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Laundry Chemistry Changes Post-Pandemic (Conclusion)

How an operation can best evaluate its chemistry, train employees

CHICAGO — Laundry and linen services always work to provide hygienic, clean goods to their customers.

But the COVID-19 pandemic made laundries take an in-depth look at the chemistry they use.

While many elements of laundry chemistry have remained the same, there have been some changes.

American Laundry News heard from some of those in the know and learned about what operations need to know regarding their chemistry.

Those experts are Kevin Minissian, CEO/president, and Vaughn Minissian, director of operations, Norchem Corp. in Los Angeles; Doug Story, president of large laundry sales for UNX in Greenville, North Carolina; Scott Pariser, co-president of Pariser Industries in Paterson, New Jersey; and Nick Wagner, Ecolab Textile Care RD&E lead account manager.

In Part 1, the experts discussed chemistry changes related to COVID-19. In the conclusion, they share about evaluating an operation’s chemistry and employee training.

How can an operation best evaluate its chemistry in order to best serve its customers?

MINISSIAN: They need to be able to monitor the pH of their goods leaving the washers, conduct quality audits on washer formulas and request SDS sheets from their vendors to make sure they understand what’s being used to wash their textiles.

The most important thing they should be doing is making sure they maintain soft water, obtain a robust chemical pumping system to ensure reliable injection of all chemicals, and have a clear understanding of the purpose of each product and the benefits it provides to their operation.

STORY: This is a team effort between the chemical supplier, operation management and finishing management. What do the titration reports look like? Do they include audits that detail the quality of the work that is being produced?

Has the chemical supplier worked with operations and finishing to conduct quality audits and then detail the issues found during these quality audits? The results of the quality audits will reflect back as far as the end-user in terms of the actions that are needed to be initiated in order to solve the cause of any out of specification items

PARISER: Laundry management should be speaking to various chemical vendors to gain and contrast the guidance given to them. Additionally, through the use of independent linen testing, the operator can review objective quantitative feedback on the quality of the linen products they are providing to their customers. 

WAGNER: This starts with making sure they have a chemical supplier that truly partners with them. Every process is unique, so chemistry needs should be based on the process and textile classification.

In the case of disinfection, ask your chemical supplier to provide the EPA registration information if they are making any sort of “kill” or pathogen-reduction claims. 

In addition, make sure the chemical provider is routinely visiting the plant and verifying proper chemical concentrations in the wash process. You can have the greatest chemistry in the world, but if it is not being used at the proper levels, it may be ineffective and/or costly without providing additional benefit.

Has anything changed regarding what laundry employees need to know about chemistry? If so, what?

MINISSIAN: Laundry employees today more than ever need to be aware of the health and safety of new chemicals used in the laundry. Employees need to be more proactive in paying attention to linen quality and wash chemistry.

STORY: Redouble their efforts to not let the pails run dry. Or, insist on your supplier using a system with a low-level alarm. Otherwise, not so much. 

All chemicals should be treated as if they are hazardous and each employee should be trained in the Right to Know (RTK) process on how to stay safe as they handle the chemicals in the operation.

PARISER: What has changed in our view is the required sense of urgency needed to comply with recommended industry standards and best practice linen processing protocols.

WAGNER: As part of the partnership with your chemical supplier, they should already have access to all of the information they need regarding proper use and handling of the products on site. This really should not have changed because of the pandemic. Safe usage and handling should already be a part of the chemistry program. 

Perhaps the one area that might require more attention, is proper application of ancillary products used for hard surface disinfection and hand hygiene. All EPA-registered products have a directed contact time; extra training may be necessary to ensure the products are being properly used and allowed to “work” for the proper amount of time before being rinsed/wiped.  This is sometimes referred to as “dwell time.”

How has chemistry training for employees changed? How can a service best ensure thorough, proper training? 

MINISSIAN: Hazmat training is critical. SDS documentation and proper labeling and handling are in that scope. The customer must understand how each chemical interacts with their equipment so they don’t assume the chemicals are always what’s causing equipment failures.

They should, most importantly, understand what the most critical chemical is in the whole plant: water. If it’s not good quality and is not soft, no amount of added chemicals will save the day.

STORY: RTK OSHA regs and training are still part of the process. There has been a name change to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS); they are now called Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and they have become globally harmonized with new terms and pictorials but all of this will be covered in the RTK training. 

OSHA provides a good library of training materials that can be used for this function, if you want to produce the training in-house (your chemical supplier can be a great resource as the operation builds its program). There are also many consultants that can be hired for the yearly training programs that are needed to comply with RTK.  

Keeping track via electronic or written records of the training and follow-up review testing of the employees should be kept for each individual that has attended the training programs.

PARISER: In-service training, while not a new concept, has taken on a greater importance, not only as it relates to washing equipment performance, but to proper water temperatures and chemical inventory controls as well. Product run-outs will cause increased rewash and non-hygienic results.

Proper linen sanitation and operational risk aversion demand that supervisors educate themselves and their employees on all aspects of the laundering process from soil sort to clean linen delivery.

WAGNER: Again, this should already be part of the partnership with the chemical supplier and should not need to change because of the pandemic. As mentioned, refreshers should be provided for proper application of disinfection products, especially if disinfectant products are new to the plant.

How can a laundry best ensure its chemistry is as solid as possible for the future? 

MINISSIAN: Get familiar with wash chemistry and understand what value and benefits each chemical can provide to minimize stain and washovers.

Install a reliable and robust chemical pumping station to minimize downtime and emergency repairs, forecast their orders, accept price increases or watch their quality suffer, raise their own prices, train their employees on chemical hazmat, and keep their equipment functioning per manufacturers specifications.

STORY: “Trust but Verify” comes to mind. There are many ways to qualify and quantify the quality being generated from an operation, including titration records produced on a regular basis, quality audits developed against a quality standard set by the laundry management, stain audits, consistency measure audits and end-user audits.

PARISER: By talking to various experts in the field, including more than one chemical company, and by reading the available data from the CDC, TRSA and other accredited sources.

WAGNER: Chemistry is always going to evolve. The focus should be to partner with a chemical supplier that is continuing to invest in research and development of new technologies.

Please share any other thoughts regarding laundry/linen service chemistry in today’s environment. 

MINISSIAN: Today’s laundry needs to look for more environmentally friendly wash chemicals to lower energy and water consumption. Minimize health hazards to their employees, avoid employees handling chemicals.

STORY: Chemistry is part of the process that is needed to produce hygienically clean linens in terms of the COVID-19 issues we are dealing with, but it has always been part of the process as illustrated in what our industry has called the laundry pie.

As laundry management along with their chemical suppliers consider changes and modifications that need to be made in an operation, all of these factors must be incorporated into the decision-making process as these are what is called a zero-sum game. All contribute to one degree or another to the outcome of the work. If you take from one, then one or more of the others must grow in proportion to what is being taken. 

There are two other factors that probably should be added to this pie: fabric types and soiling. They, too, have an influence on both the cleanliness and hygienic conditions of the goods being produced.

PARISER: Having a good knowledge of laundering principles and practices provides the keys to supplying hygienic and efficiently processed linens.

Taking the time to prioritize the necessary conditions and implementing the disciplines appropriate to their maintenance will ensure successful outcomes during and outside of public health crises.

WAGNER: Any time there is a new microorganism of concern, or in this case a pandemic, you need to be extra careful about false marketing claims. Any time a chemical supplier makes a disinfection or pathogen reduction claim, by law, it needs to be registered with the EPA. 

Some companies will jump on the opportunity to start making claims to get your business. Ask them to provide the EPA registration information for the product before accepting the claim as truth. Regardless of “data” that is provided, the product must be registered with the EPA in order to make any sort of pathogen reduction or disinfection claim. 

Ultimately, this requirement is in place to protect the public and ensure they are getting what they are paying for and actually providing pathogen reduction on the textiles and/or surfaces.

Miss Part 1 one on chemistry changes related to COVID-19? Click HERE now to read it!

Laundry Chemistry Changes Post-Pandemic

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].