The Right Laundry Chemicals for the Right Job (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“How can I be sure I’m using the right chemicals and detergents in my operation?”

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

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Rick Rone

Rick Rone

It might be said that laundry chemicals are the lifeblood of our industry. There is never one specific product or line of products that are correct for all.

Indeed, I believe that most of the chemical companies basically have the same products. Alkalis, detergents, sours, softeners and others are the first things we utilize to accomplish our goal. That is, converting dirty linens into clean linens.

Maybe just as important, or more, is the person who is adjusting the dosages and the formulas to achieve the proper titration for each of our different wash categories. In fact, there are many people who believe that the chemical company representative is more important than the chemicals themselves. A good person, with the proper knowledge and experience, can probably make any chemical company’s products work well.

That having been said, some companies sell their products by the gallon, others by the amount of poundage you process. There are those that supply a dry to liquid product so you are not paying to ship mostly water all over the states. There are others who believe that sodium hypochlorite (chlorine) can be used properly at water temps in the 115-120 F range.

Our goal should always be to make sure that:

  • The product that we are returning to our customers is as clean as possible.
  • The various products have been sanitized.
  • The hand (feel) is as it should be.
  • All flat goods are properly ironed and professionally folded.

Even if you are in the customer-owned goods (COG) side of the business, you recognize that it should still be your responsibility to make sure that your customers’ goods are going to last as long as possible.

I believe that we all should take a close look at what is the true cost of a pound of reclaim or rewash, and realize that, whatever type of washing equipment we have in our facilities, the laundry chemicals are not the best place to try to save a penny or two.

Ultimately, if your customer is pleased with their returned product and you are keeping your cost of operation to a level at which you are putting the proper percentage to the bottom line, I believe that you have accomplished the goal of making sure that you are using the proper chemicals and in the correct way.

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

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David Barbe

David Barbe

First, check your rewash percentage. You should have bright, clean, stain-free goods with a rewash percentage of 2-5%.

If your rewash percentage is higher than this, you are probably wasting rewash time, water and chemicals repeatedly washing items. If your rewash percentage is lower or nonexistent, you may be overwashing everything to get out a few stains, using extra chemicals and shortening the life of your material.

Rewash formulas are more expensive and more damaging to goods and should be used to recover stained linen sparingly.

Second, what is your linen replacement level? Bleach is usually the least expensive laundry chemical. Vendors trying to achieve the lowest cost may overuse bleach, damaging your linen.

Also, overly aggressive washing to get out every stain every time will shorten the life of any material. Proper wash formulas and chemistry will minimize fabric damage. On the other hand, if you are buying lots of new items because you have a high level of stains and dingy linen, perhaps you have the opposite problem.

Third, what is your chemical cost per hundredweight (CWT)? A reasonable number is impossible to cite, as it depends on your water conditions, type of goods, type of washers, etc. Check with similar laundries in your area to compare. Note that I qualified that statement with “in your area.” Water conditions, soil types and many other local factors can affect your costs.

These three factors are great indications of the chemical efficiency in your laundry. Many other factors can affect your cost and efficiency, but chemistry is one of the most important to these measurements. Your chemical provider should be monitoring the numbers I mentioned, adjusting equipment settings, formulas and products as needed to keep everything working smoothly. Bring any concerns to their attention during one of their regular service calls.

What? They don’t come by regularly to check your goods, their equipment and your costs? Then this is a sign that you need to talk seriously with your vendor.

Discussing your needs with your chemical provider regularly is highly important. Technology, including chemistry, improves constantly. Methods of washing, types of machinery used and especially fabric type can change your chemical and formula needs. Your vendor should be willing to work on formulas and even try different chemicals if you are having any problems.

If you want to get quotations from another chemical company, ask for references and check them. If possible, visit other laundries washing similar goods in your area, and ask lots of questions. If you are a member of one of the wonderful industry trade organizations (highly recommended), consult with them. See if the three metrics I’ve cited are comparable to similar laundries.

Check back tomorrow to read the perspective of a textiles representative.

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