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Washer-Extractor Usage

Five tips to help operators use washer-extractors most effectively

CHICAGO — Every piece of equipment is important in a laundry operation’s plant.

However, if the goods aren’t washed, all the drying and finishing available won’t make customers happy with the quality of their linens.

A key machine in many operations is the washer-extractor. A properly used machine removes soil from goods, along with extracting water to get a head start on the drying process, saving money and energy.

How can an operator be sure that his or her team is properly, and effectively, using the laundry’s washer-extractors?

What follows are five tips offered by laundry and linen service operators with plants of varying types and sizes to help ensure proper washer-extractor usage.

NO. 1—GET LOADS RIGHT

That was the first tip out of the mouth of Tommy Cocanougher from Cintas Corp.

“Get your loads right!” stresses the director-operations engineering for the Western U.S./Western Canada in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Underloading and overloading both wind up not only costing you money, but time, rewash and quality results.”

Properly loading washer-extractors was the main thrust of every laundry manager/operator contacted for this article.

“Don’t stuff the machine too full,” says Ann Son, owner of Holy City Linen in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s hard to get good agitation and definitely harder to get everything out including the laundry when it’s done.”

Ofelia Almanza, plant manager of Puget Sound Laundry Services in Kent, Washington, says her operation follows the CLLM Program training manual when it comes to loading washer-extractors, including filling the machine with 80-90% dry linen and verifying extraction efficiency.

“Over-loading and under-loading will impact the extraction,” she says. “Following these tips have given us not only greater production efficiencies, but have also helped with utilities. Having a good extraction in the wash means less drying time.”

Glen Woods, corporate production manager for Prudential Overall Supply in Irvine, California, says that it’s important to ensure load weights are correct before goods enter the washer-extractor.

“When managing a wash alley, one of the most often overlooked processes is inaccurate sling weights,” he says. “The chemical providers construct the wash formulas with a small variance of the target wash weight. Inconsistent sling weights will then contribute to inaccurate wash weights.”

Woods says washing to the correct target weight is important because underloading or overloading machines changes the mechanical action of the equipment.

“Changing mechanical action then requires one of the other variables of the washroom pie to compensate for this,” he says. “Over-loading a machine will ultimately lead to the soil on the merchandise not being properly removed.

“Under-loading a machine loses potential washer capacity and subsequently the merchandise will receive too much mechanical action, potentially damaging the merchandise. Pro-tip: audit your sling weights often.”

Cocanougher adds, “Work with your manufacturer and wash chemistry suppliers to determine the best way to maximize load sizes and minimize issues. 

“If you find you are running a large number of half loads or have smaller loads, then get an appropriately sized supplemental pony washer.”

NO. 2—STAY ON TOP OF MAINTENANCE

Second on the list is to keep washer-extractors in the best working condition.

“The maintenance and reliability tasks indicated by the manufacturer are key to keeping your machine producing as it was intended to produce,” shares Cocanougher.

He stresses the importance of completing recommended PMs (preventative maintenance), and recommends dealing with any issues discovered with the equipment without delay.

“Without your washer-extractor running as the manufacturer intended, you’re bound to see a negative impact on operations, costs, safety, quality and productivity,” Cocanougher points out.

NO. 3—MAKE EMPLOYEES EXPERTS

While PMs are important, equally important is knowing that a washer-extractor is functioning properly at all times. Only the employees running the machine can know, minute-to-minute, if everything is “right” with a washer-extractor.

“Train your operators to be experts in the knowledge of how the machine should run, look, sound and produce,” says Cocanougher. “Give them ownership of keeping the machine clean and turning loads quickly. They will be your first alarm source when something is going awry. 

“So, the better they are at knowing what to expect, the better you’ll be at the end of the day with all equipment running as expected.”

NO. 4—USE PROPER FORMULAS

Laundry and linen services need to use the correct wash formulas to process goods. This formula is guided by a pie chart giving equal weight to time, temperature, mechanical action and chemical

As Woods mentioned earlier, when one part of the washroom pie is altered, the other three factors need to be adjusted for proper washer-extractor usage.

Operators need to check their formulas to ensure that proper equipment usage, and processing of goods, is achieved.

“Get with your chemical provider and make sure you are using the proper formulas,” says Almanza.

“See if you can adjust or decrease your rinses in between cycles so you can save on water,” Son adds. “UNX has been helped me develop special programs.”

NO. 5—ENSURE MANEUVERABILITY

Finally, while it may not seem as important as loads, maintenance and formulas, it’s important to use washer-extractors in a way that makes it as easy as possible for employees to maneuver the goods.

An injured employee “expert,” or one struggling with sheets and towels and so on, isn’t helping the work get done on time and in a quality manner.

As Son mentioned earlier, washer-extractors loaded too full make it difficult to get the laundry out of the machine when the cycle is complete.

“Use net bags for small items that may get ‘lost,’” she adds. “Add an extra small load program for half loads.

“When pulling out towels, grab the ones from the top first. Gravity will help with loosening them up, making it easier to unload.”

Properly using washer-extractors is all about balance and maintenance. By reviewing loading, PMs, training, formulas and maneuverability, operators can help assure their equipment is being properly used—to the benefit of everyone involved.

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