Marketing of More Energy-Efficient Textiles Deserves Scrutiny

Eric Frederick |

Energy prices are going up, and everyone is looking for a way to reduce this cost.
Many linen companies are coming out with more energy-efficient textiles based on texturized polyester fibers that feel more like cotton but clean easier and dry faster.
I’ve been shown a number of sample items, including bath blankets, flat sheets, contour sheets, bath towels, thermal spreads, patient gowns and scrubs. If they or similar products haven’t shown up in your office yet, they will in the near future.
I have several concerns with these new products and how they’re being marketed.
First, naturally, is the price. Many of these products cost substantially more than I’m paying now but promise a lower cost per use over the products’ lifetime due to reduced energy costs.
The companies have wonderful studies showing the reduced energy cost when running a full load of the new product through the laundry. What they fail to tell you is that, for the first year, there will be little to no energy savings.
You can’t save energy costs on a 100% polyester blanket when the majority of blankets are made up of a poly-cotton blend. You won’t gain efficiencies in processing during the phase-in period if you must reduce maximum dryer temperatures to protect the new 100% polyester blanket from thermal damage.
I’m confident that the lower energy costs will begin to show up after 18 months and be near full force after two years. The linen companies are asking us to spend more money now to save energy two years down the road. Depending on your organization’s financial health, that might be a hard sell.
My second major concern is fabric opacity. Many of the gown samples I’ve seen lack what I consider to be the needed opacity to properly protect a patient’s dignity. If I can clearly read a business card through a fabric sample, then what kind of coverage will the finished gown provide? My customers want gowns that are warm, provide appropriate coverage and protect the modesty of their patients. Anything less won’t do, even if it saves energy.
Many of these high-polyester textile items are reported to have a much longer useful life. Not only will you save money on energy, you’ll also reduce the number of items you need to purchase because of their longer life. Once again, what isn’t being said is that there’s an extended buy-in to the program.
For example, the thermal spread you buy now lasts, on average, two years. With the change, you’ll purchase the same number of new spreads for the first two years, buying blankets to replace those that are being worn out. Replacement costs will gradually lessen, as the majority of the items in the system become the new item. But if the new, high-polyester spread/blanket is 35% more expensive than the blanket you’ve been buying, then you’ll need to increase your total expenditures by 35% for the first year.
Finally, I’m concerned about patient comfort. I was shown a high-polyester knit sheet today that feels thinner than the 24-ounce knitted, poly-cotton contour sheet I use. Will the new sheet be as comfortable for a patient to sleep on?
Having been a patient in a hospital several times, I know firsthand that the beds lack comfort. Will a layer of polyester atop a polyester-covered mattress provide proper air circulation to reduce heat and prevent skin breakdown? Will the sheet stay on the bed properly or will the corners slide off?
I seem to have more questions about these products than many of the companies have answers. The jury seems to be out on this new, energy-efficient type of textile product. I’ll watch with guarded optimism while these products attempt to gain a marketplace foothold.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at


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