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?COMMERCIAL LAUNDERING: Richard Warren is the general manager of Institutional Services Corp., Conway, Ark., a commercial laundry that provides COG, rental and linen distribution services for healthcare clients. His experience also includes OPL and industrial laundering, linen supply, and leather/fur cleaning.
Quality is in the eye of the beholder.
You may be processing tons of laundry without any problems, and a new customer turns your life upside down.
It may be a new housekeeper or infection control nurse. Different people have different priorities, and different ways of dealing with them.
Never had a Hibiclens problem? Maybe there’s one with your next new customer. You’ll need to react very quickly and diplomatically. Your new facility manager may not want to hear that they’re doing anything differently from the majority of other facilities.
Have some hospitality accounts? Never any problem with lipstick or shoe polish? Land a new account and here come the problems. You’re doing things the same way you always have, and yet someone tells you that your quality is poor!
Quality is in the eye of the beholder. The end user decides if what they receive is sufficient, and we must make adjustments as appropriate.
Your soap technician has a big interest in quality, because they face a lot of competition ready to swoop in with something “better” to fix your problem. How do you know you really have a problem? That brings up the question that we’re dealing with.
Test pieces are very important. Use the service provided by NAILM [National Assn. of Institutional Linen Management], IFI [International Fabricare Institute] or any of the other sources available to you. See if you’re trending up or down.
Is the whiteness getting worse every month? How about blood removal? Some managers don’t wash to remove blood because there isn’t much of it. They pick it up in rewash.
I like the “Look, Feel and Smell Test.” It’s very primary but can help you stay aware of changes, good or bad, without having to wait on a lab. Of course, it isn’t specific, but it’s a good tool.
Your staff members who handle the goods every day are aware of subtle changes. They probably won’t bring it up if they feel you don’t care. Make it a point to seek out their input.
Are your costs in line with other laundries in your area?
Is your rewash percentage within your limits?
But the absolute best way to determine quality is to ask your end users.TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Jim Mitchell, principal technical support specialist for Ecolab, Eagan, Minn., is a 25-year company veteran. He's currently its OPL lead in providing technical support to field associates. He edits Ecolab’s Institutional Technical Digest, a monthly publication reaching 2,800 employees.
When trying to determine what are the best formulas and chemicals for your operation, there’s no easy answer.
Water conditions, linen types, soil conditions, temperatures and the type of laundry machines in use all have to be taken into consideration.
Formulas and chemicals that are successfully being used in one operation may not perform as well in another. It’s not unusual for a national chain of laundries to “standardize” formulas and chemicals for all of their operations across several states, only to find a number of these accounts develop “result issues” over time.
Incorporating standard formulas and chemicals is a good place to start, but be prepared to make changes if you encounter one or more of the following:
- Residual fabric odor – Quite simply, residual odors are an indication that the fabrics aren’t clean. This can include residual grease and oil odors in table linen, kitchen rags, chef coats and industrial uniforms.
Urine and feces odors are common in healthcare linen. Body odors can surface in personal linen from nursing homes, athletic uniforms, firehouse turnout gear and industrial uniforms.
Incorrect wash formulas, chemical choice and/or dilution rates, wash temperatures and times, improper machine water levels and poor employee procedures can all lead to problems.
If your finished products have residual odors, start by making adjustments to formulas and chemicals, but changes may also have to be made in one or more of these other areas. Your chemical supplier should be contacted for aid in the investigation.
- High (and sometimes a very low) linen reject rate – As we all know, a high linen reject rate is a clear indication of a problem ... somewhere.
Linen rewashes cost a lot of time and money. Reject rates vary per market type as well as linen and soil type. Determining what your reject rate should be can be difficult, because most of you reading this article wash a wide variety of linen types.
To determine an approximate reject rate, save all rejects over a period of time and weigh the total. Compare this to the total pounds washed over the same period. Typical/average hospitality reject rates run about 3-4%. Healthcare is about 4-6%, and industrial is about 3-4%.
A laundry manager shouldn’t automatically assume that a high reject rate is being caused by chemical deficiencies. However, your chemical specialist can be a good source for investigating the issue.
Check wash formulas and chemical rates first. However, machine water level malfunctions, water heating issues, machine mechanical problems and employee procedures can also contribute to high reject rates.
Keep in mind that an exceptionally low reject rate can also be a sign of trouble. Overbleaching fabrics (to lower the reject rate) can lead to linen degradation and high linen replacement costs. Using high amounts of chlorine is a “cheap” way of getting low reject rates ... but expensive in the long run.
Understanding the proper operating parameters of chlorine, oxygen bleaches and other chemicals can help you solve high (and low) linen rejection rates.
- Lint accumulation – Excessive accumulation of lint in traps can be an indication of problems, usually chemically associated.
Excessive lint can be a linen manufacturing issue. Linen degradation can also be the result of severe mechanical action as well as dryer-related problems (overdrying and excessive temperatures).
Although overbleaching is one of the primary causes of high residual lint, using normal amounts of chlorine in the wrong operating parameters can also cause linen degradation.
As I’ve stated, a very low reject rate can be a bad thing, if high concentrations of bleach (or other chemicals) are being used to lower the rate.
Collect all lint daily and weigh it over a period of time. The amount of lint collected will vary depending on the textiles being dried. Terry fabrics will generate more lint than polyester.
There’s no easy answer as to what’s normal. Is it 250 pounds of lint per 1 million pounds washed? What about 350 pounds?
If you encounter what you determine is excessive lint, contact your chemical representative and conduct an investigation. Start with formulas and chemicals.
- High water/utility consumption – Utility costs continue to rise. There’s a fine line between time, temperature and chemicals to produce clean linen at the lowest possible costs.
Water (the “universal solvent”) obviously has to be used to rinse and flush soils as well as chemicals.
Are three preflushes too many? Could you get by with two or even one? Do you need three rinses, or could you get by with two rinses and an intermediate extract between the two?
Do you need a prewash cycle with a “break” chemical, or would one “suds” cycle (without a prewash) suffice?
Do you need a 160 F suds and bleach cycle, or would 140 F work?
Are your water levels too high? Could they be lowered and still retain quality results?
Simple adjustments in formulas may save thousands of dollars annually in utility costs. If you feel your water/utility consumption costs are high, it might be money well spent to hire an outside consultant to survey your operation.
- Customer complaints – Consistent complaints should be a red flag to any laundry manager. Start investigating these complaints immediately, or losing revenue could be the end result.
Common complaints from customers include residual stains, odors, faded colors, wrinkling and white linens turning gray. Any of these issues could be the result of poor formulas and/or chemicals in use. Consult with your chemical specialist as soon as possible. But if the issues aren’t resolved in short order, hiring an outside consultant may be worthwhile
- On-premise chemical testing – I recommend that every laundry facility have a number of chemical test kits on hand for periodic testing of fabrics and water conditions.
This can be important when testing for chemical residuals that can cause result issues.
Test kits should include a liquid pH indicator for testing washed fabrics. An indicator (either liquid, strips or electronic) should also be available for performing “step” testing of the machine wash solutions. This would require testing material with a wide pH range (from 1.0 to 14.0).
Kits should also be available for testing chlorine and oxygen bleach, water hardness/TDS (total dissolved solids), residual fabric softener and iron.