HOUSTON — Laundry has always been about quality. It has to be.

Linen replacement costs are not a cheap expenditure, whether you are a large luxury resort, 150-room limited-service hotel or long-term care facility. Linens need to be treated to the best wash formulas, not over-dried and generally handled well.

As we come out of the COVID-19 crisis, quality will be paramount. Laundry managers will be tasked to ensure all processes are being followed—items sorted according to stain level, like type, and chemicals injected properly and at the correct dosage.

Now, more than ever, how linens look and feel will be judged by guests and residents as a reflection of how clean they are. It makes sense, as we are all concerned about preventing the spread of the virus, that the little things will mean so much more in a post-COVID-19 world.

So, what about those nasty wrinkles? If you’re a guest at a hotel and pull down the covers to see wrinkles in the bed linens and pillowcases, what will your first thoughts be? Did they change the linens after the last guest? Were they properly laundered? Details matter and wrinkles make a poor first impression. It may be time to consider a better finish.

FINISH STRONG

Most hospitality properties in Europe are operating with an ironer as part of their laundry operation. The message is that overall look has much to do with the guest’s perception of quality. Details matter and may become more important than ever.

In the past, finishers might have been considered equipment reserved for luxury properties. The reasons included cost, but also space. Most laundry rooms were designed to use the smallest footprint possible—basically an architect’s afterthought. Ironers were also one of those pieces that were perceived as being maintenance heavy.

Today, however, technology has made finishers easier than ever to use, and with a variety of manufacturers out there, they are also more affordable than ever. Many can also be operated by one employee.

INITIAL CONSIDERATIONS

As with all pieces of laundry equipment, it’s important to work with an experienced distributor who understands not only your laundry’s needs, but has extensive experience with ironers. It’s easy to end up over your head with a finisher that doesn’t match your needs, staffing level or maintenance expectations.

If your property is okay with a single fold down the middle of the sheet, an 80- or even 60-inch finished width can work in a fairly small space. For higher-end facilities, finishing widths will need to be larger, which will necessitate more space in the laundry needing to be dedicated to the unit.

So, as you begin considering an ironer, start by aligning on creases and what your property standards are. A single fold on king and queen sheets is pretty standard, which makes smaller finishers an option for most properties.

Priorities to consider are your laundry space available, price and ease of use. You’ll also want to look at electrical and gas connections in the laundry; gas is often preferred for finishers. You’ll also want to game plan the exhaust venting; shorter runs are preferred.

OPERATIONS AND MAINTENANCE

One of the biggest tips I can offer, and it’s based on the biggest mistake I’ve seen made with ironers, is feed linens into the finisher correctly. Too often, items are fed on one side, which will create unevenness in the roll. Staff should be trained to feed linens left to right.

Work with your equipment distributor to identify the optimum residual moisture for linens. Typically, the range will be between 6 to 10%. Properties utilizing high-thread-count, 100% cotton linens will be on the low end of the range, while cotton/poly blends will require higher residual moisture.

The obvious benefit of utilizing an ironer is that often linens can go directly from the washer-extractor (if it is utilizing high G-forces of 300 or more) to the finisher or with minimal conditioning in the tumble dryer. This speeds processing times and reduces utility consumption.

On the maintenance side, the most important focus is ensuring ribbons are waxed regularly and the unit is kept clean. Belts and ribbons will eventually need replacement, but most facility maintenance technicians can manage that task without having to call for service. Obviously, you’ll want to ensure the exhaust vent is kept clear and that the ironer is turned off when not in use.

To get maximum life out of the finisher, managers want to make sure they are sizing properly for their location. Under-sizing or not planning for future growth and linen upgrades can quickly render the unit a pricey paperweight. Make sure your staff is properly trained on its operation and finished quality standards

FINAL THOUGHTS

As hospitality properties reopen and long-term care and nursing homes place increased pressure on hygiene, cleaning linens will undoubtedly become a focal point.

All laundry operations will be taking a fresh look at processes, formula and overall training of staff. This is an obvious starting point. The natural extension will be a review of equipment and technology available to streamline the process, reach a higher level of hygiene and verify that level of clean is reached with each cycle.

However, clean is more than just smell and how linens feel. Our first interaction with them is visual. How linens feel or smell won’t mean much if they are stained or wrinkled. The first impression of stained and wrinkled linens creates more questions than answers. It may never be more important to add an ironer to your laundry room than right now.

Pricing, technology, ease of operation and efficiency all contribute to making the equipment upgrade simple. The key to success, as it is with all equipment, is working with a knowledgeable distributor. This is especially important for managers who do not have experience with ironers and will require guidance on processes.

It’s also worth chatting with the linen supplier to dial in the residual moisture to get the best quality. Finally, ensure staff is as committed to quality as management. Process shortcuts can cause chemicals to get baked into linens during finishing, negating all the benefits of the ironer.

The bottom line: quality has never been more important. Is your laundry up for the challenge?