How to Compare, Conquer Soils, Stains (Conclusion)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“What measures can a laundry manager take to reduce the percentage of stain rewash found in their operation? How can they better differentiate ‘stains’ from ‘soils?’”

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Justin Oriel, Garment Machinery Co., Needham, Mass. 

I have been advised several times by a colleague, John DiNapoli from Spartan Chemical Co., that no matter how great a washer I might be able to offer my customers, it’s the soap company that’s providing the products and knowledge of this chemistry that is going to make the wash loads look great.

With that being said, I highly recommend the laundry room manager take a look at their relationship with their soap vendor. They should make sure this relationship is as strong as any they might have with other vendors they use.

In order to reduce stain rewash, the laundry manager must first identify the stain with the highest recurrence rate. These stains tend to correlate directly to the industry with which the laundry manager works most. For example, if a manager does a great deal of business with restaurants, food stains, particularly condiment stains, may appear regularly on the fabric.

Second, the manager must identify the stains requiring the most rewashes. If the identified stain is the same as the highest-recurring stain, the laundry manager has an easy job, since most employees will have encountered the stain numerous times. If, however, another type of stain—petroleum, for example—proves more likely to require rewash, then the first point becomes moot. A manager hopes that the first and second points work in conjunction with one another, making identification and remedy simple.

Once the rewash-heavy stain is identified, the laundry manager should train each employee on stain ID and pre-spray methods, monitoring outcomes as necessary. If pre-spraying doesn’t work, the manager should consider investing in a spray made specifically for the problem stain.

Differentiating stains from soils is a matter of fabric contact. The “soil” is the actual product producing the stain. For example, for a ketchup stain, ketchup itself is the soil. The stain is the mark left by the ketchup. When identifying the type of stain for rewashes, a laundry associate must identify what soil caused that stain and act accordingly.

Long-Term Care Laundry: Brian Barfoot, Aberdeen Village/Aramark, Olathe, Kan.

When thinking about the details of a laundry operation specific to stain rewash, my first question would be to ask about the overall management of that operation and its daily, consistent implementation.

Stain rewash of bed linen, towels and, in our case, resident clothing in a senior living community first impacts the daily production of the laundry technician’s work schedule. If the technician’s schedule is already at or above 86% of the 8.5-hour shift, minimizing rewash becomes a critical priority.

Has the laundry staff received thorough training? Are scheduled employee competencies being completed (at the minimum during their annual performance evaluation)?

The foremost daily practice for improving stain rewash is the timely and effective process of soiled-laundry collection. What type of soiled laundry carts are being used? What means of transportation is being used? Are there safe and efficient measures in place to have soiled linen taken to the laundry?

How many times per 24-hour period is soiled linen picked up? A healthcare laundry service will have the most serious of infectious soils and stains from blood and body fluid as well as medications.

Is all of your laundry processed within a 24-hour period, or do you have soiled-linen locations “hidden” in storage rooms, closets or cabinets that are easily missed and are not collected daily? Is there a soiled-laundry collection location room list/map in use?

During the thorough inspection of all laundered items, including the ragout/discard process, distinguishing between discarded and reusable items is key. (I’ve heard more than one opinion on what percentage of laundry is acceptable in linen loss. A rate of 5-7% is what I know from one of our largest healthcare laundries in our metropolitan community. It processes more than 5 million pounds annually.)

Management should set a standard or guideline about what items are acceptable to reuse. A visual picture of approved stained linen to be reused can be highly effective.

About knowing the difference between stains and soils, staining permeates through all of the layers of textiles and fabrics, while soiling will appear only on the top layer of fabric.

You’ll see blood as a darker stain after wash vs. other body fluids, soiled medication spots, tape residue and food particles, etc. Having an understanding of the chemical composition of these stains and soils—synthetic vs. natural, oil-based vs. water-based, etc.—is helpful. Consult with your peers in the housekeeping department.

This will improve the process when choosing which specific chemical to use for stain and soil removal during rewash. Usually, a bleach for all white items and a surfactant-based product for all non-white items is the current standard.

The combination of a manager’s consistent daily oversight of the overall laundry operation and equipping/training the laundry staff with the tools needed to provide the most productive outcomes will result in reduced rewash on a daily basis.

Chemicals Supply: Carrie Armstrong, Ecolab, Eagan, Minn.

To manage and have a goal to reduce the percentage of stain rewash, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of stain management and the numbers.

Linen replacement is one of the highest operating costs, next to labor, in a laundry operation. Consequently, a formal effective stain program will help reduce overall costs of processing linen.

The term “merry-go-round” is a common term used when the same piece of stained or damaged linen is processed numerous times. This phenomenon alone increases chemical, labor and processing costs.

It is not possible to manage what is not known. To reduce stain rewash, a definition of the program is required, including a method to collect the data, monitor the amount, as well as record keeping.

What is a stain and how does it differ from soils? There may be a discoloration left on a textile after a standard wash. This could be residual soil that has not been removed, or a chemical alteration of a soil. I would consider both discolorations to be a stain. A stain may be removable in a more aggressive wash formula developed for the type of stain, or it may be non-removable. Typical non-removable stains are concrete, abuse, medicinal, carbon black, stainless, or of unknown origin.

What is the current percentage of stain? Start with a review of total poundage, stain wash and discard numbers, and procedures for dealing with stains and discards. Conduct a plant audit of the various classifications. For example, take a load of incontinent pads and count stains, holes and tape/adhesives. Such a stain audit should be done routinely following the implementation of a stain program. This monitoring helps to maintain stain and discards once a program is implemented at an acceptable level, and alerts if a new stain issue is increasing.

An effective stain management program involves all plant employees.

One program involves different-colored carts placed at specific areas in the plant (i.e. at the small-piece folder, ironer, and folding area). The cart color is labeled for the type of textile to be placed there, i.e. yellow for stained textiles, red for ragout/discard, blue for tape/adhesives, green for rewash.

Rewash textiles do not require a stain wash. These are textiles that have been misfed through the ironer or folder, are mixed or dropped linen, or have been caught in ironer jams. Without a clear designation of rewash and stain, the stain percentage can be perceived as high due to the number of textiles requiring rewash in a standard formula, not a stain wash.

In addition, ragout/discard linen containing rips and tears do not require stain procedures. Reducing rewash linen in the stain wash, as well as promptly discarding linen containing rips/tears, will help reduce stain as well as overall costs.

To develop an effective stain management program, your chemical supply representative can be resourceful in consultation of how to set up a program specific to your operation and help with continual monitoring of the program. Teaming with your representative will help maintain accountability for ensuring the program is sustained.

Healthcare Laundry: Michael Kirsch, HCSC Laundry, Allentown, Pa.

As a director of customer service, and having managed many hospital linen programs, whenever the words “stained linen” are used, I think of the thousands of pictures of stained and damaged linen I’ve personally collected over the years while doing rounds in hospitals. Before I even discuss how HCSC laundry operations deals with stain and rewash, we need to bring attention to the origin of stain and damages caused by abuse of healthcare patient linen.

We have a photo library of actual linen-abuse pictures that we use in presentations and national seminars. We call these pictures our “Linen Follies.” While some are found to be humorous, this is a critical issue that healthcare linen and laundry providers must deal with. The biggest challenge in combatting this industry problem is working with the culprits who contribute to this abuse and unusual stain problem. There is a huge difference between body-fluid stains, and those caused by foot traffic, paint, Spackle, grease, and road debris.

Who are these healthcare industry culprits? It’s been our experience that hospital support services departments play a key role in creating severe stain issues for laundry operators.

Hospital engineering and maintenance staff, even dietary areas, often use standard patient linens such as bath towels, washcloths and surgical towels for maintenance duties. Sheets and blankets are confiscated from clean-linen supply carts and linen rooms for drop-cloth use. EVS and EMS often use clean patient linens for cleaning floors, toilets, stairwells, and spill cleanups. Nationally, EMS crews confiscate tens of thousands of bath towels annually for exterior and interior vehicle maintenance.

While all of these healthcare entities contribute greatly to our industry’s stain problem, once identified and addressed by the laundry service representative and hospital linen managers, these same contributors can also become a solution to the problem. Many are only too willing to help by using rags designated for such applications. It’s surprising how many of these so-called culprits tell us no one has ever said a thing about linen abuse before.

Dealing with stains and rewash in the laundry, and differentiating actual stains from soil, is always an operational challenge. I requested some assistance from HCSC’s VP of operations, and our director of quality assurance and washroom technology expert for their input. The following is their contribution:

First and foremost, sorting items properly is paramount. Make sure that like items of heavy soil are separated from those lighter-soiled items. Wash formulas are designed to address the level of soil that is prevalent for a particular item.

Having properly trained wash-room supervisors, and having a specific technical checklist incorporated into your wash-room operation, is the key to a satisfactory wash process.

Monitoring of water hardness and chemistry is crucial. Proper temperatures, water levels and water flow are all key components of this wash process. Too-high temperatures on an initial flush will help to set stains. Too little water does not allow for proper saturation and opening of fibers for proper laundering. Conversely, too much water dilutes the wash chemistry. Again, time and temperatures are major components.

So, when laundry operators look at ways to differentiate stain from soil and reduce their rewash, it’s imperative that they have systems to maintain real-time information and technical checks and measures in place to do everything possible to stop the problem at the source.

This brings me back to what I identified as the source of much of the healthcare stains that contribute to so much work and unnecessary linen replacement in our industry. Linen abuse is a huge challenge and contributor of stain in healthcare. While addressing the problems of abuse may seem overwhelming, this isn’t something that can be ignored any longer. This industry virus can be cured. Identifying and addressing the problem is certainly a good place to start.


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