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Wash Chemistry Basics (Conclusion)

Common mistakes made with chemistry in wash formulas

CHICAGO — The wash formula.

It’s essential for laundry and linen services to use the correct wash formula to process goods.

“Wash formulas are tailored to each classification depending on soil type, color, soil degree and fiber content,” says Amanda Steffen, marketing director for Ecolab, which provides water, hygiene and energy technologies and services.

A key component to a wash formula is the chemistry.

“The effectiveness of chemistry is equally important as the time, temperature and mechanical action of the entire wash process,” Steffen says. “It’s a balance of these four factors.”

That means laundry operations need to make sure they are using the right chemicals, and sometimes that means going back to the basics of washroom chemistry to make sure the right chemicals are being used.


There are several common mistakes made in the industry when it comes to chemistry and the wash formula.

Doug Story, president of sales and marketing for UNX, a company that provides chemical detergents and specialties to key consumer industries, shares that laundries sometime reduce and change parts of the pie without changing the other components of the total process (e.g., lowering chemical usage without changing other parts of the pie).   

“This type of action will generally cause the quality to suffer due to insufficient usage, assuming initial usage was set at proper level before the changes,” he says. 

Steffen says that sometimes operations utilize the wrong wash formula for the classification of goods laundered.

“Using the wrong wash formula on goods processed is not effective,” Story adds. “As stated, chemistry and wash formulas are designed for specific soil and fabric types. For example, processing bar mops on a sheet formula will not yield acceptable quality results for the bar towels.”

He goes on to re-emphasize that chemistry and wash process is generally designed for a specific load size, soil type and process procedure. That means underloading and overloading washers will cause quality and utility usage issues. 

“Although not chemical, laundries need to make sure the washers are in good to great operating condition,” adds Story. “Make sure the incoming water is softened and treated to minimize minerals, iron, etc. Make sure the heating systems—boilers, steam valves, etc.—are in good working condition and rated to meet the needs of the washers and equipment.   

“If the washers are leaking or you can’t achieve temperatures that are needed or water is too hard for the system, the chemistry will be limited in its ability to perform. Make sure all chemical dispensing systems are working to set standards as well.” 

Steve Tinker, senior vice president-research and development, marketing for Gurtler Industries Inc., a commercial laundry products supplier, says that one of the biggest errors in terms of laundry chemistry is the over-use of bleach, especially chlorine bleach. 

“Since bleach is a relatively inexpensive wash chemical, some will reduce detergent levels and increase bleach to reduce chemical costs,” he says. “But excessive bleach usage can have a major negative impact on textile life which can be a greater cost impact than the savings in wash chemistry.”

Another issue Tinker sees is insufficient soil sorting.  

“If you don’t sort soil levels, then you have to design a wash formula that will clean the heaviest soil level, which means that textiles with light soil levels are over washed. This impacts the overall chemical costs.”

Tinker also sees “merry-go-round” washing as a common error. He says that if an item is rejected due to stains or other soil issues, it should be washed in a special stain removal wash process to be reclaimed. If after the stain wash the item is still unserviceable, it should be discarded or turned into a rag.  

“The merry-go-round issue is with laundries that just rewash stained items time after time after time in the regular wash process, wasting chemistry, water, energy over and over, and never removing an item from service,” he says.

Scott Pariser, president of Pariser Industries Inc., which manufactures specialty cleaning chemicals for commercial, industrial and institutional end users, says that all too often he sees laundries where the wash chemistry is dictated by the vendor’s one-size-fits-all approach to washing. 

“Every laundry has nuances and variables that make a custom approach to washing an imperative one for maximized results and economy,” he points out.

Speaking of economy, Kevin Minissian, president of Norchem Corp., a clean-technology engineering firm, has observed laundries struggling to maintain quality with the least-expensive option.

“While the cost of the products is always key in any laundry’s decision-making for wash chemistry, choosing the cheaper option doesn’t necessarily equate to automatic savings,” he shares. 

“Most important is partnering with a supplier whose representatives can fully assess your operation’s needs for wash formulas and quality so that a customized program can be determined for optimized efficiency and consistency.”


Wash chemistry is only effective when water levels and operating conditions in a laundry are consistent, Pariser says. For example, if the quantity of water changes in the washer, the strength of the wash liquor will change accordingly.

“If water quality, soil sorting procedures or hot water temperature changes, so too will results,” he points out. “As such, good chemical supervision/service includes and requires the provision of comprehensive oversight of water levels, washing machine and chemical dispenser performance, and operational practices.”

Tinker agrees and says it’s best for laundry operations to look at wash chemistry as just one part of the overall wash process. It’s not just achieving an acceptable level of soil removal and whiteness and brightness.  

“A holistic approach helps you look at how the chemistry can impact resource (water and energy) usage, productivity (wash times), and how you can meet the quality standards of the operation,” he says. “The objective is to design a wash process that delivers the cleanest possible textiles at the lowest possible total cost.”

Minissian recommends that laundries always conduct swatch tests to make sure whiteness, tensile strength loss and soil removal are above average.

“Wash chemistry is 80% of the wash formula equation,” he says. “If the chemistry does not perform, neither mechanical action, temperature or the amount of water used will clean the fabric.”

Miss Part 1 on essential elements, chemicals? Click HERE to read it.

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].