Solving the Compact-Laundry Dilemma (Part 1 of 2)


(Photo: © Almeida)

Glen Phillips |

CHICAGO — Anyone who has ever been challenged to shoehorn a functional laundry into a tiny space knows that they can perform such a feat, but the sequel is making that laundry work properly.

Nowhere is this situation more profound than in the cruise line industry, where a square foot of space is like gold. And nowhere in the annals of commercial/industrial laundry design are there as many examples of laundries that do not work because they were designed by people not qualified nor practiced in process (work) flow. An example might help to illustrate the point:

During a recent cruise ship start-up operation, a machinery company had sold several hundred thousand dollars of equipment to a prominent, prestigious and well-known cruise line company. Upon entry into the laundry space, an individual could stand in the middle and turn around with outspread arms and touch two of the opposite walls.

Rather than placing the equipment along a wall so there would be room to work in front of the machines, the washers were placed in front of the dryers. The total space behind the washer-extractors was 2 feet, and the spacing between the washers and dryers was 3 feet. To make matters worse, the 34-inch-wide carts came in contact with the machines every time a dryer needed to be unloaded.

Another confounding issue was a flatwork ironer in the middle of the floor, right in front of a single door used for ingress and egress into the laundry processing area. Furthermore, this space had to be used for both laundry and guest drycleaning services. There was no soiled-linen storage area, and the laundry crew actually sorted the textiles into the washers as they were coming down from the guest floors.

Granted, this illustration highlights extreme conditions, but it is typical of what can happen when too little thought and experience is applied to a compact-laundry layout. There are specific guidelines that should be followed when a compact laundry is being planned.

Form Follows Function

The function and size of the laundry must be calculated first based on the work to be processed. It is not a cardinal sin to say to an owner, “There is not enough space to do what needs to be done,” but be prepared to offer some viable alternative.

So now, the thought process must be re-engineered. In some cases, it may be necessary to open up options and revisit the hours of operation. Instead of operating a compact laundry 8 hours a day, it may be necessary for that laundry to operate 16 hours a day in order to get all of the textiles processed within a specified block of time.

The functional task of every laundry is to process soiled textiles and convert those textiles into clean, usable textiles. Certain parameters must be followed:

  • First and foremost, compact laundries must comply with all municipal, state and federal safety regulations.
  • Workflow must follow a prescribed pathway without any cross traffic patterns.
  • All equipment must be sized to meet the hourly production task. Do not install just one machine type. At the very least, install two machines: one smaller and one larger.
  • Temporary storage of “in-process goods” must be provided.
  • The laundry should be devoid of unnecessary items. It is not a storage closet.
  • All laundry associates must understand the operational process.

Safety and Regulatory Considerations

Owners or general managers sometimes try to save money by skirting regulatory requirements. Don’t do it. Those regulations are in place for health and safety.

Some of the germane regulations that must be followed no matter the size of the laundry are:

  • clearance requirements around all machines for maintenance and repairs
  • fresh-air provisions for proper gas-fired equipment operation
  • ventilation requirements for laundry and equipment to operate efficiently
  • adequate water volume and temperatures to remove stains
  • proper wastewater sewage elements; adequate line sizes for all machines dumping simultaneously; removable wastewater lint traps; sufficient sewer line clean-outs and vent lines
  • electrical disconnects within 3 feet or line of sight for every machine using electricity
  • water and natural gas valves within 3 feet of machines using those utilities
  • a twin-compartment utility laundry sink for special laundry procedures
  • fire sprinkler systems (even though not all municipalities mandate them, they are recommended)

Tomorrow in Part 2: Operational issues that should be considered and implemented during the planning and design process…

About the author

Glen Phillips

Phillips and Associates

President and senior associate

Glen Phillips is president and senior associate of Phillips and Associates, an international consulting and engineering firm specializing in textile maintenance. He can be reached at 763-231-9950,


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