RIPON, Wis. — Try putting together a piece of furniture or your child’s new toy without following instructions. Before long, you’ll likely be pulling out your hair as parts don’t line up and the resulting item only somewhat resembles what is pictured.

Simply put, following directions is important in making tasks easier and in ensuring things are done efficiently.

That’s particularly true in doing laundry and extending the life of linen. If you don’t follow directions—from the linen, chemical, and washing and drying machine manufacturers—you’re likely reducing your linen’s lifespan and wasting time and money, too.

The most important thing that anyone can do to extend linen life is to follow the directions of the linen manufacturer. Every piece of linen that an organization is laundering has care instructions.

The manufacturer of those linens has determined the best way to process them—that can include specifying the temperature of the wash water, what chemicals should be introduced during the wash step, recommendations on how long to dry the linens and at what temperature, and if you should iron the linens or not.

If the operator doesn’t follow those care instructions, you will have poor quality and detrimental effects to the linen, and thus shorten the linen life itself.

For instance, over-drying will reduce linen life. When overdried, the linen fibers open up more, and the heat and the tumbling in the dyer weakens and destroys the fibers. In addition, over-drying can lead to static buildup, so reducing the dry time will reduce static. 

Multiple laundry equipment manufacturers have moisture-sensing systems on their dryers; these moisture-sensing systems should be set up for the optimal moisture level of the linen being dried so that when the moisture levels are achieved, the dryer will begin cooling down. That not only preserves the quality of the linen but also saves time, money and energy.

The same is true of washer-extractors. Make sure you follow the care instructions from the linen manufacturer, but also make sure you properly program your washing machine to utilize the correct cycles, even if you’ve done it one way for the last 100 times.

With new fiber technology that comes out every year and decade, along with changes to the types of chemicals that are utilized, it is quite possible that the old way of laundering has changed due to the differences in linen and technology.

Most new tumble dryers and washer-extractors can be programmed to provide optimal dry quality and optimal wash quality, and the rinse cycle is part of the latter.

You want a full rinse, as residual chemicals will get baked in linens while drying or ironing, again reducing the lifespan of your linens. Rinses can occur in two ways: a bath rinse, where the water fills the cylinder, the linen agitates, and then drains; and a shower rinse, a water spray that is more like a shower. A shower rinse takes less time, less water and produces better results.

You can understand why if you think about the difference between taking a bath or shower. The showerhead is above you, and the water hits your head and then goes down your entire body, taking the dirt and soap down the drain. Baths have a higher probability of redepositing dirt or chemicals due to how they drain.

For optimal wash quality, it’s also important that you follow the instructions of the chemical manufacturers, using the proper dosage and proper chemical dilution. Basically, if you use the right chemicals, the right dosages for the linen being laundered and program the machine properly, you will have fewer instances where you need to rewash something.

For instance, if you have a stain on some linen, it would be a bad idea to treat it with bleach and then let it sit for a while. While you may be removing the stain, you could also be damaging the fibers of the linen while it sits.

If you are treating laundry, you need to make sure you are also following chemical treatment instructions, too. If you don’t clean it properly the first time, and you don’t catch it before you put it into the dryer, then you’ll bake the stain into the fabric, which means the chances of that stain coming out are dramatically lower than if you would have just washed it again.

Lastly, communication is key between your staff and your chemical, equipment and linen representatives. First, communicate with the linen manufacturer so you know how to properly care for the linen. Then communicate with the chemical and equipment vendors to make sure you are providing the right chemicals in the right cycles to properly wash the linen.

But most importantly, communicate with your staff to ensure they understand how to properly use the equipment and that they are using the proper cycles for the linen.

I have been to many locations in my 21 years in this job where employees run whatever cycle they think is best at a specific point and time. It doesn’t always match what the linen requirements are.

Manual timers used to be a big thing in the industry, but in many instances, they were being improperly used. We used to see that some employees would want to go on a smoke break, so instead of setting the dryer to 30 minutes, which the linen actually needed, they would crank it up to 50 minutes with an extended cooldown time. The dryer would keep operating, so people assumed it was doing its job. But in many instances, those laundry operations were over-drying their linen.

A laundry management system can show you if your employees are doing the laundry properly and ensure optimum wash and dry quality throughout the entire process, which then provides optimal linen life. These systems allow you to ensure that your laundry operation is being run efficiently and cost-effectively.

There are systems in the marketplace that are able to track the entire laundry process, from what cycles are run, to how many cycles, to if the cycles ran as intended, to if an employee stopped a cycle or rapidly advanced a cycle so it skipped a step and therefore prevented optimal wash quality.

One of the things that these laundry management systems have shown is that many organizations have been over-dying the laundry. The laundry equipment would show that it is dry, but employees would still run the cycle anyway. They would do it because they believed the linen wasn’t properly dried or they just wanted to make it look like they were busy.

These management systems provide an eagle-eye view of what is happening in the laundry room, and that is important because you can only improve upon what you can measure.

But if real problems are found, it’s important to communicate with your employees, the chemical representatives and any other people who might be stakeholders. Various things could go wrong, be it equipment, chemical, linen or operator-related issues.

If things aren’t ending up how they should, don’t just accept that as part of the job. It’s important to communicate with stakeholders, look back at those issues and discover what is causing linen degradation or poor wash quality so the problem can be resolved.