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Laundry Chemistry Changes Post-Pandemic (Part 1)

Four experts share how laundry chemistry has changed because of COVID-19

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 share how laundry chemistry has changed because of COVID-19.

What did COVID-19 do to the focus on laundry chemistry?

MINISSIAN: We became ever more focused on laundry chemistry since the shipping, supply chain availability of materials and travel became obstacles. The volume dropped as most hotel and restaurants were ordered to close down or limit themselves to take-out. We went back to the lab and developed newer chemistry to replace chemicals that were either force majeure or price unrealistic.

STORY: Not so much a “concentration on the laundry chemistry” as the focus on the effectiveness of the laundry process in producing hygienically clean linens.

“Did the process … water, mechanical action, temperature, chemistry, finishing, etc., create linens that were effectively free of/low in concentrations of microbes especially pathogens such a COVID-19” seemed to be the driving focus in all laundries and not just the healthcare facilities.

PARISER: Sars-CoV-2 served to raise the consciousness of operators looking to ensure that appropriate procedures for linen handling and processing were in place in their operations. This evolving oversight has enhanced linen sanitation as well as worker safety.

WAGNER: During the onset and continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal and environmental hygiene have come to the forefront of the population’s minds. Many surfaces, including laundry, that were historically taken for granted were now in the spotlight. 

With that, COVID-19 drove a lot of focus back to the laundry process across all segments. Chemistry obviously plays a large role in the laundry process so proper chemistry usage came under the microscope more than ever. 

Did anything regarding chemistry change because of the pandemic? If so, what? 

MINISSIAN: The supply chain has been strained significantly with some items shooting up in price from 50% to 250% depending on the item and availability dwindling.

STORY: Yes, many operations increased the use of laundry sanitizing agents in the processing of linens. Bacteriostatic agent and sanitizing agent usage increased in the healthcare operations and these agents actually grew in usage among the linen and hospitality laundry operations as well.

PARISER: Not significantly. Best practice laundering procedures in place before the pandemic apply presently; however, linen users are now more cognizant of them, including the disciplines necessary to enforce these methodologies.

In many instances, operators and their customers are now looking for assurances that the processes in place are in compliance with governing guidance.

WAGNER: Whereas historically, mainly healthcare customers were concerned with disinfection in the wash process, the request for disinfection started coming in across segments (F&B, industrial, hospitality, etc.).

Operators and their customers started to request processes and chemistry that provided disinfection based on regulation and data. The best way to provide that to our customers was through the use of EPA approved disinfectants in the wash process. 

Again, the big shift here was that segments other than healthcare (healthcare was already regularly using EPA-approved disinfectants in their processes) were starting to see the benefit in including a EPA-approved disinfectant in their wash process.

Over the past year, what have your laundry customers needed, and what recommendations have you given them?  

MINISSIAN: They’ve needed the same support we’ve always given them in even faster time frames. Unfortunately, with a shortage of truck drivers, we have asked our customers and our technicians to forecast orders instead of placing them at the last minute.

STORY: Information and support as they have tried to work through ways to ensure the product they are producing is free from stains and hygienically clean. The pressure on labor shortages has added a new dimension to the laundry production process. 

We have assisted the customer by providing information and on-site applications testing that provided data as to how well their laundry is doing in terms of “stains” and hygienically clean. 

We are doing what we can to work with customers in streamlining the production process to aid in more efficiency (doing the same or more with less personnel) during these times of reduced labor availability.

PARISER: In the healthcare sector specifically, more information has been requested relative to the maintenance of the critical infrastructure necessary for successful laundering.

Items such as minimally acceptable hot water temperatures, oversight of washer and water level maintenance, safe and appropriate soil sorting procedures ( i.e., employee use of personal protection), and adherence to proper linen handling practices.

WAGNER: The ask/need has been consistent across the board. Customers want to ensure they are providing clean and safe textiles to their customers. The laundry industry wants to make sure they are doing their part in preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Our recommendations have remained consistent. Ensure the laundry operation is utilizing the proper wash processes, proper chemistry, proper handling of textiles, and proper environmental cleaning and disinfection processes to ensure the textiles are clean and safe when they are delivered to their customers. 

So much focus is always put into the actual wash process, so we want to make sure they are also focusing on the overall plant environment, employee hygiene and handling of linen to minimize any opportunity for cross-contamination.

Check back Thursday for a look at how an operation can best evaluate its chemistry and train employees.