The arguments surrounding on-premise laundry versus linen hire are well rehearsed. Volume is one issue - large, busy hotels haven't the time to service laundry needs and, in city centre hotels, the space a laundry would take up is better utilised for something that has a revenue-generation element in it. Those who favour on-premise laundry talk about the problems with linen hire of quality control, delivery and annual cost.
Yet while the argument has been black and white in the past - you are either an on-premise laundry user or linen hire user - a hybrid arrangement, where bedsheets and tablecloths go out to linen hire but towels are done through on-premise laundry equipment, is beginning to grow in popularity.
The reason for this, according to Malcolm Martin, product manager for laundry equipment manufacturer Miele Professional, is often where a hotel has a fitness centre, spa or pool. "That creates a high demand for towels throughout the day, and to carry enough stock through linen hire can work out expensive," he says. "With the on-premise laundry, wet towels can be washed, dried and back in the leisure centre in a couple of hours." And, unlike sheets and tablecloths, adds Martin, towels don't need ironing.
One of the arguments against on-premise laundry has been the capital cost, as if that were the only cost involved. As is happening increasingly with kitchen equipment, people who buy laundry equipment are looking beyond capital cost and studying whole-life cost. This includes servicing, labour, detergents, life expectancy and space costs, since each area of a hotel uses part of the structural, financial and administrative budget. When the whole-life cost of on-site laundry is measured against that of linen hire, then the difference in costs can become marginal.
Manufacturers of laundry equipment have recognised that customers are taking account of whole-life costs, and many have seen reduced energy and water costs as the route towards building market advantage.
Washing machines and tumble dryers have traditionally been powered by electricity, but gas models are becoming more widely available, and gas can be a cheaper source of energy. Even the companies that manufacture commercial detergents are recognising energy issues and, while 60íC was the standard wash temperature a few years ago, there are now detergents coming to market that will wash with complete efficiency at 40íC.
As with dishwashers, the cost of the water a machine uses is also being addressed. In addition to machines that use less water, water-recycling systems are becoming available which can save up to 30% on consumption. And heat recycling from tumble dryers is becoming popular, with up to 60% of the heat generated capable of being reused.
While tumble dryers with manual time settings are still popular, it is a very inefficient method of control. Much better to buy a machine with a humidity sensor that will halt the heat cycle the moment dryness occurs. As well as being a waste of energy, continuing to run a tumble dryer after the laundry inside has dried can be a fire hazard, as the appropriately named Smoke House hotel in Mildenhall, Suffolk, found out.
Following a small fire in the tumble dryers, the hotel needed to replace them, but head housekeeper Sadie Sterret was concerned about future fire hazards. Her answer was to buy a dryer with a sensor-activated fire-extinguishing system from the American Dryer Corporation. The system uses two sensors which detect the change in temperature when a blaze starts in the dryer drum. This activates a water vapour mechanism which douses the flames within seconds and starves the drum of oxygen. The drum then rotates, soaking all the washing to ensure the fire is fully extinguished. Sterret says that, after the fire, having a tumble dryer with such a safety control gives her much greater peace of mind.
The huge volume of laundry a hospital has to handle, along with hygiene issues, has meant that many hospitals operate their own laundry system; but on-premise laundry for residential and nursing homes is beginning to gain ground, too.
Stricter EU legislation on thermal disinfection temperatures is now in place, and there are HACCP procedures for staff when handling and washing bedding that is subject to soiling by body fluids in a healthcare environment.
The newest laundry machines have been developed to take account of this and can offer far higher washing, drying and calendering temperatures. High-temperature services are also available from linen hire companies, but for the low-margin residential care market it is a cost too hard to bear.
Look after your laundry
Linen hire should offer accurate wash control, since competition is fierce among laundry companies. On-premise laundry quality levels can be more erratic, often being operated by general assistance staff who may be part-time or have difficulty understanding instruction sheets written in English.
With an on-premise laundry installation it is important that operational procedures are clearly laid down and monitored. To neglect this will result in equipment underperformance, poorly washed fabrics and, worst of all, damage to the laundry equipment.
The biggest cause of washing underperformance is overloading of either the washing machine or the tumble dryer. Overloading the washing machine has a double hit: neither the water nor the detergent can properly circulate and do its job; and the weight of dense, wet fabrics puts a strain on the washtub spin motor and its bearings that it was not designed to take.
The same performance and spin motor stresses apply to tumble dryers. Overloading a tumble dryer does not make the dry cycle cheaper to operate; in most cases it works out more expensive.
Yet manufacturers carry some blame for inefficient operation in the way they describe the optimum capacity of a machine. The common way is in terms of load capacity expressed in kilograms.
Just as oven manufacturers cannot agree on what constitutes light-, medium- and heavy-duty equipment, those who make laundry equipment are flexible in the ways they describe load capacity for a drum.
The second-biggest cause of underefficiency in on-premise laundry equipment is incorrect detergent dosing. The most effective way to introduce detergent is to use an external dosing unit. This will deliver exactly the right amount of detergent and softener for the load. Hand-loading of detergent can lead to underperformance or so much detergent in the fabrics that skin irritation or premature damage to the fabric can occur. Even worse is when a washing machine has been so overloaded with detergent that it foams out of the overflow valve. That will lead to fabric damage as well as being a waste of detergent.
Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems 01932 847731
Apuro 0121-744 0968
Viking Laundry Equipment 020 8205 7285
Gillman Laundry Equipment 01452 528776
Fast Systems 0800 528 3278
Miele Professional 0845 330 3618