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Laundry/Linen Services Functioning in COVID-19 Reality

Special survey shows how operators are working through effects of pandemic

CHICAGO — The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way life and business takes place around the world.

No industry is exempt from its effect, and 100% of laundry operators who took the recent special American Laundry News Your Views survey indicate they have experienced some type of impact on their business.

Some operations are keeping busy:

  • Most of our customers have order extra linens to have on hand, which has kept us busy even though volume is down.
  • Hospital laundry providing 300% more scrubs and reusable isolation gowns to COVID-19 patient care areas in the hospital.

Other are seeing steep drops in business and are trying to hold on:

  • We normally work a 50% healthcare/45% hospitality/5% table linens. Hospitality has gone way down. Hotels and motels have closed temporarily, and healthcare has dropped significantly. From 18,000 pounds per day to 4,000 pounds a day, on half a shift.
  • I just hope we make it through without losing our business!
  • It has absolutely devastated my business. Laid off all of my 15 hourly staff. Only have one salaried employee left.
  • We're done for least three months
  • We ramped up on drivers, production workers and maintenance thinking that poundage was going to rise, and since it tanked instead, we are just trying to keep them employed so when this is all over, we can handle any business the hospitals want to send us.

Most respondents (65.3%) indicate that with the onset of the coronavirus and COVID-19, poundage in their laundries is “way down,” while 18.4% say poundage in just “down.”

On the other hand, 14.3% of survey takers indicate that poundage is “up,” while 2% say it’s “way up.”

Because of the changes in poundage, employment levels at laundry and linen services are a mixed bag. Almost 47% of respondents say employment levels remain the same, while nearly 31% indicate they have had to lay off many employees. Just over 16% of managers taking the survey have had to lay off some employees.

At least a few jobs have been added, with 4% of operators indicating they’ve added some employees, and 2% have had to hire many new employees.

The question on everybody’s minds is how long this pandemic will last—and how long it will affect business. More than half of respondents think the effects will last longer than 90 days. Just over 14% say they will last less than 90 days. Almost 35% indicate they “really don’t know.”

Here are some of the ways survey takers are working to help ensure the cleanliness of the linens they process during the pandemic:

  • We plan to include oxybleach powder in every wash.
  • Improvement on washing chemistry.
  • Wearing masks and gloves for handling the linen.
  • Deep cleaning every night. Having the employees clean their own workstations to help keep them from losing too many hours each day.
  • Double checking linen coming out of tunnels
  • Our chemicals are safely set up to handle the issue. Other than sanitizing outside of washers and dryers more frequently, our wash cycles are the same.
  • We are making sure wash temps are accurate more than before. We check to make sure the chemical pumps are pumping accurate amounts. We have changed the squeeze tubes a week earlier, as well.
  • We are Hygienically Clean certified.
  • Using chemical dispensers with metered dosages and reporting/traceability for each load.
  • We utilize an EPA-registered sanitizer/disinfectant in our wash cycles.
  • Our usual testing, as well as increased cleaning/disinfecting of equipment and all surfaces.

When asked about steps they’re taking to keep operations clear of the coronavirus, 73% of respondents say they’re cleaning public areas more frequently. Almost 70% indicate they’re cleaning equipment more often. More than 50% indicate they’re having floors swept and mopped more often.

However, almost 33% of respondents say that they’re maintaining normal cleaning patterns.

Other ways laundries are keeping plants coronavirus-free include:

  • Taking temperatures of employees, face shields.
  • Offering protective masks and gloves to employees.
  • Sensitization on personal hygiene and proper use of PPE (personal protective equipment). 
  • Use of water-soluble bags.
  • Have increased all cleaning, along with frequent employee hand washing and gloves for all operations.

“In my own opinion I will recommend frequent spraying of linen bags and its contents with appropriate disinfectant at pickup point before taking to laundry facilities,” a respondent adds. “This will reduce laundry staff risk of COVID-19.”

Of course, operations must protect employees, and 73% of respondents say they have had employees refresh their knowledge of proper laundry handling, while 53% have held refreshers on procedures.

Other operations (67%) have added hand sanitizer stations, and 63% are enforcing social distancing requirements. More than 57% have made stricter PPE polices, while 55% have offered more PPE usage training.

Other ways laundry operations are protecting employees include:

  • Stage rest breaks, lunch period and smaller groups in multiple training sessions.
  • Incorporating smaller groups for break times, which is difficult with a production line.
  • Facility wide, employees are screened daily for symptoms, otherwise we take the same measures we always have for avoiding cross contamination.
  • Taking temperature as they come to work daily (nurse).
  • Minimizing employees.
  • Let them go home.

A possible way for the coronavirus to spread is through linen pickup and delivery, and some operations have made changes to protect from this happening.

More than 18% indicate they are now cleaning vehicles after every delivery/pickup, just over 16% indicate they have issued PPE to drivers, and another 16% drop off/pick up outside customers’ businesses now. Only 4.7% say they’ve placed hand sanitizer in vehicles, and 2.3% say they’ve changed how they package clean goods.

When asked for other delivery strategies they’ve employed, many respondents indicate they’ve added all of the previous strategies. A few say deliveries have stopped for now, and a few others say they have made no changes.

“We didn’t change but reinforced all of the above, which were already in place before the virus,” writes one respondent.

For one survey taker, communication is key in this situation: “Recognize your staff for the work they do and over communicate with customers and staff.”

“Common sense, adherence to universal precautions at all times (even when there is no ‘pandemic’) and consideration of others, I believe, is essential to reducing the risks we face daily, including COVID-19,” writes another.

“This is not different than any other bacteria or virus,” shares one respondent. “This shall pass soon.”

While the Your Views survey presents a snapshot of readers’ viewpoints at a particular moment, it should not be considered scientific. Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100%.

Subscribers to American Laundry News e-mails are invited to take the industry survey anonymously online each quarter. All managers and administrators of institutional/OPL, cooperative, commercial and industrial laundries are encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define operator opinions and identify industry trends.