Thirty-three years ago, I applied for my first laundry job. I was fresh out of college and looking for something to do until I found a job in my major.
I applied for a job as a custodian, thinking that it was something that I could pick up quickly and the organization wouldn’t mind if I only worked a couple of months. Unfortunately, the hospital had another idea and sent me to the central laundry to interview for a washer operator position.
They couldn’t find people to fill that position, I was told, and I was welcome to work there for as long or as short a time as I wanted.
I’m sure that woman had no idea what a profound effect she had on my life when she sent me to the laundry for that interview. I found a career where I could make good use of my people skills, my chemistry background and my love of writing.
When I applied for my first laundry manager’s job four years later, my future boss told me it was good to find someone with real institutional laundry experience. He said it had been hard to find a qualified person. Everyone thought they were qualified because they did laundry at home. He understood the difference between doing the family’s laundry and running a laundry for a hospital or another institution.
Because we are a low-profile industry, the average John or Jane Q. Public has no idea that we even exist. They simply accept the fact that clean sheets and towels show up in their hotel or hospital rooms everyday.
This lack of understanding of our industry has also fostered the belief that all laundries are the same, that they all provide the same quality of textiles and cleaning. Those of us who have spent our lives in this industry know that simply isn’t true!
I’ve toured first-class operations where high-quality textile products are processed in a clean work environment, chemicals are carefully measured and supplied to the washers, and the washers are routinely checked to make sure they’re functioning properly.
I’ve also toured dark, dingy, dirty laundries where poor-quality textiles are processed through equipment in poor working condition. There’s definitely a difference between providers.
To address this difference, a group of industry professionals is putting together standards to measure laundry performance. This will be challenging because of the wide range of operating procedures found in various laundries.
The laundry industry lacks best-practice standards. It also lacks minimum acceptable standards. This effort to improve the laundry industry and put all laundries on the same footing has my strong support.
I remember a number of years ago when I and a potential partner looked at buying a commercial laundry in Birmingham, Ala. While researching the operation, we visited the laundry and talked to a number of the workers.
As we made our way through the plant, the owner walked over to the chemical injection system and turned it off. Once I’d gotten over my surprise, I asked him why he’d done that. He explained that they were about to wash linen from a military base and he bid so low to get the business that he couldn’t afford to use washroom chemicals on the linen. He simply ran it through a 24-minute rinse operation.
He was supposed to dryclean sleeping bags for the same contract. His definition of drycleaning was placing the sleeping bags in a dryer and running them through a short dry cycle.
By establishing best practices and minimum acceptable practices, I hope we can begin weeding out shady operators and improve the image of the laundry industry. I’m proud to be a professional laundry manager who constantly strives to improve my operation and the industry as a whole.
As we struggle to create these standards, it will require professional laundry managers from all areas of the industry – the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES), Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA), Uniform & Textile Service Association (UTSA), National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM) and the International Association for Hospital Textile Management (IAHTM) – to band together and make sure that the standards are appropriate.
It won’t benefit any of us if they are so poorly written that they don’t require any changes in the industry.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].