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Manage Linen Misuse, Loss—Save Money (Part 1)

“What laundry processing ideas do you have that can help my company’s linens last longer? Or ideas to limit linen loss or hoarding?”

Chemicals Supply: Scott Pariser, Pariser Industries Inc., Paterson, N.J.

Good linen management is essential in achieving savings in the laundry operation. In many instances, the practice of reducing linen purchases below appropriate levels has caused higher laundry operational costs, and likewise an increase in linen expenditures may in some cases be the best action plan to reduce overall related production costs.

While proper chemical usage and machine formula times will contribute to ensuring maximum linen life, a good linen management plan helps to minimize labor and utility consumption and prevent linen hoarding or stockpiling.

The best way to limit hoarding is to instill confidence in the facility’s workers that linen will always be available in sufficient quantities when and as required. Simply making fewer linen purchases without regard for actual linen par levels leads to a vicious cycle wherein well-intentioned employees feel the need to stockpile linen out of fear that they will be caught “empty-handed” when additional linen is required during their shift.

Time and again, we also see the issue of not having enough linen in the loop causing an adverse effect on laundry washroom production and its related labor and utility costs.

While health departments typically require three par to be on site and in circulation, we have often participated in linen inventory efforts where we have found one par or less of critical, daily-use items in circulation. This situation will inevitably cause some linens to be required to be processed twice in a given day to satisfy patient needs.

Apart from the negative effect that this can cause on certain linen’s appearance, the resulting under-loading of washers due to low par levels will inevitably upend labor and utility costs, which, when combined, will far exceed the cost of an appropriate linen purchase and infusion.

A thorough understanding of the legitimate daily linen requirements of one’s facility, gathered through direct communication with nursing staff on a wing-by-wing/shift-by-shift basis, along with a well-conceived and -performed linen inventory, inclusive of stockpiled linens under mattresses, chair cushions and behind ceiling tiles, will allow for the establishment of accurate linen par levels and a resulting reduction of hoarding and washer under-loading.

Effective par-level analysis that includes periodic linen usage review and inventory control is an essential and necessary component of proper linen management. The mission is not to see how little can be spent on linen, but how best to ensure that the right amount is spent on it accordingly.  

Consulting Services: Chris Mayer, Performance Matters, Plymouth, Minn.

Have you ever wondered where those thousands of new napkins and tablecloths go that are put into service every holiday? Shouldn’t last year’s brand-new, pink napkins put into service cover most of this year’s needs?

Now think about routine customer overstocks. If every customer was overstocked an average of 10 shop towels, napkins or sheets a week, that’s 520 pieces per customer, per year, on one route. Now, what if you had 1,000 total customers? That’s over a half a million pieces a year in overstocked product that is neither billed nor accounted for.

What if you were to survey your route service reps and ask, “How satisfied are you with the production department providing complete product loads on a consistent basis?” What would they say? Route service reps are trying to meet customer product needs. They normally have the customer’s best interest in mind; however, there are times the billed inventory does not match the physical inventory. They may be afraid of not getting enough product, which leads to “hoarding.” Finger-pointing between service and production never leads to a positive resolution. So, where is the disconnect and how can we resolve it?

1. Get the facts through route and customer product inventory reconciliation.

  • Route Reconciliation: How consistent is your route reconciliation linen process? Consider having a route reconciliation audit of your returning vehicles on a regular basis. Match up the inventory load sent out for the day with the physical returns. If you do it two to three weeks in a row, you’ll get a clear assessment of your product inventory loads versus returns.
  • Customer Reconciliation: You should be asking a number of questions. Is your service management team completing consistent customer reconciliation inventories? How do you capture and analyze the findings? Do you track trends? How thorough and accurate are they? Who do you do them with? For example, you should consider customer inventory reconciliation audits more often with table linen accounts that provide catering services.

2. Production/Service Communication—The production and service team manager should be engaged on a daily/weekly basis.

  • Daily Check-in Shortage Feedback: The route service reps have a voice through their daily service check-ins to provide detailed written feedback to their direct manager. That should be consolidated into one communication report that is sent to the production management team.
  • Service Team Meetings: The production manager being involved in service department meetings is an effective way to bridge the communication gap between the service team and production. It leads to a better partnership, as well as sending a message that production is generally interested in taking care of their “customer,” the service team.

3. Communicate the facts.

Whether it’s route service reps providing specific shortage information on their daily load or it’s the production manager sharing data from their route reconciliation audits, providing factual information versus anecdotal stories is the way to address shortage perceptions from both perspectives.

When the route service reps believe that production and service are one team, and they consistently receive 100% complete loads, much of the linen hoarding will subside. This ultimately will reduce your overall merchandise costs while improving customer satisfaction and retention.

Equipment Manufacturing: Mike Diedling, Pellerin Milnor Corp., Kenner, La.

Linen costs are typically two to three times depreciation costs for plant and equipment, so it is no small expense. We tend to take care of the plant and equipment because it is typically large, fixed in position, and it is always on site. Linen is exactly the opposite, and, therefore, its costs are harder to control.

All of my experience tells me that the biggest bang for the buck in reducing linen cost is on site at the customer’s location. This would include education of customer personnel in the proper handling of linen and taking inventory of linen on hand (a great way to find linen stored by hoarders). Charging for lost and abused linen always has an immediate and positive impact on linen costs. Dumpster dives that recover linen improperly disposed of at the customer location always help to get the customer’s attention and cooperation. 

Some of the things we can do in the laundry to control linen costs may not be as significant, but the fact that they take place within the processing facility makes them easier to monitor and control.

Some of the things that can be done to extend linen life in soil sorting include:

  • Sorting goods into as many different washing categories as practical to minimize over-washing of items.
  • Differentiating between rewash and stain treat, again to minimize over-washing of rewash items.
  • Returning (via a customer service representative) items found in soiled goods (watches, rings, silverware, keys, cash, wallets, etc.) and at the same time returning goods found to be abused.

Give the customer a chance to “fix the problem” and charge for abused linen if the problem continues.

The washroom offers the most opportunities in the plant to extend linen life by:

  • Establishing/verifying optimum washing formulas for regular washing, as well as stain treatment.
  • Washing new goods separately rather than washing with goods already in service.
  • Checking daily for foreign objects (knives, nails, files, pens, etc.) in washer cylinders.
  • Measuring water and chemical use daily and matching back to pounds processed. This is a great early indicator of trouble in the wash process.
  • Calibrating chemical pumps for accurate delivery quantity.
  • Not extracting all goods for the same amount of time. End extraction when water being extracted is reduced to a trickle.

Dryers also offer opportunities to conserve linen by:

  • Reviewing dryer programs/dry times to minimize time in the dryer. The biggest cause of lint is over-drying.
  • Checking daily for foreign objects (knives, nails, files, pens, etc.) in dryer baskets.
  • Removing all debris from dryer basket perforations to restore air flow and minimize dry times.
  • Calibrating temperature sensors to assure proper heat exposure to goods.
  • Weighing lint daily and matching back to pounds processed. This is a great early indicator of trouble in the wash, extract and dry process.

Finally, some linen that has been designated for ragout can be repurposed. This includes making napkins out of tablecloths and pillowcases out of sheets.

Check back tomorrow for answers from textiles and uniform/workwear manufacturing representatives.

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