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Extending Linen Life Through Selection, Processing

Experts say laundries need to use proper selection criteria, processing methods to achieve textile longevity

CHICAGO — There are many crucial factors and cost centers when it comes to operating a laundry and linen service, but without textiles and linens, there is no service.

And if the textile product doesn’t last long as it is used and processed, customer satisfaction could drop and linen costs will increase.

So, how can a laundry extend the life of the linen it processes?

American Laundry News reached three textile experts—Steve Kallenbach, CMO-director of market solutions for reusable textile solutions provider American Dawn; Dan Schwartz, vice president of Fashion Seal Healthcare, a division of Superior Group of Companies that provides garments and ancillary apparel to the healthcare industry; and Bob Pestrak, sales director for Riegel Linen, which provides textiles for the hospitality, healthcare and linen rental markets—to garner their expertise on extending linen life.

SELECTING LINEN

The first step to increasing linen life is to choose the proper textiles for the type of service. Kallenbach says that selection criteria are generally applicable to all markets and all types of textiles, whether industrial, healthcare, hospitality, or food and beverage. 

“Typically, laundry textile buyers start with unit price, which is a good to begin with, as long as the rest of the picture is studied,” he says. 

Kallenbach adds that other areas of analysis should be: 

  • Will the product be returned, or will much of it be lost or stolen?
  • What is the processing cost vs. a current product?
  • Who is the customer, and what are their real expectations?
  • What does the competition offer?
  • Beyond all of the above, what is the right product for the job intended?

Once a product is selected for “intention to implement into the supply chain,” Kallenbach says other factors should be considered, such as what is the actual spec of the product (content, weight, weave, thread count, cotton yarn type/size), so that comparisons can be fairly drawn. 

“A comparative test should be done to ascertain whether the product lives up to the stated quality, and also comparing different suppliers’ products equally,” he shares. “In comparing products, my life-cycle costing tool can be very helpful in understanding the real outcomes, as well as ascertaining the difference between price and cost. 

“Bottom line: Know what you need, spec the product, test/prove the product, and finally establish the true life-cycle cost for a fair comparison of like products.”

According to Kallenbach, the most widely overlooked factor in product selection is the life-cycle cost. 

“Many people simply buy on unit price,” he says. “In many cases, the lowest price can be the most expensive product.”

Schwartz agrees that there are many factors that go into the selection process, especially for garments. 

“Yes, design is very important, but so is durability and value,” he says. 

Schwartz goes on to say that for garments, polyester tends to provide more durability over cotton. 

“In addition to providing better color retention, the polyester-rich garments in general should have great longevity,” he says. “Polyester-rich garments do tend to be more expensive than a cotton-rich garment, but when a laundry is successful at controlling losses, it’s most definitely a worthwhile investment.”

Pestrak recommends that laundries select goods from a textile company with a strong history of product development and manufacturing, and one that understands how the best materials and manufacturing standards can ensure a quality and consistent product that maximizes the laundry return on investment (ROI). 

“Since there is a broad list of factors that can impact linen life and take it out of service, the laundry should ensure the textile company has an experienced technical support team that can work with their chemical dispensing company to trouble shoot problems and provide recommended solutions,” he says.

Pestrak shares that the primary efforts at Riegel Linen to extend linen life have been focused on the 100% polyester table linen category for laundries servicing the food and beverage restaurant and hotel markets. 

“This is the No. 1 product used in this segment,” he shares. “100% polyester will always last longer than cotton or poly cotton.”

However not all polyester is created equal, according to Pestrak. Spun polyester resembles cotton in the fiber state and has a softer touch than filament polyester, which is much firmer. 

He goes on to says that table linen fabric should never be sanded, and a heavier product at 7.2 ounces will provide better cover and last longer than 6.4 ounces. In addition, stain release chemistry will enable many oil-based stains to wash out, and the dyes used to add color to the fabric should be resistant to chlorine residue. 

According to Pestrak, the top factor that takes 100% polyester table linen out of service is that the color changes and fades after washing. 

“The fabric will always last many more years than the color,” he points out. “White table linen turns brown or yellow, mid-tone colors like ivory and sandalwood can turn a rainbow of shades over time. Laundries then have to sort napkins and table cloths at the ironer so they can deliver shade-consistent bundles to restaurants or discard colors that look terrible.”

An additional factor that should be considered in the selection process is how many fabric sources a vendor uses, says Pestrak. 

“Fewer sources is better for product consistency,” he says. “Also how optical brightener, which makes polyester white, is applied, as this could impact whites staying white. Finally, the type of dyes and the dye process used to match a shade, as this will impact colorfastness.”

Pestrak shares that Riegel Linen has colorGUARDTM technology, which is designed to withstand chemical residue left on fabric that causes discoloration of table linen. 

“Laundries do not have to worry about using high concentrations of chemicals on white table linen to get it clean and prevent mold and mildew,” he shares. “Also mid-tone colorGUARDTM colors are resistant to bleach. Laundries will be able to keep table linen in service longer and improve their ROI and deliver shade consistent bundles to hotels and restaurants. 

“We also have a Textile Service Team available to consult with laundries and their chemical dispensing company on ways to extend linen life.”           

Pestrak says that the most helpful thing a laundry/linen service can do in terms of linen selection is educate the customer, especially when dealing with customer-owned goods (COG). 

“We see instances of hotels focused on design, buying retail-grade products that cannot stand up to the rigors of commercial laundering,” he shares. “A laundry can work with manufacturers that can help guide the customer to select table linen that is both innovative and durable.” 

Kallenbach says that laundry operations can teach and assist their customers every aspect of the linen selection process. 

“We have to be consultants to the business end-user,” he points out. “Showing them how to buy the right, durable product, becomes a win-win.” 

“Something that often is overlooked are the services a manufacturer provides such as customer support, a reliable supply chain and ample inventory which can all support a laundry’s growth,” says Schwartz.

He adds that linen suppliers are key partners when it comes to extending linen life, adding that linen and garment manufacturers need to remain committed to providing a quality product, and this means continuing to invest in and improve quality control processes.

“Even in our 100th year we continue to improve our quality processes,” Schwartz shares. “We constantly reject sub-par fabric that does not meet our standards before it ships to our cut and sew factories worldwide. 

“We have multiple quality checks throughout the entire supply chain that ensure our customers get a quality, long-lasting garment. We also continue to invest in R&D to bring new higher quality garments to the marketplace.”

PROCESSING TIPS

Beyond selecting the right textile product, laundry services must properly process linens in order to get the longest linen life.

Schwartz says that recently his company’s laundry partners have been asking for higher quality garments at the request of their customers.

“However, a different garment may in some cases require a laundry to change their processes,” he points out. 

“Our industry has incredible support from chemical companies,” Kallenbach says. “They are the experts in how to wash/dry/finish product the longest wear-life.” 

He recommends that when selecting a linen product, a laundry should bring in the chemical representative and have a three-way partnership discussion with textile supplier. 

“If all parties analyze the product, a processing plan can be put into place that will garner higher profitability through longer life cycles,” Kallenbach points out. “Additionally, some textile suppliers offer free plant audits, which can be very helpful in maintaining both textile and machinery life, as well as best practices for the laundry associates involved.”

Pestrak says the best way to clean linen is to follow the recommended wash procedures for a specific product and optimize the time, temperature, chemicals and mechanical action in the wash cycle. 

“The textile and chemical dispensing company can provide guidance on this,” he shares.

Pestrak goes on to say that the leading cause of reduced table linen life in laundry processing is an insufficient neutralization, which causes chemical residue to be left on fabric that is then exposed to heat at the ironer, and the color changes shade. 

“Since products get washed hundreds of times and one wash can alter the shade, it’s important that the most sensitive colors, like white and some mid-tone colors, are engineered by the textile company to withstand an insufficient neutralization,” he points out. 

“The factors our Textile Service Team comes across most often are grouping of like shades in the wash, ensuring a sufficient antichlor and sour in each wash, iron in the water, following proper machine loads, monitoring the pH at various steps in the laundry process, and the temperatures and speed at the ironer.”

FINAL ADVICE

In summary, to get the most life out of linens, Kallenbach says it’s important for a laundry/linen service to compare linen products fairly through spec. When testing, he recommends doing so in a controlled setting or with a third party, and to utilize life-cycle costing.

Finally, Kallenbach recommends making a connection between a laundry’s production staff, the textile supplier and the chemical supplier.

“Textiles continue to make advancements, so be open to evaluating and testing new technologies and solutions that can extend linen life,” concludes Pestrak.