go so far as to climb into each of my machines to identify potential issues with the washing and drying process. I also try to identify if handling by employees is causing the abuse. If facility employees are causing the abuse, I spend time talking about how to prevent abuse, and I always make a point to share the item price. Once the employees understand what it would cost them to replace the damaged item, the carelessness stops.

Another way to identify potential problems is to witness item delivery. I ride along with my route personnel weekly to try to identify if improvements can be made to prevent products from being damaged during distribution. I watch them load their route trucks to see how they treat all products, and I try to identify other contributing factors. I have been able to find and make repairs to trucks that had sharp edges and to screws that were tearing goods or had that potential.

If it turns out to be an issue on the client’s end, we typically use the main rule of baseball: three strikes and you’re out. This doesn’t mean that we stop servicing the account after three strikes. It just means we find a different way of getting the point across.

First, we send back the damaged item with a sticker indicating the item’s intended use and what we believe to be the inappropriate use. When it comes back abused a second time, one of our managers personally visits the client and reiterates that training is needed to prevent the product damage from continuing to happen. Last, we charge a replacement fee if/when it happens a third time.

Depending on how the bad the items are, sometimes we skip the three-strike rule and charge for the linen immediately. Because we operating a weekly linen rental business, we have to make sure the customer understands that there are financial consequences for recurring linen abuse.

Remember, it’s all about getting back to the basics and training. Always give your employees and customers the proper tools and information to be successful.


douglas storyKnowledge is king! The more a customer knows about the cost of linen and what happens when the linen is damaged or lost, the more likely they will be tuned in to the need to protect this asset.

We are in a service industry, and part of our regularly scheduled service program should be to train the customer on how they can control costs via efficient use of linens; protecting their linen from abuse and loss should be part of that program. Training should include:

  • Identifying sources of abuse (chemicals reputed to stain or damage linens; bleach, acids or mechanical devices that can cut linens or cause them to tear; etc.)
  • Physical samples of abused linen from the same or similar facility
  • Actual breakdown of what it costs to replace a damaged or lost item
  • The presence of upper management and “direct contact” workers

When linen is found to have abuse stains or damage, the items should be taken to the facility and become part of the training and education process. The sooner this is accomplished within a customer service contract, the quicker the abuse can be minimized. Allowing prolonged abuse only creates a situation in which abuse becomes a hard-to-break habit.

About the possibility that you’re abusing the linen during processing and/or distribution, the answer is yes. The same training program used for customers should be implemented with staff and employees of the laundry operation.

Floor drags and drops, equipment tears, caster stains, mildew stains, etc., are just a few of the abuse issues that can occur if laundry operations are not following proper procedures or the plant is using malfunctioning equipment.

Enhanced quality control programs in which everyone is trained will aid to minimize linen abuse in a facility.

Check back Tuesday for the third and final part!


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