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Fundamentals of Ironing Review

Basic procedures, regular maintenance affect ironer performance, quality of goods processed

RICHMOND, Ky. — Most laundry and linen service professionals are familiar with the fundamentals of washing, also known as the laundry pie: chemistry, mechanical action, time and temperature. All of these factors affect wash quality. 

Just like there are washing fundamentals, there are also ironing fundamentals. 

Amanda Lobb, sales manager with Lapauw USA, discussed the fundamentals of ironing during an Association for Linen Management (ALM) webinar entitled Smooth Moves: The Fundamentals of Ironing.

The basics of ironing, she says, include suction, the removal of moisture from a product as it goes through the ironer; time, referring to the speed and amount of time it takes for expected throughput; pressure exerted on the product, depending on the type of ironer; and temperature, which will differ with the type of textile being processed. 

“All four of these pieces directly impact what you can expect to come out of your ironer and the performance of your ironer,” Lobb says. 

FUNDAMENTAL IRONER TYPES, TEMPERATURE

There are two types of ironers available to laundry operators: roll-heated and chest-heated. According to Lobb, roll-heated ironers are used more in smaller production operations, not laundries that are doing a lot of high-speed production. The difference between roll-heated and chest ironers is that the roll-heated machine doesn’t have a chest. 

“Your textiles are going into the ironer, and they’re being held against the roll or the cylinder by a series of belts and pulleys that are holding the linen onto the roll, and sending it through the machine, somewhat adding pressure,” she says. 

Then there are chest-heated ironers, which can be either thermal or steam-heated. The chest-heated ironer, rather than having a series of belts and pulleys to pull the linen through the ironer to process, dry and press it, takes the textiles into the machine in between a hot metal chest and a roll, Lobb says. 

“The concept of a chest-heated ironer is similar to how you would think about ironing at home,” she shares. “You have an ironing board, and you have a pad on the board, so your iron would be the hot chest, your pad would be the iron itself the padding around it. 

“That would signify what you’re trying to do. You’re applying pressure with the iron in your hand against a pad that absorbs the moisture, and you’re pressing and creating finishing and removing wrinkles at the same time.” 

On a roll-heated ironer, temperature is distributed through the roll itself, versus a chest-heated ironer, where the temperature source comes on the underside of the chest, she says. It’s a self-contained unit if heat is coming through gas; if by steam, it will be serviced by a boiler. 

Of all the equipment in a laundry, the steam-heated ironer is one of the largest consumers of steam, explains Lobb. The primary maintenance a laundry needs to do to maintain temperature of a steam-heated ironer is to be sure of proper steam pressure. 

“Even when you purchase the machine, if you are, for example, a hotel OPL laundry and you are looking to purchase a new ironer, it’s important for you to understand how much pressure you’re getting,” she points out. “If you’re only getting 105 psi versus 120 psi, that’s going to impact the amount of throughput and the type of equipment decisions that you’re going to make.” 

Lobb adds that a laundry has to make sure the proper amount of steam is consistently getting to the machine. Condensate builds up, and it’s very important to clean steam traps and maintain them on a regular basis. This is where a laundry loses energy, loses heat and ultimately loses throughput in the production on a steam ironer. 

Similarly, Lobb shares that laundries need to make sure all steam and condensate lines are insulated to preserve the energy lost. 

“There’s a significant amount energy and temperature and heat lost between the boiler itself and the ironer, just depending on the distance of the boiler from the ironer,” she says. “The longer the distance, the more important it is to make sure that these lines are properly insulated and that the insulation is maintained.” 

Also, inspect piping on a regular basis, looking for leaks. Although leaks can be small, it can get very expensive across multiple ironers every day in a laundry, Lobb points out.

Ironers are usually either gas-heated or thermal-heated. She says roll-heated ironers typically use gas. 

A thermal-heated ironer uses thermal-heated oil, and this can be either through a boiler or a steam-style ironer where it’s self-contained, or the laundry is using a thermal-oil boiler to heat the ironer just like a steam ironer. 

“A self-contained ironer is going to be less maintenance in terms of parts and components and boiler certification, and so on,” Lobb explains. “We call these fully integrated systems. 

“A self-contained system is where you’re heating thermal oil in a heat exchanger and that oil is pumping into the chest of the ironer, and going in and out, returning to the burner to be reheated and recirculated through the machine, much like steam and your condensation would go back to the boiler to be reheated and come back to the ironer.”

She recommends that laundries consult manufacturers about the kind of oil used in a machine, because oils are different. They have different detergents and viscosity, and a laundry can experience clogs in the chest and problems with throughput and heating if the manufacturer-recommended oil isn’t used. Thermal fluid ironers can be heated remotely or be self-contained. 

The key is to use the proper temperature use for all textiles, says Lobb. 

“The beauty of all these machines is they have a good temperature range, and it’s really important that when you buy a new textile or you agree to process a new product from a customer that you understand how that product is supposed to perform,” she points out. 

“It’s very important to understand when you’re considering processing a product, what are the temperature parameters both for the wash and for the finishing process to make sure that you not only finish the product well and maintain the product well and hold down your linen replacement costs.”

WAX, VACUUM FUNDAMENTALS

When a laundry sees poor quality coming off an ironer, Lobb says there are a couple factors to consider. For a chest-heated ironer, one would be wax buildup or over waxing. 

“You may be running your product in the same position all the time, and you’ll get wax buildup and chemical distribution on the sides where maybe you’re not processing across the chest,” she says. “That can cause accordion folding coming out of your ironer, or what looks almost like it stutters through the ironer and is having a problem coming out of the machine. That’s because the surface of your chest is meant to be nice and smooth. And when you either over wax or get chemical buildup and disposition, it creates friction and poor finish and poor throughput on the ironer itself.” 

To avoid this, Lobb recommends using a cleaning cloth daily. Waxing varies from operator to operator, and sometimes it can even vary from day to day, depending on how much the laundry is producing. 

“A good rule of thumb is to wax at startup, wax again at lunchtime, and you may want to wax one more time during the day, just depending on your throughput,” she suggests. “Sometimes if you see that you’re getting any kind of brown residue, getting a buildup, some folks can get away with waxing once a day and just using the cleaning cloth on a daily basis.” 

Whatever type of ironer is being used, Lobb says that the vacuum needs to be turned off for waxing. 

“If you don’t turn the vacuum off, what happens is your pad will get clogged with wax, and it will pull the wax through the suction and get into your ductwork as well,” she says. “You also want to run a scouring pad to make sure the chest is clean.”

Lobb recommends waxing two to four times a day. Use the wax sparingly, but often. She also says to make sure the wax cloth is kept neat and clean by storing it on a rack or folded when it’s cool. 

“I don’t know if you have ever tried to pick up a wax cloth that has been improperly discarded, but they get very stiff,” she says. “They are a very heavy cotton fabric, and dried, cooled wax makes them very stiff and very hard to work with. I can promise you that operators need things to be easy and simple to maintain good behaviors when it comes to waxing and all kinds of maintenance when it comes to your ironers.”

Finally, Lobb says proper temperature is necessary for good waxing. 

“If you don’t have enough temperature in the wax, the wax is not going to melt and lubricate the chest,” she says. “It’s not going to be really useful at all, and you’ll have additional redisposition on your textiles.” 

In addition to using a scouring pad on a regular basis, Lobb says a laundry will want to do a heavy cleaning annually. For heavy cleaning, the scouring pad is placed around the roll and then it is run for about an hour on the chest to completely clean it from one side to the other. 

Lobb recommends always using a wax cloth and not placing wax directly on the ironer. The cloth has pockets for wax paste or flakes. 

“If you feel like you put too much in there, I would always follow your wax cloth with defective or to be ragged-out sheets or table linen to run through a couple times just to pick up any excess amount from the waxing process,” she says. 

FUNDAMENTALS OF PRESSURE

Assuming that chests are clean and waxed, pressure is probably the most important aspect of ironer processing, according to Lobb. Pressure is created by padding and springs around the roll.

“As your pad wears, you’ll have less contact with the chest itself, so, it’s really important to make sure you are changing your pad on a regular basis,” she points out. “Check manuals, consult the supplier, the rep in field as to how often to change pad.” 

Lobb also says the right type of padding needs to be used. Two types of padding are available: polyester and Nomex. The choice depends on ironing temperatures. Ironing below 365 F can use a polyester pad. Higher temperatures require a Nomex pad, since the material has a higher heat tolerance. 

There are also different kinds and weights of pads, specifically for roll-heated and chest-heated ironers, so she recommends consulting the ironer manual or company representative.

Lobb says springs are wrapped around the roll of an ironer, much like a pad is, or springs can be independent, where each spring is individually placed or replaced in an ironer in the roll. 

“What springs do is they provide consistent pressure, which is absolutely necessary,” she explains. “Springs are also where moisture removal comes into play. The holes you see in the roll are were your moisture escapes your linen and pulls it through the machine, so it’s really important that you maintain your springs.” 

While moisture escapes through the holes in the roll and through the springs, the vacuum is pulling moisture from linen, through the pad, through the springs, through the roll and then out through the exhaust on the machine, Lobb says. It’s important that vacuum fans are working and that ductwork, ventilation, is clear. 

“Ductwork on ironers needs to go straight up to the roof if at all possible,” she recommends. “You want to avoid bends as best you can so you can minimize and avoid any kind of back pressure and end reductions in suction. 

“If you’re not getting good drying and you’re not getting good suction, after you check the vacuum, the ductwork is a sure place I would look as well. Sometimes you get wax buildup, if you have too many hard bends, this will definitely create a challenge for moisture removal.” 

MAINTENANCE FUNDAMENTALS

Lobb recommends maintenance of an ironer on a regular basis. 

In general, on any ironer, she says a laundry should be lubricating the machine and checking the feed belt and guide tape. Some ironers use scrapers instead of guide tape to guide linen off the roll, and those scrapers must be maintained. 

She also says that laundries should do blowdown. 

“I want to be careful when I say blowdown,” Lobb cautions. “I know that everybody starts at the top and blows down all the lint and dust and dirt in the plants, and then you kind of work your way down and out of the laundry itself. But it’s very important with an ironer that you don’t blow in dirt. 

“The quick and easy habit that I see happen pretty often is, we’ll take the air compressor, we’ll be walking around, we’re blowing off the floor and blowing off the rafters and maybe we’ll blow under the ironer. Under the ironer, out from under the ironer is fine. Blowing sensors, blowing air into the side and control boxes and things like that are really not a good idea.”

Lobb recommends using a shop vacuum to clean inside panels, controls, sensors and other sensitive parts in flatwork finishing equipment to avoid pushing dirt and lint further into the machine. Not only can that cause long-term maintenance issues, but more importantly it can cause fire. 

“Sometimes we overthink what it takes to keep something clean,” she says. “A simple device I’ve seen is [the laundry has] taken a rope and run it across the belts, picking up the lint, and they can just clean that rope once in a while, doing the job of cleaning those belts all day long, every day. A simple, straightforward, easy-to-maintain idea.” 

Lobb recommends several areas of an ironer be checked on a daily basis, starting with safety features. These include making sure emergency stop buttons work; making sure the finger guard not only works, but also that it has not been adjusted; and that guards on the doors, the panels and other areas of the machine are in place. 

“You also need to look for warning signals on startup, especially if your machines are newer,” she says. “This a little bit more tricky with older machines. Of course, you can listen, if you know your machine and you’re hearing sounds and it’s doing things you wouldn’t normally expect obviously are warning signs. 

“On your newer machines, you have a PLC with a touchscreen a lot of times that will feature any kind of warnings that you need for an inverter to be reset or a power issue, any of those types of things. Pay attention to what your machine is telling you. These machines are getting smarter and smarter every day.” 

Another daily maintenance check she recommends is padding, as well as feed and exit belts. And check for any signs of leak, whether it’s a steam leak, an air leak, an oil leak, etc. 

“You want to check for those kind of things, because that will reduce your down time, as well as make sure that you are maintaining proper temperature,” says Lobb. “For example, if you had a thermal oil leak or a steam leak, that’s going to make a significant impact on your throughput.” 

On a weekly basis, she says to clean all fans, checking oil levels in gear boxes and hydraulic pumps, and thermal oil reserves. Also, check steam traps and how they’re performing, making sure that there isn’t condensation building up. Clean the ribs on the inverter and clean the electrical box. 

“You want to make sure you’re not getting a build-up of dust and dirt and things around the items that can spark fires and/or prevent throughput,” Lobb points out. “Make sure that you clean burners and gas train. A lot of times your burners and your gas trains are separate from your actual machine.”

Monthly, she says to check the heat exchanger, seals, chain tension, carbon brushes, grease chains and nipples. Annually, change gearbox oil every number of hours, and get the boiler checked and certified to make sure of proper operation to service steam ironers. 

“Always use the correct oil, padding and springs,” concludes Lobb. “I cannot express enough not to cut corners on what your manufacturers recommend. They are the experts in their machinery and they want you to be successful as well.”