Small laundries using washer-extractors face a few problems as we come out of lockdown; recovering washing volumes and addressing new customer demands.
Hospitality businesses may well take time before they reach historic levels of activity, with both hotels and restaurants trying to attain positive cash flow as they reassure customers that their linen has been effectively decontaminated.
The laundry has to provide this assurance whilst still minimising operating costs and satisfying environmental concerns.
This month we look at how to do this systematically, so as to meet all of these demands.
Thermal disinfection alone is probably not very effective with any of the current strains of COVID-19, so there is no point in basing disinfection and decontamination assurances on maintaining the hot wash at 71C for a minimum of 3 minutes. To revert to this would be expensive and increase the laundry’s carbon footprint to little purpose. It would also require longer process times, especially if the washers are heated electrically.
Sodium hypochlorite is a realistic alternative disinfectant because it is effective against COVID-19 but it reduces the life of cotton in the laundered textiles. There is no need to resort to either of these measures because all leading detergent suppliers now have systems that permit low-temperature disinfection at temperatures down to 40C and often below. They use a variety of reagents ranging from good emulsifying detergent systems at 60C, through systems that employ ozone injection to specialist reagents that ensure destruction of viable micro-organisms and the fatty envelope around the COVID-19 particle, down to a temperature of 40C and below.
If your customers want documentary evidence that their linen is free of harmful micro-organisms and viruses, your chemicals supplier should be able to provide this in the form of independent certification that the wash process they specify does in fact meet the requirement. This should be available at little or no cost to the laundry and it should satisfy many of your customers.
Critical customers may want further evidence that not only does the specified process do the job but also that this has been correctly executed by the laundry. This is a much bigger demand, that might require the laundry to implement some form of HACCP (Hazard Analysis using Critical Control Points). This is not as difficult or complicated as it sounds, especially for a small operation and there is plenty of support available if needed. Choosing this route will normally place a laundry at a distinct competitive advantage in the upper end of the marketplace. It is fast becoming a ‘must-have’ for healthcare and food sector textiles and is expected by many to become a requirement for hospitality also.
Most laundries are heavy consumers of energy and most forms of laundry energy have a large carbon footprint. Heat energy for washing and drying using direct gas firing into a calorifier, ironer or tumble dryer generally gives a lower footprint than using a central boiler to distribute high-pressure steam. Most energy-efficient laundries now rely on low-temperature washing to eliminate the regular dumping of hot effluent to drain (and avoid lengthy warm-up times whilst the main wash comes up to temperature). Convincing the customer that this is sufficient to destroy bacteria and COVID-19 may require a simple letter or certificate from your detergent supplier, but it is probably the best way to minimise the carbon footprint of the wash process itself.
One machine stands out from the crowd as regards its carbon footprint and that is the Xeros-enabled washing machine, which is built to run at low temperature, and which minimises its low heat requirement even further by using XOrbsTM to displace its water demand. Its energy performance has been independently shown to call for only half the water and energy requirement of the average of its competitors and it holds an Environmental Preferable Product (EPP) Certificate to demonstrate this.
The next step depends on the launderer. It is essential to control washing machine load weights to the manufacturer’s recommended limits. Overloading results in poor soil and stain removal, under-loading wastes time and energy.
The final extract (spin dry) should be set to the highest rotational speed possible without creating irremovable creasing and run for long enough (so that increasing the extract time by half a minute does not remove any more moisture). This is important for flatwork to be ironed and absolutely essential for towelling to be fully dried. Where there is a choice between dryers that are heated by steam, electricity or direct gas firing, the latter should always be selected for work to be fully dried, because it gives the lowest carbon footprint by a good margin.
The use of tumble dryers to ‘condition’ wet textiles for more rapid ironing should be discontinued wherever possible. The tumble dryer has a thermal efficiency of around 50%, whereas the ironer can usually achieve over 90%. Make up for the extra work the ironer has to do by feeding edge to edge and covering the entire heated surface. Many ironers can be seen operating with only half the heated area covered, resulting in wasted heat warming the workroom.
Whilst the laundry’s hospitality customers are coming back up to full volumes, with high occupancy levels and good table bookings, the laundry may have to show a profit at lower volumes. The best way of doing this will vary from site to site. It may be necessary to work for fewer hours with a full staff or to work normal hours but with reduced staff and fewer machines. The tips already given should enable the maximum output per machine hour, which is fundamental to optimising pieces per operator hour. Both of these parameters should be monitored by management as an immediate gauge on day-to-day profitability.
Minimising the carbon footprint in the ways suggested will have an immediate and significant impact on profitability because the energy for heating and motive power is expensive and can usually be reduced quite readily.
If wash and rinse water levels are tuned down to the minimum levels, then fill times and water cost will both be reduced. Of course, this is not necessary with machines using Xeros technolgies, because the water is metered in and is effectively halved anyway. This has the useful benefit of halving the number of chemicals needed to make the necessary concentrations in the wash liquor, which makes a useful contribution to operating cost reduction and substantially reduced chemical discharge to the environment.
Reducing the wash temperature down to around 40C has the useful benefit of reducing the discharge temperature to drain, which reduces thermal and chemical damage to the sewage collection system.
For some, the urgent current priority is to open up again to full production and minimum operating cost, but it can be seen that minimisation of cost, productivity and carbon footprint go hand in hand with environmental care. ]
By following the advice given here, it should be possible for the Laundry Manager to make a rapid and useful contribution to lowering costs and impressing the customer, without impacting on wash quality or customer service. Good luck!
By Steve Anderton, Director at LTC Worldwide.