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Overlooked Maintenance in Laundry Operations (Part 1)

Elements that might be missed include utilities, software

CHICAGO — Laundry and linen service operations have a lot of moving parts.

Washers, dryers, ironers, folders, carts, conveyors, boilers, electronics—maintenance staff have many complicated pieces of equipment and systems to keep functioning to ensure goods are being processed. 

It should come as no surprise then that some maintenance elements can be overlooked.

Sometimes maintenance can be overlooked simply because of the grand scale of a laundry operation. Other times, it might be willfully overlooked until repairs are absolutely necessary.

Whatever the reason, overlooked maintenance issues can impact the effectiveness, efficiency and safety of a laundry operation.


Utilities represent a significant, yet often overlooked, expense in any laundry, says Sam Spence, a consultant for TBR Associates based in Saddle Brook, N.J. Even well operated laundries can have combined utility expenses in the 5% range of total revenue, and proper equipment maintenance can help to reduce these costs. 

“Be sure to check all steam traps on at least a quarterly schedule,” he suggests. “At 125 pounds of steam, you should expect to see temperatures in the range of 320 F entering and 280 F exiting your traps. If you find little or no difference in these temperatures, the trap is likely stuck open and should be replaced.”

Other inspections Spence suggests include checking steam and air lines on a monthly schedule. Walk through the plant and look for leaking steam and assure that all steam lines are properly insulated. Pipe insulation should be in tact without any frayed seams and should completely cover the pipes. 

“An old timer once taught me that the best way to check for air leaks is to simply do a plant walk through after shut down when everything is quiet,” he says. “Listen for air leaks and repair them.”

Spence also recommends checking the heat reclaimer to confirm temperatures and assure that the coils back flush properly. Ideally, he says there should as much as a 30-degree difference between incoming and tempered water. If inspections show less, the coils may be clogged or the system may not be back flushing properly.

Dryer doors and seals should be on a regular preventative maintenance (PM) schedule as well.

“Another trick taught to me by the same old timer is to blow baby powder around dryer doors when the dryer is in operation,” shares Spence. “If you see the powder pulled rapidly into the dryer doors, you are likely pulling cold outside air into the dryer as well. Inspect the seals and confirm that they are air tight.”

Leonard McAllister, senior director of engineering for Prudential Overall Supply in Irvine, Calif., agrees that laundries can save a lot of energy by simply making sure the basics are followed for maintaining and operating a dryer.

“The air goes through the burner housing and then is forced through the perforation of the basket because of the seals,” he says. “What seals? You mean there are seals? Yes, there are seals. Go back and have your maintenance team show you the seals if they are still there. 

“When was the last time you removed the plastic from the dryers? We found in some of our dryers that the inlet probe was not in the right place and was causing the dryer to get temperatures up over 800 degrees and only reading 600 degrees. This caused the plastic to really stick hard and not release when cooled.”

Another factor McAllister points out that can help make dryers more efficient is to check that the load is dropping properly at 1 o’clock when rotating clockwise and 11 o’clock when rotating counter-clockwise. 

“When was the last time you looked at the flame?” he asks. “Is it yellow or blue? Hopefully blue. This can be easily adjusted by your maintenance technician, but if not, you can call in a specialist.” 

McAllister also recommends taking steps to ensure dryers are being used at maximum efficiency. These steps include adjusting the differential between intake and exhaust temperatures to prevent over drying, being aware of industry standards for drying different types of materials, not rotating drying formulas between loads and ensuring that goods are properly weighed before being placed in the dryer.

“So now let me ask, are you going straight to the flatwork ironer from extract? Are you going straight to the steam tunnel from extract?” he says. “You should be if you are operating the steam tunnel properly and the flatwork ironer properly, keeping you from using the ‘Beast.’”

Beyond the dryer, Spence says ironer exhausts should be checked on all vacuum rolled ironers. The rolls and exhaust ducts frequently become clogged with wax. Additionally, the exhaust motors can burn out and operators don’t notice.

It may not always be the laundry equipment that causes downtime with operations, points out George Latus, RLLD, manager of laundry services for White River Health System in Batesville, Ark. Sometimes, utilities and in-house services can fail, which may require maintenance crew to double down using their skills and training to aggressively make the necessary corrections that will keep the laundry flow and production process moving through a facility.  

“From your heating and air conditioning system, to your compressed air and exhaust system, to your boiler system and your water supply and waste drainage systems, these are all a vital part to your operation,” he says. “Unfortunately, they may not be included in your preventative maintenance program.”


The mechanical aspect of laundry room equipment is often the focus of maintenance, which means that maintenance of the computer side of the equation can get overlooked. Spence says that production processes dependent information technology and automated systems are continually developing, and their use is more common than ever. 

“IT doesn’t just apply to the office anymore,” he points out. “Critical plant functions, including automated wash aisles and tunnels, rail systems and even soil counting systems, depend on PC- or server-based operating systems.”

The key to properly maintaining automated systems, says Spence, is to back up all hard drives and test them regularly. Most office functions, such as route accounting, accounts payable and accounts receivable, are typically server based. 

“Whether your server backup is cloud based, off site or internal, it must be tested regularly,” he says. “Never assume nightly backups happen without verification. Similarly, backup hard drives must be maintained for all automated plant systems.”

Spence recommends testing these hard drives at least quarterly by installing them and running the equipment for a day or two. 

“It is not uncommon for a manufacturer to install remote software updates, which can render your backup drives useless,” he points out. “You must test and verify to avoid potential plant down time.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion on safety, prevention and warning signs.