Panel of Experts: Boosting Laundry Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation (Part 1 of 2)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

In what ways—by utilizing technology and/or more closely managing resources—can a manager improve his/her laundry’s energy efficiency and water conservation?


As with any mechanical industry in the world today, technology is ever evolving and continues to push equipment to its max in terms of production and efficiency. This is no different in the laundry industry—as long as you use it properly.

Forget all the bells and whistles of additional means for energy conservation and get down to the nitty-gritty of what it takes to improve your laundry’s energy efficiency and water consumption with the equipment you already have. Something that laundry managers often forget is the amount of water in an individual cycle’s bath and the amount of that water retained in the linen at the end of the cycle.

steve clarkFirst, do you know how many gallons are in a particular bath? If so, then do you truly need that much? Does your machine capacity and chemical makeup require such an amount of water? With advancements in technology and computer programming, every leading manufacturer of equipment is capable of customizing water consumption on a per-bath/per-cycle basis. Obviously, this cycle variation will depend on the material being laundered. Regardless, it would be wise to break down the water level and percentage of drum capacity with your chemical representative to determine if this percentage can be tweaked.

Imagine saving 1 gallon per bath/per cycle and multiply that by the number of cycles you run throughout a given day. For example, one machine removes 1 gallon of water from five baths in one cycle. At 5 gallons per load and two loads an hour, that equals 10 gallons saved per hour, or 80 gallons saved per eight-hour shift.

Beyond the amount of water going into an individual wash cycle, what about the water coming out? The water retention amount per load can destroy your laundry’s efficiency in the drying or finishing stages of the process. For every percentage point of moisture in a given material, expect additional minutes to be spent in a dryer or finisher, thus requiring more labor, gas, electricity, etc., per load.

Water retention is affected by the amount of water introduced, the extraction rate of RPMs applying the respective G-force, and the length of extraction time. Due to previously mentioned advances in technology and programming capabilities, most equipment is capable of adjusting the RPMs and the length of extraction time to limit moisture retention to a desired amount for premium linen quality and energy efficiency.

Limit your expenses and help the environment; maximize your efficiency.


Greater energy efficiency and water conservation can be achieved through planning and design using the new technology available in equipment such as continuous batch washers, presses, and dryers.

tom gildredIn some areas, utilities companies and commissions have special incentive programs designed to encourage businesses to be as energy efficient as possible. In working with your utility company, it is possible to precisely plan for proper equipment and energy use in order to achieve maximum savings.

Employing “reduce and reuse” principles ensures that the highest possible level of resource preservation is achieved throughout an operation. By incorporating the latest technology, equipment, processes and infrastructure, it is possible to save millions of gallons of water annually and tremendous amounts of natural gas and electricity. Some of the ways to achieve tremendous savings include:

  • Utilizing energy-efficient lighting, and motion-sensor lighting where appropriate, throughout the plant and offices to reduce energy use.
  • Going green with invoices, by using e-mail instead of paper to conserve ink, energy and eliminate paper waste.
  • Using environmentally sustainable, lighter fabrics that not only make sense for the environment but also require less drying time.
  • Utilizing gravity-enabled designs in the plant, such as an overhead rail system, that moves laundry through the facility using minimal energy to produce less risk and strain to employees.
  • Installing the latest industrial washers that utilize high-tech water systems with the ability to decrease water usage by more than 75%.
  • Incorporating high-pressure presses to remove the maximum amount of water from clean goods and greatly reduce drying time, resulting in lower natural gas consumption.
  • Employing heat reclamation equipment, which employs energy-transfer principles to raise the incoming water temperature so that a lot less energy is needed for heating.

Through technology and streamlined processes, it is possible to achieve tremendous energy savings, which results in cost savings and reduced environmental impact. That’s good for the industry and good for the environment.


There are a number of relatively new textile products on the market that can help improve a laundry’s energy and water consumption. Technology developments in yarn spinning and finishing chemistry now allow synthetic fibers to have more natural fiber characteristics.

tom langdonFasciated yarn is defined by Webster’s as a form of fiber assembly consisting of a core of parallel discontinuous fibers bound into a compact bundle by surface wrapping minor proportion of the discontinuous fibers around the core to form the yarn. The most common type is MJS, or Murata Jet Spinning, named after the Japanese manufacturer that perfected this technique.

By using this process to spin all polyester or CVS (Chief Value Synthetic) fibers into yarn, products have a more “cotton-like” look and feel. Recent developments in finishing chemistry now can impart wicking and moisture management properties on fabrics once considered nonabsorbent. This market trend started several years ago with sheets and pillowcases, but now has spread into most product groups, including incontinent pads and even thermal blankets.

There are a few challenges that any laundry may have to address when considering incorporating these new products into their system. No. 1 is the difference in cost. Depending on the item, replacing an existing CVC (Chief Value Cotton) item with one that is all-poly or poly rich could be a 20-40% premium in upfront investment over the standard linen price. The second challenge is processing. Because manmade fiber products dry faster and absorb less water, they need to be processed separately to achieve their full benefits. In some cases, this may be more trouble than it is worth.

Although there is an upfront investment, adding these items to a line will more than provide payback over time. By its nature, polyester is stronger than cotton and will last longer. There is less weight loss, which helps protect revenues for those charging by the pound. Studies have shown that these poly-rich items are more resistant to staining, so there is savings to be had by reducing rewash cycles or pre-treating.

This past year was the best time ever to add more poly-rich items to your line or convert completely. The unprecedented rise in cotton prices in 2011 closed the gap, so in some cases switching was a wash (no pun intended), or the premium was slight. If you look at these items from a cost-per-use perspective, they still are a good value.

I’ll offer a few statistics. One company that I work with did some in-house testing on the processing of these new, synthetic-rich items and achieved the following results on several product categories (of course, results may vary from laundry to laundry):

Knit Sheets — Drying time was reduced 25-40% as compared to a cotton-rich item, and water retention was cut in half.

Pads — Drying time was reduced by 50% as compared to a cotton-rich item, and water retention was reduced by 20%.

Clothing Protectors — Drying time was reduced by 60% as compared to a cotton-rich item, and water retention reduced by 40%.

If laundries embrace this new technology, they will experience faster drying times and use less water. They will also have products that last longer. Saving money and time while conserving resources, now that’s a win-win.


As energy prices begin to soar, and with today’s current economic uncertainty, now is an excellent time to implement energy benchmarking and waste reduction in your operation.

jr norrisConducting energy audits on a regular basis can help determine the actual condition of your equipment as well as its overall performance. These audits can show where and how energy is being wasted, and can help you identify and prioritize future energy-improvement measures.

Unfortunately, it took some time to get our entire team to recognize the benefits and contribute to reducing wasted resources. In addition to insulating hot water and steam lines and repairing leaky valves, we conducted frequent walk-and-talk meetings with maintenance and laundry managers to identify a starting point.

Since our machines are older, we decided we should determine their energy consumption first. To start the process, we had our local electricity provider complete an audit. It conducted a weeklong audit of our usage and compared peak vs. non-peak times. Through these findings, we learned which equipment was pulling the highest amperage and then made proactive decisions to determine what we could do to conserve.

After the audit was complete, we reviewed all of our older equipment that was wasting the most energy. The most energy-consuming piece of equipment turned out to be a 50-hp air compressor, and, unfortunately, we have two of them in place. In an effort to reduce this waste, we purchased a new 25-hp motor, changed the pulleys and reduced the overall amps being used.

Some may ask why we didn’t purchase a new, energy-efficient compressor. We believe in saving first and purchasing newer equipment after all other options have been exhausted.

For example, we had a 900-pound Ellis washer that had such a hard start-up and used so many amps that it continuously caused problems. We implemented today’s technology and installed a soft-start invert drive. This dramatically reduced our daily amps and allowed room on our circuit breaker to install more equipment on our two different power sources. This method of resolution has proven successful in our operation.

In addition to modifying equipment to conserve energy, we also found that by utilizing our skylights as a natural light source, we were able to reduce the number of hours a day that our overhead lights are on. With the generous amount of sunlight that we have in New Mexico, we tapped into this natural resource. The additional natural light encourages more positive production out of our employees than working under bright fluorescent lighting. To take this a step further, we are installing photocells on our fixtures to automatically reduce lighting usage.

The next energy-saving effort we will focus on is a system for reclaiming water. We have grown significantly over the last few years, and have learned that this system will be a vital contributor for cost savings and water preservation. We are in the process of researching this method to determine our future implementation efforts.

Conserving energy can be as easy as wrapping and insulating lines or identifying and repairing all leaking water and air valves. Enlisting your local energy service provider to provide audits of your current consumption can give you a better understanding of your usage and allow you to easily identify waste. Empowering your team to conserve and promote awareness of energy waste can improve the success of your efforts. Education and implementation is the best way to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint and benefit the environment, but it also can assist in reducing our collective bottom lines.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2!


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