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Sorting Through New Laundry Textiles (Part 1)

How to examine new fabrics in the marketplace

RICHMOND, Ky. — Textile suppliers are constantly coming out with different fabrics with new construction and properties.

So, with all of the new textiles coming out, how is a laundry and linen service supposed to choose the right product for its customers and operation?

Duane Houvener, national manager of value-added solutions for reusable textile solutions provider American Dawn, discussed how to approach new textile products during the Association for Linen Management (ALM) webinar The Textile Trap.


Houvener points out that laundry is “a science,” and letting customers know about the science involved will help them understand what a laundry/linen service is trying to accomplish for them, especially when new textiles enter the market.

“When those new textiles come along that they want, or that they think they want, knowing the science, you’ll be able to explore, to explain the effects of our industry on the items that they’re looking at,” he says.

This includes sharing the “wash pie” of time, temperature, chemicals and mechanical action. And that means laundry personnel need to be educated as well.

“The more you know, the better you can communicate, there’s no doubt about it,” says Houvener. “If you want them to buy what you’re selling, you have to believe what you’re saying. So, the more you talk about these things, the more you learn about it, the more confident you’ll become with it, more confident to your customers or potential customers about it. 

“The more understanding they will be of our situation and some of the new textiles that are available out on the on the market today, and why some of them may work and some of them, they may not, and why they should work with you.”

Houvener shares that while there are many fabrics in the marketplace, laundry personnel don’t necessarily have to know all of them, just be aware of them—and whether they’re natural or synthetic. That’s because those are the two general categories of fibers.

“Most people don’t understand or don’t realize all the different compositions,” he says. “Most things today are still made up of the big four: cotton, polyester, rayon, some nylons. The last three, of course, being synthetic, and we haven’t really varied from that, yet.”

Houvener says there are new natural fibers on the market gaining popularity, such as hemp and bamboo, but widespread use isn’t likely to happen for some time. So, textiles are typically made of the four, either exclusively or in a mixture, each reacting differently in an industrial laundry. 

So, according to Houvener, it’s important to understand the characteristics and processing needs for the different types of textile compositions when new products come along.

For example, he says cotton is associated with comfort, softness and breathability. It’s relatively inexpensive, and it’s easy to dye.

“It’s versatile,” shares Houvener. “It’s used for so many different types of textiles, and has been just about forever, and endures high temperatures pretty well. On the flip side, it wrinkles really easily. It’s very fickle. You can’t let it sit for very long, especially with any weight involved because it wrinkles really easily, and it loses content with each processing—it creates lint—a little bit more comes out, which means that it shrinks.”

Polyester, he says, has increased product life. It’s a synthetic fabric derived from crude oil. It lasts for a long time, decreased wrinkles, doesn’t shrink, doesn’t fade and it wicks moisture.

“Unfortunately, the general public still has a negative impression of polyester,” he points out. “We think of Uncle Leo’s polyester suit. It’s still perceived as not as comfortable. It’s more expensive, but it has been decreasing in price, especially with the decreasing oil costs, although it jumped up again. Also, it doesn’t breathe as well.” 

In terms of processing, Houvener shares that polyester is high-temperature intolerant, and it has very strict sorting and processing guidelines. 

“You have to keep it away from the cotton, out of the cotton loads, because the cotton has more temperature tolerance and is probably being washed in the higher temperature,” he points out. “So, if it gets in with the cotton and a higher temperature, it doesn’t have a positive effect on the polyester textile. 

“You’ve really got to sort properly. You’ve got to process it properly. That’s a team effort between your laundry, your chemical provider and your textiles provider, along with the equipment provider.”

Finally, blended textiles are made up of a mixture of natural and synthetic fibers, Houvener says. 

“Just about everything is available in blended, but it still lints, though,” he points out. “All of us are probably familiar with a cotton-poly sheet that has been in the system a long time, and you can just about see through it because all that is left is the polyester. Most, if not all, of the cotton has gone. Every time you process it, that cotton comes out of it, and you lose a little bit of it, and that’s the lint. 

“It’s not as wrinkle resistant, and it’s not as stain resistant when it comes in colors, but it still is more wrinkle or fade resistant than 100% cotton. It still has a little bit of the cotton feel, which customers like.”

Besides fiber type, Houvener says factors such as thread count and weave impact quality and processing needs. 

“We’ve heard of some of the new high thread count sheets, ultra-luxurious, really soft, but keep in mind how they affect your system,” he shares. 

“If you go from a standard twin or a standard sheet that’s a T130 to that same size sheet but it’s T180, it will feel softer. It’ll look better. It’ll last longer, but it will weigh more. Depending on how you charge your customers, it could cost them more. So, to have that same size sheet that basically does the same job may be costing them more.”

Like thread count, Houvener says weave patterns affect strength, longevity and the feel of it.

“We’ve placed a big role in the satisfaction of the customer and the feel of those textiles, whether it’s something you’re using now or some new textile, but you have to get the most out of what you’re purchasing,” he points out. “You have to make sure that the right one is in the right place at the right time, and make sure that the users understand the uses of all these different products.” 

Houvener stresses that a laundry has to make sure its expectation of what it’s providing meets customer expectations—and that the products are being used for the proper tasks. 

“Make sure items that are supposed to be used for cleaning are being used for cleaning,” he says. “Schedule training for key groups of people to talk about the construction of the linen products, so you’re getting proper use and linen awareness for your customers.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion on the importance of testing new textiles.