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


This well-designed question recognizes that optimization of laundry programs and procedures, as well as incorporating new technology options, can facilitate a laundry marlene williamsmanager’s efforts to improve energy efficiency and water conservation. From the chemical supplier’s standpoint, there are two major sources of help available today.

First, technology (proprietary software) to analyze a laundry operation is a strong tool for chemical representatives and laundry managers. A knowledgeable chemical representative can provide valuable assistance with this type of computer analysis, improving not only energy efficiency and water consumption but also creating savings in all areas of program expense.

Secondly, a knowledgeable review of laundry facilities with improved practices and procedures can provide major economies for no additional cost. John White, an industry expert with 35 years of laundry experience, offers a number of valuable tactics:

  1. Work with a knowledgeable chemical supplies representative; this should be your starting point. Experienced reps can help you because they work with many different operators and will be able to give you ideas for savings, ideas that are working for others.
  2. If you’re still using “old school” washing techniques (180-degree water, lots of alkali and bleach, long cycles, lots of rinsing, etc.), be aware that chemistry has dramatically changed. Talk to your rep about low-temperature washing. Consider enzyme washing, allowing for lower wash and bleaching temperatures. Your supplier should be bringing these innovations to you for your consideration.
  3. Replace one rinse step in all your cycles with a medium-speed extract. This will save one high-fill for every load of laundry you process, and, over time, can result in thousands of gallons of water—much of it hot—saved.
  4. Understand the relationship between pH and temperature in the bleach bath. A good rep will be able to set your cycles up to bleach in much lower temperatures by lowering the pH of the bleach bath.
  5. Lower your water levels 1 inch when washing/bleaching, and 2 inches when rinsing. All water levels are adjustable, and the good reps know how to do this. One inch less water in the wash step will not make any difference in quality, but due to the shape of the wash wheel, will save you up to 30% of the hot water you would otherwise use in a typical wash step (same for bleach step and 2 inches on rinse steps).
  6. Focus on sorting laundry by soil load and staining. Unsorted linens must be washed according to the worst pieces. If unsorted, every load becomes a costly heavy-soil load.
  7. Program cycles so that your final rinse temperature is between 115 and 120 degrees (typically it is much lower). This means that the linens will be pre-heated (but not too hot to handle) when they go into the dryer. This will save about five minutes of dryer time/energy per load.
  8. Don’t under-load washers or overload dryers. Weigh loads and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  9. Airflow is far more critical than temperature when it comes to dryer time. Clean lint screens after every load, and periodically have dryer vents professionally cleaned. Lint can easily clog dryer vents and choke off 80% or more of your airflow.
  10. Finally, most dryers can be retrofitted with flue sensors that will shut the dryer down when the load is dry, saving on energy and fabric damage.


From the perspective of smaller OPL facilities, more new equipment applications have become available in the past several years than have been introduced in the past decade. I’ll break these energy savings into three kim shadycategories: electricity, natural gas, and water.

Electricity — The amount of electricity used to operate an OPL washer or dryer may be less than 2 cents per load. There is very little reward for making improvements to electricity use. Evaluating cycle times in the washer could be one area for savings. Washers with higher extraction rates (G-force) can reduce drying times for more savings.

Natural Gas — Assuming natural gas is your heat source for a dryer, ironer or water heater, this is your largest utility cost. To evaluate areas to trim costs, start with your water heater/boiler. There have been many improvements in efficiency, so is your unit outdated? Could reducing water temperature by 5 or 10 degrees make a difference on an annual basis?

The traditional 75-pound dryer in small OPL facilities has gone through significant energy updates in the past few years. Several companies have slashed gas consumption by 20% through new, energy-efficient axial airflow designs that do not sacrifice drying time. This may be the biggest gain for energy efficiency in the past five years.

Also, the extraction rate has a major role in reducing dryer gas use. Upgrading from 100 to 300 G-force can cut drying time by 25-30%, along with similar amounts of natural gas.

Residual moisture controls are gaining popularity to save time and natural gas in the dryer. No longer does the drying time have to be input by hand. Residual moisture controls automate the process, while preventing the dryer from running past the point where linens are dry.

Large laundries have long understood the energy benefits of ironing vs. drying sheets. When ironing sheets properly, the amount of energy used to remove a pound of water is less than the amount a dryer would use to do the same. With new OPL ironers requiring just one person to feed, fold and stack, there can be energy savings, labor savings and huge improvements in quality.

Water — OPL washers are using newer digital technology to measure water levels, providing more precise control for each fill. This also allows the programmer to experiment with finding the optimum water levels and acceptable cleanliness quality. This experiment could bring surprising results in lower water use. Some washers are smart enough to adjust water levels based upon the linen load size, while at the same time adjusting chemical dosing to keep the ratio to water accurate.

Other water savings may be found with ozone systems. Ozone has proven to reduce water consumption and significantly reduce the need for hot water.


This is the central question surrounding one of the most important dynamics of the decade: “green” reusable textiles and related processing. My responses will relate mostly to energy and costs that directly impact textile-processing costs.

steve kallenbachEnergy — Over the past 15 years, our industry has reduced energy costs by more than 40% through the use of heat reclaimers, direct-fire water heaters, continuous batch washers (vs. washer-extractors vs. modular washer and extractor units), high-efficiency gas dryers (vs. steam dryers), as well as energy-friendly textiles.

Additionally, chemical companies and plant managers have worked together to find balanced formulations that assist in energy efficiency. An example of this might be in extraction. Once a washer-extractor achieves extraction speed, it is much more efficient to extract the textile a bit longer, if it reduces dryer time (gas usage) while still protecting textile life.

In some cases, textiles have been built to withstand more energy-efficient processing. In others (example: Signature table linen), fabric has been developed to wash cleaner at lower temperatures, thereby lowering energy costs and even processing time. The most recent textile improvement impacting energy efficiency is microfiber fabrics. They take much less time to dry, thereby reducing gas and electricity costs.

Laundry managers need to follow the best in class: 1) know the industry standards, 2) know your own plant’s performance, and 3) engage with your chemical and textile vendors to continually improve efficiency.

Water — Just like energy, our industry has reduced water usage by more than 40% through the use of water reclamation systems and better chemical formulations, soil sorting (to control the amount of rewash) and textiles.

Water reclamation systems reuse some of the last flushes of a formula as the first flush of the next load. Chemical formulation is a key to water efficiency. We put our chemical suppliers in the delicate position of keeping costs down while keeping our textiles clean. Many times, this balance is off, and some plants have a tendency to “over wash” certain textiles. Additionally, some textiles simply clean better, due to raw-material quality, fiber content, weave, topical soil release, etc.

Managers can discuss these issues with their textile and chemical suppliers, in order to choose the right product for the job. Just like energy efficiency, water conservation and efficiency should first be measured against the known industry standards, and managers should engage with their related suppliers to improve both formulation and textiles.

Technology — In all areas of conservation, support technology has improved drastically over the past 20 years. Retrofitting machinery to allow constant monitoring of efficiencies is now available, and the return on investment is sensible in most cases. Additionally, the industry has developed a number of major software packages that can assist managers in monitoring and managing their plant efficiencies.

Maintenance — Aside from education on standards and available efficiencies, the maintenance of equipment and support technology is more important now than ever before.

Plant maintenance managers of yesteryear were measured on downtime of equipment related to production flow. While this will remain the platform for production flow efficiency, maintenance of the future will center more around equipment efficiencies, simply because they can now be monitored constantly.

For instance, in the past, if a drainpipe were open and leaking profusely, it might not be caught and your maintenance department might not focus on it because the equipment was running. In the future, the equipment must not only run, it must run efficiently, because a rightly upgraded and retrofitted wash machine will be able to “broadcast” the presence of an open/leaking drain to plant management.

Textiles — Great plant managers take a more active role in monitoring textile placement as it relates to efficiency, not only in wear-life (life-cycle) costing but also in choosing the right textile for the job.

A simple example of this is allowing a diesel engine mechanic to wear a lightly colored shirt. This textile choice leads to heavy-soil formulation and rewash. Enough of this textile misuse and plant efficiency is impacted.

Other plants overbuy cotton toweling, putting premium textiles into accounts that simply don’t return them. Because these products are typically heavier in content, the plant washes fewer of them per load, thereby lowering both energy and water efficiencies. In some cases, it’s better to put a standard-quality product into an account that needs just that.


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