Overloading or Underloading That Washer? You Risk Poor Quality, Unhappy Customers (Part 1 of 3)

Is my washer-extractor’s loading capacity set in stone? I mean, can I fudge a little and load heavier to get more work through when we’re under the gun? What’ll happen to my wash quality if I overload (or underload) a machine? Is overloading worse than underloading, or vice versa?TEXTILE/UNIFORM RENTAL: Roger Bourdeau is chief engineer for the Angelica Textile Services plant in Pawtucket, R.I. He’s worked 22 years there, starting as a production associate in 1983. He’s completed many training programs and has a Rhode Island Stationary Operating Engineer license.
Let’s view the wash process through the same ‘lens’ we do the photographic film developing process (pun firmly intended).
Perhaps in high school or college, you took photography for an easy credit. What does this have to do with laundry? Well, you may have learned that in film developing, the four things that you need to control are time, temperature, agitation and chemical concentration. Decrease one and you need to increase another to achieve the same results. Yet all are needed to some degree; none can be completely eliminated.
The same applies to laundry. Time, temperature, mechanical action (aka agitation) and chemical concentration still follow the same rules – decrease one and you need to increase another.
When you overload a washer-extractor, the chief thing you decrease is the mechanical action. There simply isn’t enough open area remaining in the cylinder for the goods to tumble. In doing so, the mechanical action is, at best, greatly reduced. This will result in overall poor quality and an increase in your stain count.
Increasing the bath temperature or contact time may offset some of this, but not if you’ve stuffed the cylinder so full the mechanical action is lost. Goods turning in a uniform circle without tumbling do nothing. Increasing the chemistry will be equally ineffective.
With underloading, you still have agitation but now have a water level that was intended for a greater volume of goods, hence “softening” the drop in the cylinder by having the goods falling into the wash liquor instead of against the ribs. Add that the chemical concentration was intended for a larger amount of goods and you have an increase in costs per pound.
Sometimes the weight of the goods is less important than their volume. Bulky items that absorb little water will have less mechanical action than smaller items that hold lots of liquid when loaded strictly by weight.
An impervious gown, by its very nature, will resist absorption and tumble weakly in the cylinder. In contrast, a bar mop will drop well and hold much liquid. Knowing with which type of items you’re working will dictate when slight over- or underloading is acceptable. Keep a keen eye on volume when doing so and your wash quality will be as good as your photos!HEALTHCARE LAUNDERING: Earl Carter is the director of central laundry for FirstHealth of the Carolinas, serving five hospitals, four outpatient surgery centers, two health and fitness centers, and 12 family care centers. His career began in 1972 as a route operator for National Linen Service.
I visited a commercial laundry one day to look at some used tying and wrapping machines that I was considering purchasing.
We had stopped at a new washer-extractor the manager was proudly showing off when he had to take a phone call. I asked the washman about the machine’s capacity and he replied, “Well, it’s according to what day it is and how high I can get my foot for packing.”
That may sound a little ridiculous, but I’ve seen this scenario play out many times over the years. But Mondays and Tuesdays are tough in the laundry business, and we never have enough time or capacity to get everything out that we need to before the day ends. So, what do we do? We keep “packing.”
A washer-extractor’s capacity is going to vary according to the fabrics and the items you’re processing, along with the soil type – heavy versus light. It can get expensive when you start getting away from a manufacturer’s stated capacity unless you do some serious training with your washroom staff.
Overloaded washers will not allow water, chemicals, temperature and mechanical action to work evenly throughout your load, causing your rewash and rejects to increase and possibly damaging the machine.
A 200-pound-capacity washer-extractor loaded with 200 pounds of soiled bath towels looks to be about three-quarters full. Try putting 200 pounds of surgical barrier linen in the same machine. It won’t work because of the weight, size and type of fabrics.
This is where a good washman can save the laundry time and money. If you have no way of getting an actual load weight prior to loading, a good rule of thumb is to load the basket until it appears to be three-quarters full.
Underloading a washer can be an expensive choice, not only in terms of water, utilities, chemicals and manpower, but also in replacement of linen. Underloaded washers tend to damage linen by breaking down fibers. Chemical concentrations, temperatures and mechanical action that are greater than what a load dictates contribute to this.
One sure way to tell if your washers are overloaded is the items in the center of the basket will remain dry and soiled.
As for underloading your washer, compare the quality of the linen items pulled from that washer to a completed, weighted washer load. Pay close attention to the fibers and the overall look of the linen item. In most cases, it’ll have a ragged, wrinkled look.
Again, if you train your washman properly on fabrics and soil types, you can vary your loads up or down as they pertain to the loading capacity. If this isn’t a feasible alternative, then you’ll need to stay as close to the manufacturer’s stated capacity as possible.


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