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NAILM Chapter Ponders Dryer Safety

CHICAGO – Regular maintenance and educated use of dryers and tumblers will go a long way in keeping a laundry’s drying operation efficient and safe, a representative from a leading laundry equipment manufacturer advises.
Andy Lubahn, a regional parts and service manager for Alliance Laundry Systems, Ripon, Wis., spoke to the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM) during an educational meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
“When someone designs a hotel or nursing home, the last room they design is the laundry room, without the understanding that we need to have fresh outdoor, atmospheric air readily available for efficient and safe drying,” Lubahn says. “Going hand in hand with that is ventwork.”
Under ideal circumstances, a laundry should clean its dryers and ductwork every six months to maintain peak performance and prevent fire hazards, Lubahn says. He pointed out that his experience is with dryers and tumblers of up to 170 pounds capacity.
“Most manufacturers, our temperature probe or our cycling thermostat is located very close to the fan on the machine. We do not actually take a reading from inside the cylinder. That’s not accurate. The temperature reading is on the secondary side of the lint screen. In order to attain accurate readings, it’s important to keep the lint screen clean and to clean out the lint compartment daily.
“Lint likes other lint, and accumulation can happen literally overnight.”
But take care when cleaning out the lint compartment, Lubahn warns. He’s seen instances where housekeepers using brooms to clean have dislodged wires leading to the temperature probe and a safety thermostat, which can affect a dryer’s performance or even shut it down.
Maintaining ventwork is critical, especially in cases where it extends further than generally recommended, he says. For example, host Hector Munoz says his dryer vents extend about 125 feet from his basement facility in the downtown hotel. Most manufacturers recommend venting each dryer outdoors with no more than two 90-degree elbows and at a length of no more than 20 to 25 feet, depending on models, according to Lubahn.
Concerning the cause of dryer fires in a hotel or healthcare setting, what’s being dried is generally a factor, he says.
"If it’s an issue with towels, immediately we look for chemicals, stuff coming into the kitchen, that kind of thing. We don’t experience that half as much as what we call spontaneous combustion. For the most part, this is user error.”
Lubahn says every dryer or tumbler has two timers in it: a heat timer and a cool-down timer. “More often than not, a user will put in a load of cotton towels or a load of sheets and not put quite enough time on it and not put any cool-down cycle on the machine. What you have is stoppage of the garments, settling in the bottom of the cylinder, that are damp and have been exposed to a lot of heat. That’s when spontaneous combustion takes place.”
Harry Ernst, a laundry sales representative for distributor Haiges Machinery, says his company frequently hears of operators “short-timing” loads: “They’ll set the timer for terry towels at 25 minutes. They’ll open the door and the load’s not quite dry, so they close it and dry for another 25 minutes. Not so much with sheets or terry, but with kitchen items, anything with oil on it, this is very dangerous.”
He tells a story of chef’s uniforms being set to dry at the end of a shift and left unattended overnight. The next morning, after a chef had retrieved a uniform, closed the dryer door and went to work in the kitchen, the load ignited.
“As far as a tumbler actually being the cause of a fire, manufacturers know there are a lot of lawyers in the world,” Lubahn says. “There are a tremendous number of safeties on the machine that prevent this, but the one thing we can’t prevent is (inappropriate) user operation.
“If you have a microprocessor-operated machine, it has a built-in cool-down time. The clothes tumble for two to five minutes without any heat input. If you know you have machines with a manually set cool-down timer, this needs to be relayed to your personnel.”
Like clogged ductwork, inadequate make-up air can also hamper drying, according to Lubahn.
Regarding the types of materials that are being dried, he advises to tumble but not heat items such as shower curtains, rubber mats or anything foam-based for safety reasons.

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