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How Do I Know If Our Formula's Doing the Trick? (Part 1 of 3)

How can a laundry manager determine if they’re getting the best results from the chemical formulas they’re using? For what key quality indicators should they be looking?HEALTHCARE LAUNDERING: Sue Klein is the marketing manager for Shared Service Systems, Omaha, Neb., a central healthcare laundry that serves customers ranging from large urban health systems to small rural hospitals. She’s been active in the International Association of Healthcare Textile Managers (IAHTM).
There are several areas in which you can judge the effectiveness of your chemical formulas. In healthcare laundering, it’s extremely important to ensure that your formulas are operating correctly. Linen needs to be sanitary, and the health of patients depends on it.
By monitoring the following indicators, you will readily determine if a change in formulations should be undertaken.Titration – Usually offered by your chemical vendor, titration performs a chemical test on your formulations to ensure they are correctly calibrated. This is an excellent place to start.Appearance – Poor formulations will be noticeable in the appearance of cleaned linen. Are your whites as white as you expect? Are removable stains cleaned?Softness – The “feel” of your cleaned linen will help you see if your formulations are returning the linen in good shape. New types of linen are finding their way into healthcare laundries, because many hospitals are upgrading their accommodations to be more “hotel-like.” These new types of linen require different formulations and treatment.Scorching (Softener, Soap and Alkali) – If that mixture isn’t correct, you can sometimes see scorching when linen comes in contact with high heat, such as that generated by the ironers.Linen Life – What’s your reject rate? The national average is approximately 2%. How does your rate compare, and has it recently changed? If your formulations are too harsh, your linen isn’t going to survive the anticipated number of washings and will be more frequently replaced.
Remember to vary your formulations for the different types of linen you’re washing. One formula doesn’t fit all linen!CHEMICALS SUPPLY: Steven Tinker, the director of research and development for Gurtler Industries, South Holland, Ill., has more than 30 years of experience in laundry chemistry research, development and marketing. He’s secretary/treasurer of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC).
Quality is an easy concept to talk about, but sometimes very difficult to define. Every laundry manager and operation must define quality in their own terms and, most importantly, in the terms of their customers.
There are several ways to start defining quality, and your chemical supplier can work with you to make sure that your standards are measurable and easily understood by your entire crew.
Your laundry wash processes or formulas are usually set up by your chemical supplier, with input from you as to important quality concerns. There are several areas on which you can focus to measure quality.
Of course, whiteness is an important quality standard, but it’s very difficult to measure. One way to measure this is by using a periodic test swatch program that can measure such parameters as whiteness, tensile strength retention, bleach efficacy, blood removal and more.
However, be mindful that these swatches are usually run quarterly and significant time may pass before you receive the results. So, timely reactions to low numbers can be delayed significantly.
Rewash rates are a good way to measure the quality of the wash formula, but you have to make sure that you only measure stain rejects, and not things like misfires in the folder or other reasons for rewash.
Another way to measure quality may be to compare the consistency of the whiteness in the finished goods.
Observation of random stacks of linen for variations in whiteness should be done frequently. You shouldn’t see what’s called the “zebra effect,” where some items appear white and others grayer.
One quality consultant recently told us that consistency is the essence of quality. If you establish a standard, make sure you consistently meet it.
You don’t want your customer to notice a variation (either plus or minus) and then become unsure of your standard.
If your operation processes primarily colored items, you can still establish color and brightness standards, and make sure they’re consistently met.
For some customers, timeliness of delivery is their No. 1 measurement of your service. So, establishing consistency in delivery in addition to the appearance of the goods is also an important factor to consider.
Another area to focus on may be associated with overall efficient use of resources. The chemicals used in your operation may only account for 2-5% of your overall costs, but they can affect the other 95%.
Your wash formulas set up the water and energy usage in the plant. And the loading factors and total times of the formulas can affect your labor costs.
Excessive water use or a wash temperature that’s too high can adversely affect water and energy costs. Extra-long wash times can reduce your labor efficiency.
So, it’s best to establish para-meters for these major cost factors with your chemical supplier, before the wash formulas are established.
Then, measurement of water usage, energy consumption and pounds per operator hour are ways to make sure that the formulas are in control.
Cost and quality are two sides of the same coin. The higher your quality standards, the higher your overall costs will be. You have to decide where the relationship between cost and quality must be established for your facility.
The more measurements of operational factors you can establish, the more precisely you can control your production, and thus the better you can measure quality. Your chemical supplier is a key consultant that can help you determine the most efficient use of resources at the highest quality level.
The most important consideration for quality is the expectations of your customers. Periodic consultation with your customers about their impressions with your service, the quality, and the value will help you make sure that you have established quality standards that are meaningful.
The customer feedback loop must be considered important in any quality assurance program. A standard process for complaint handling should include communication to the operational side of the plant, so it can respond and potentially make improvements to avoid future complaints.
Lastly, everyone in your operation is responsible for quality, and therefore you need to educate them as to the key quality standards in your plant, and how they are measured.
Communicating this to the entire work crew will make it easier to keep your operation in control, and their input will help you maintain your quality standards.
 

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