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Panel of Experts: The Lowdown on High-Thread-Count Linens (Part 3 of 3)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“Our resort has upgraded its linens everywhere, from the guestrooms to the pool to the five-star restaurant. So, the pressure is on to clean, handle and store these goods so they give us the longest useful life possible. What advice can you give me about processing high-thread-count linens?”

Commercial Laundry: Rick Rone, Laundry Plus, Sarasota, Fla.

The best advice that I can offer is to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. The next best source of assistance would probably be your chemical supplier. It should be able to offer the appropriate details for the wash and dry cycles with an eye toward cleanliness as well as life expectancy.

rick roneIn general, as the thread count goes up, you usually need a higher water temperature to open the fibers and release any soil or stains. Some people believe that you can accomplish the same thing with raising the pH level. I am not a big fan of this method, because I believe it contributes to a shorter life cycle. I am not saying it doesn’t work, but there are better ways to accomplish the same goal.

I will presume that you know the four parts of the washing equation. If available, you might try a longer formula or hotter water. We always try to use the minimum amount of chemicals, but not just due to the cost. Since we process only customer-owned goods (COG), we believe that part of our responsibility is to help our customers get the longest life expectancy (number of wash cycles) from their bed and bath linens.

The next area to review would be the extract cycle. Whether your machinery utilizes centrifugal extraction or the press method, faster or greater pressure is not necessarily best. You need to be ready to admit to yourself, as well as your supervisor, that this new material is going to take longer, and therefore cost more, to correctly process than the old (lower thread count) linens.

Higher-thread-count linens will usually finish better if sent to the iron with higher moisture content. Since the question is specifically about higher-thread-count linens, I will address the flat goods only.

Ironing of your new linens can and probably will be a whole new ballgame. Let’s review the factors that affect output and quality: ironing temperature, speed of line, roll pressure, type of pad, adjustment of each roll speed, type of tape being used, and, finally, folding method (air blast or blade). Since the moisture level might be higher, you can either run the iron more slowly or turn up the temperature and maintain current speed. I support the theory that slower is better. We would rather lose production than compromise quality.

Next, I would look at roll pressure. Generally, the higher the pressure, the shorter the life of the pad/pads. This can be balanced with the correct pad thickness as well as proper material. If your iron is a multi-roll unit, and if each roll is inverter-driven, you should properly synchronize the speed of each roll individually so as to obtain the correct pull of each roll away from the previous one.

There are many types of iron tape available. Based on your choice of pad material, roll pressure and roll-speed synchronization, the tape you use will not leave unnecessary tape marks or pucker lines in your higher-thread-count linens.

I prefer the air-blast method of folding. Unfortunately, as the thread count—and therefore weight and thickness—increases, so to does the need for a blade to assist in the proper folding. As long as the blade is properly maintained, it will be a valuable tool.

Be prepared to accept that the whole process will take longer and cost a little more, but the finished product will be better and should last longer.

Equipment Manufacturing: Chuck Anderson, Ellis Corp., San Diego, Calif.

Managers new to processing high-thread-count linens must first understand that high thread count does not equate to more durability. In fact, the opposite is true.

chuck andersonThread count is simply the number of threads per square inch of fabric. These consist of vertical threads (warp) and horizontal threads (weft) woven together. To achieve a higher thread count, thinner threads are packed into the same square inch of fabric with a tighter weave. These smaller threads with a tighter, less flexible weave produce a more delicate fabric.

The most important step after purchasing new linens is to wash them thoroughly to remove vat dyes and sizing used in the manufacturing processes. If these chemicals are not removed before finishing, yellowing can occur, which will take several rewashes to remove (in some cases). These chemicals can also produce allergic reactions in some guests.

High-thread-count linens are expensive, and you want to make sure ownership has provided you with enough product. Resorts should have a minimum of three pars: one par in the room, one par being processed, and one par on the shelf. It is important that linen “rest” on shelves for 24 hours after laundering, because many types of linens are more easily damaged right after washing; this also enhances the flat-dry appearance.

Take a look at your equipment. If processing with a tunnel washer, you will need to add a program to your press for these more delicate fabrics. Specifically, to prevent hydro-burst in sheets, the press should be set to ramp to a membrane pressure of no more than 15-20 bars.

Adjust washer cylinder speeds, water levels, chemical concentrations, temperatures and process times to achieve high quality with reduced mechanical damage and chemical degradation.

Check inside of wash cylinders and around doors for snags. One method is to run an old pair of pantyhose along the inside. The material will snag on any burrs or imperfections.

For good mechanical action when washing napery, load the wash wheel to this capacity, depending on type: full drop — 90%, split pocket — 75%, Y-pocket — 65%.

Dryers should be in top shape and preferably have humidity controls. Make sure to set adequate cool-down time, and do not over-dry.

Check speed and tension on spreader-feeders using one sample test sheet; do not destroy multiple sheets before you realize you have an issue. Replace ironer padding and roll covers if worn or ripped to reduce mechanical abrasion. Make sure cleaning/waxing is on a routine schedule. Control chest temperature at 310-325 F. These heavier, larger linens are going to require slower processing.

It is important to educate banquet staff, pool attendees, servers, housekeeping and any other resort personnel who come into contact with these high-end linens about their cost and proper handling.

Each department should have proper soil carts or bins so that linen does not sit on the floor. These carts should be cleaned regularly and checked frequently for protrusions that could snag or tear linen. Besides sorting linen into normal classifications such as towels, sheets, pillowcases, etc., goods should be sorted by degree of soiling. This will eliminate over-processing and prevent unnecessary wear.

Click here for Part 1.Click here for Part 2.

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