The often-recommended way of raising a hotel laundry’s productivity at minimum cost is to set realistic targets and achieve these consistently. This can be a daunting task for a busy manager so this month we look at how this can be tackled without needing much laundry expertise.
We start with some simple objectives (which alone should impress in the morning management meeting) and detail how to measure and achieve these. It is assumed that in the current climate there is no money available for even the simplest improvements and we offer some simple management ‘rules of thumb’ instead.
What are we trying to achieve?
The following objectives are probably on the wish list of every laundry manager:
- Minimising damage to linen in the laundry and in bed-making, to reduce linen purchases.
- Producing textiles which are consistently stain-free.
- Delivering guest towels with a Wow! factor for softness and thickness.
- Identifying how to maximise laundry output in the time available.
- Reducing the laundry’s carbon footprint.
- Minimising the laundry operating costs for labour and utilities.
At first glance this looks like a tall order, so let’s consider how to make a start.
1. Reducing linen damage in the laundry
Assuming staff have been trained to handle linen with care and respect, the main source of linen damage is in the wash process itself. The main culprit is the oxidising agent in the de-stainer, especially if this is being dosed at a higher rate than strictly necessary. The key here is to maintain the pre-wash temperature just below 40C and check that the stage runs for at least 4 minutes, so that protein stains from blood, skin sebum and other human body fluids are properly softened. Then these stains all come out in the main wash, with no need for excessive oxidation. The dosage of de-stainer can then be reduced down to the minimum necessary to de-colour any vegetable dye marking (from coffee and red wine spills, for example).
Some hotels have managed to halve their linen purchases through this simple step alone. A few machines are actually designed to run with a correct pre-wash and a low temperature main wash so this is achieved automatically. The low wash temperature itself will limit linen damage.
2. Achieving stain-free laundry
Applying the thinking in the previous paragraph is also the first step to achieving virtually stain-free textiles. Once the pre-wash temperature and time are correct, the de-stainer dosage can be reduced in steps until the small amount necessary for removing vegetable dyes is determined. This will deal with things like blood and blackcurrant stains, leaving only the oily products used in some cosmetics and spa treatments. De-stainer is unlikely to work on these (and overdosing the de-stainer will rot the cotton); re-washing several times is equally ineffective and very wasteful. The essential oils in spa products are the most difficult to remove, because these leave spa odours (which eventually turn rancid and rot a cotton towel), so you know very quickly when you have got a problem. Residual fatty/oily staining can be solved by adding a tiny dose of the right emulsifier, which your detergent supplier should be able to help with.
To find out more about which chemistry is best for treating each stain, read our How to Optimise Your Laundry Chemistry for Great Results blog.
3. Delivering soft, fluffy towels
Towel softness has nothing to do with washing conditions and not that much to do with textile design. The secret lies in the tumble drying.
At the start of the drying cycle it is important not to use a very high temperature for the drying airstream. The towels need to be tumbled cold or at medium temperature for a few minutes, until the terry loops have opened out and can float freely in the airflow. This prevents the towel drying to a thin, hard material, with no bulk or softness. Then the air temperature can safely be raised. At the end of the drying cycle and cool-down, it is important to end up with around 2 – 3% moisture in the fabric (based on bone dry weight). This will leave a towel with the maximum thickness and softness. If the tumbling is continued to bone dry and beyond, the cotton becomes crisp and harsh and guest dissatisfaction will mount. The difference between a typical drying cycle and the correct one is sufficiently obvious as to surprise and delight the user.
4. How to maximise laundry output in the minimum time
Weighing the washer loads, reducing the water to the minimum and washing properly at 40C should maximise washhouse throughput, by minimising fill times and warm-up times and never wasting machine capacity. Using the correct chemistry to remove virtually every stain and ensure disinfection will almost eliminate rewash, delivering maximum productivity in the minimum time.
Correct hydro-extraction at the end of the final rinse is essential to enable fast ironer speeds and minimum tumble-drying time. These will also cut energy consumption significantly, because it takes five times more energy to dry using the ironer and fifteen times more to tumble dry! Improving productivity through finishing depends mainly on hydro-extraction after washing, not fancy new dryers and ironers.
5. Reducing the laundry’s carbon footprint
Eliminating rewash by removing stains first time, using the full machine capacity, getting the water levels right and using low temperature washing correctly are the keys to a low carbon footprint in the washhouse. Each individual improvement might be small, but together they make a big difference. Even this is dwarfed by the benefit of getting hydro-extraction right. Spinning at the optimum speed for long enough is the key to really worthwhile improvements in cost reduction and high output. The answer to the question “How long is long enough?” can be determined by simple experiment. The answer lies in spinning for longer in half minute steps, until an increase makes no further reduction in the weight of the wet load.
Implementing the recommendation to produce soft, fluffy towels will usually save up to 10% in drying energy and drying time. This can be increased even further by using automatic cycle terminators on the dryers, but this does require some modest investment. The financial savings are greater in those laundries which rely on direct gas firing rather than steam, but the greatest savings arise in those which use expensive electric heating.
6. Minimising the laundry operating costs for labour and utilities
Getting productivity, quality and energy consumption optimised using the tips given here has one massive side benefit. The overall laundry operating cost is automatically improved and because hourly productivity is also raised, the labour input is reduced.
These are much better ways of cutting costs than paring the detergent dosage, buying cheaper detergents or overloading the washers. The only increase in costs might be from identifying the need for a better detergent, de-stainer and emulsifier, but these are usually minor when compared with the savings to be had.
Most of the recommendations made this month are based on common sense and do not require much laundry technology. This does not mean that they can all be achieved overnight.
The first step is to find out what the current laundry productivity is in pieces/hour and pieces/operator hour, which will need a bit of counting and timing. Then you will need the starting points for the water and energy costs. This might be more difficult and if these are not separately metered, you may have to rely on estimated percentage improvements based on the reduction in number of washer loads, reduction in ironing time and reduction in dryer times.
Priorities are fairly obvious from the expected benefits from each of the recommendations made, but it is important not to get bogged down on any your find difficult because of local conditions. It is equally important to tell your colleagues that gaining all of the benefits available from this exercise could easily take three months or more. You are looking at gaining long term improvements that will yield benefits year after year.
So, go for the ‘low hanging fruit’ first and tackle those things you can achieve fairly easily straight away, if the big prizes appear too difficult initially A few early wins will gain you confidence and co-operation from others. Good hunting!