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Ideas for Extending Linen Life

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(Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Dave Pilibosian)

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — A surefire way to improve the bottom line of your business or department is to increase the life of your linen. Increasing the number of quality servings you get from each piece of linen will dramatically decrease your cost of operation.

I recommend that the first step to increasing your linen life is to review each linen item with end-users to make sure that it is the proper item for the intended use.

If a bath blanket is being used as a lift sheet, excessive tears will develop. Are bath blankets or thermal blankets being used in place of mattress pads? Linen users find creative ways to use our linen and unless we engage in regular discussions with them, we will be unaware of just how our items are being used.

Bargain patient gowns usually do not have the sweep and coverage necessary to properly maintain a patient’s modesty. Ambulatory patients often use two patient gowns—one covering the front and the other covering the back—to make up for this shortfall. By purchasing a larger patient gown that provides greater coverage, you can decrease uses of the item by 30-35% and thereby increase its effective life.

I also recommend that you meet with your chemical vendor and review your wash formulas to make sure you are obtaining proper levels of cleanliness without excessively washing the linen.

Mechanical action and chemical action cause most fabric degradation. Wash each classification in such a manner to keep rewash below 3% of total volume produced. Some laundries sort all heavily soiled linen together and give it a special wash. High levels of alkalinity attack the cotton fiber and the finish on reusable barrier linen as well as the soil. One key to longer linen life is to reduce the alkaline concentration of the wash formula. Using enzyme detergents instead of traditional detergents can be an effective alternative.

Management should review the procedures for determining the proper size of each wash load. Overloading will cause poor quality wash and excessive stains. I have seen laundries that maintained excellent written procedures for weighing loads but their daily practice did not mirror what was on the page.

Carefully review all damaged linen to see if a pattern of abuse or product failure is evident. Once a trend is discovered, corrective action can be taken to adjust product quality or construction or to provide in-service education for personnel working in use areas.

We recently had a problem with small holes appearing in the barrier backing of our incontinent pads. We were unsure of the source but wanted to first eliminate the laundry. While brainstorming the problems, we figured that it could be happening in one of a number of locations: the soil-sort belt, tunnel washers, tunnel press, tunnel dryers, or one of the small-piece folders.

We determined to test our system by using brand-new pads. Our first step was to avoid the sorting belt and put the new pads directly into a sling. We ran a load through our No. 1 tunnel, its press and one of its dryers. The test load contained a number of damaged pads. We also ran a load through our No. 2 tunnel, press and one of its dryers and did not find any damaged pads.

We then ran a load through the No. 1 tunnel and press. Upon inspection, again we found damaged pads. Finally, we ran pads through the No. 1 tunnel and bypassed the press. This procedure still resulted in a number of pads being damaged. (It is interesting that we have not noticed damage to any other linen items going through this tunnel.)

Our short-term solution was to move all the incontinent pads from the No. 1 tunnel, where they had always been processed, to the No. 2 tunnel. This required us to make other changes in our pick lists to balance out the demand for the tunnel dryers. After a visual inspection of the interior of No. 1 tunnel, we found several possible causes for the linen damage. Today, we are still running pads through the other tunnel.

Check all dryers to make sure they are operating correctly. Excessive heat can damage linen and cause it to have a harsh hand. Inspect door seals and interior air-deflection blades to make sure everything is working properly. Dryers with poor seals that allow room air to enter the dryer without going through the burner area can cause artificially low outlet-temperature readings. These readings will cause the linen to be subjected to higher-than-programmed temperatures.

Thermal fluid ironers should not be operated at temperatures above 375 F. Ironing at higher temperatures will result in the loss of size stability in polyester fibers. Once the heat-set polyester fiber is no longer size-stable, the laundry will experience higher-than-normal shrinkage. I have seen contour sheets that started at 88 inches in length shrink to 76 inches. Resist the temptation to iron at higher temperatures to increase productivity, because you’ll be creating linen shrinkage problems.

These ideas do not represent an all-inclusive list, but they give you a good starting point. Determining ways to extend linen life is a never-ending task but one well worth the time and effort.

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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