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Fine-Tuning: Wash-Room Operations

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(Photo: © iStockphoto/LukaTDB)

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — It seems that making the required adjustments in your laundry operation is a never-ending process. There are a number of variables to be considered when making periodic adjustments. With this in mind, I have decided to, over the next several months, discuss the factors and opportunities available to every manager in fine-tuning his or her operation.

Let’s look at the wash room. There are certain universal principles that apply to all washing equipment, whether it is a tunnel washer or a conventional washer-extractor. The first principle is deciding how big a load you wish to put into your washing machine. Sounds simple enough, but the answer can and should vary based on the type of linen you are washing and the moisture content of the linen to be washed.

To illustrate, I will use my operation’s tunnel washer. Its rated load capacity is 110 pounds per pocket, but if I were to fill each pocket with 110 pounds, I would be dramatically under-loading the tunnel. We wash micro-filament mops through our tunnel washer. Because of the moisture content in the soiled mops, we load each pocket to 165 pounds. This load easily fits into the extractor at the end of the tunnel, and the load comes out looking clean and smelling great.

There is a danger in putting too much linen into a tunnel-washer pocket. An overly large load will not come clean, and may not fit efficiently into the extractor at the end of the tunnel or may not come out at all. Anyone who has experienced a jam up inside the tunnel washer knows that it is something you want to avoid.

There is, however, a compelling reason to accurately determine the proper load size for each type of linen. We were able to increase our average load size from 100 pounds per pocket to 125 pounds per pocket. That is a 25% increase in output without adding time or additional equipment.

We wash a large amount of reusable barrier surgical linen that each day. This linen is made from 100% polyester fibers and weighs very little per piece. If I were to load this type of linen to 100% of normal capacity, the linen would be so tightly packed in the washing machine that water may not reach the center of the load.

The key to this type of linen is to have enough goods in the washer to provide good mechanical action and effective cleaning. Underloading the washer will cause the linen to float on the water’s surface; overloading will end up producing no mechanical action at all. We have found that a general rule of thumb is to start testing at 70% of rated capacity.

The most effective way to wash linen is to do it right the first time. The wash room is not an area where you want to try to save money. Poor-quality washing will result in unhappy customers, higher labor costs and higher linen-replacement costs. Since labor and linen represent two of the largest expenses in a linen rental plant or in-house laundry, we should focus our attention on managing these costs.

It is for this very reason that I personally despise the use of guaranteed cost-per-pound-of-linen wash-room chemicals contracts. I want to be able to exercise my managerial control and to dictate the quality level coming out of my wash process. I want to be able to reduce my labor and linen replacement costs.

Many fixed-cost-per-pound contracts end up using far too much chlorine bleach (extremely inexpensive) and less-than-desirable amounts of alkali and detergents. Instead of having a chemical representative trying to find ways to make a profit on his or her fixed-price contract, I want them spending time trying to keep my quality up, my replacement costs down, and my productivity high. I personally believe that these are two entirely different types of service and are mutually exclusive.

The next area to focus on in the wash room is turnaround time. How long does it take from the time a wash cycle is completed until the next load is started? This is extremely important for conventional washers but also should be looked at for tunnel washers (hold time).

We track turnaround time for every load on our conventional washers, and have found that having a place to unload the washer into “ready” and “waiting” helps reduce turnaround time. Having the next load prepared and ready to be loaded also reduces this time.

When we first starting looking at turnaround time, we found that we were not doing a good job when it came to processing traditional wet mops. Housekeeping was bagging the mops in plastic bags and sending them to the laundry. Our soil sorters set these bags to the side until there were enough for a wash load. The cart was then taken to the wash room where, after the washer was emptied, the wash person would slowly open each bag and place the mops into the washer. This system required 30 minutes to load the washer. By having the soil sorters remove the mops from the bags and sort only the mops into the carts, we were able to greatly reduce the amount of time it took to load the washer.

Running a tunnel washer faster than the dryers can handle the linen causes the tunnel to go on “hold.” To me, a tunnel on hold is wasted time. It is better to lengthen the tunnel wash time per pocket than to allow it to constantly go into a hold situation. Proper scheduling of the linen mix going through a tunnel can help keep the equipment running smoothly. Next time, I will discuss tunnel scheduling.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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