Laundering towels, sheets and tablecloths never altered in basic science for a long time. It involved soap and hot water, but now the science has moved on with the development of a laundry system that doesn't need hot water and only a minimal amount of detergent. It has a number of brand names, but generically it's called the ozone system.
Put simply, ozone is oxygen in a slightly different form than the breath of life. It's a highly effective cleansing agent, able to destroy many forms of harmful bacteria which can collect on soiled laundry, in addition to the core function of swishing away dirt. The dosing unit works by ozone gas bubbling into the wash water with a small amount of conventional detergent which helps to carry the dirt away.
While laundry companies offering both ozone systems and laundry machines will encourage a hotel to get both from the same source, most laundry washing machines can be adapted to the ozone dosing system. Detergents capable of cold-water washing are not new, but conventionally, hot water has brought about the disinfection process which is desirable for many hotels, not least city-centre and airport hotels with international one-night guests who may bring in more than their suitcases through a succession of hotel stopovers where housekeeping standards are less than five-star.
While heat combined with detergents kills bugs in the on-premise laundry, heating water carries with it a spiralling energy cost. That is one of the big selling points about ozone-based washing systems and why they are capturing a steadily growing market share.
On-premise laundry supplier JLA was one of the first into the ozone system in the UK with Otex. Marketing director Dick Cardis says while using ozone in something as simple as washing clothes sounds like high science, it's simple to use and highly effective in combating bacteria. Cardis says ozone is 30,000 times more effective than chlorine bleach, and while bleaches can leave a harsh smell to laundry, ozone in the detergent leaves a fresh smell. He also dismisses any environmental or health and safety concerns with ozone-based detergents: "This isn't bleach, it's a natural substance," he says. "You can wash your hands in it."
The cost savings which can be made by switching to cold-water washing and ozone-based detergent systems is highlighted by another entrant into this laundry detergent market, JHC, which two months ago launched O-Clean. According to JHC, it will deliver up to 80% saving on electricity, 60% on hot water and 45% on detergent cost. There could also be indirect savings of 35% on gas, 35% on labour and 30% on linen cost.
While the biggest cost-saving element in cold-water washing is in not needing to heat the wash water, there's also a slight saving to be made in the drying process. Ozone detergents open up the fibres of fabrics washed in it, which allows the heat from tumble dryers to penetrate faster, so reducing overall drying time. This loosening of fibres will give towels and bath robes a soft feel, and also contributes to the working life of towels.
With full-strength detergents the residues can form sharp crystals, which over time will cut into fabric, causing linting.
But while cold-water washing and ozone-based detergents are great for lightly soiled fabrics, they can be less effective in dealing with grease-based stains. Hot water combined with detergent is needed to emulsify grease, so in a fully on-premise laundry there will still be a need for a conventional hot wash.
And laundry equipment manufacturers are by no means unanimous that ozone systems are the great hope for the future. As a manufacturer and supplier of laundry equipment which is able to take all available detergent systems, Miele Professional believes ozone-based detergent systems are an option for operational cost efficiency, but not a solution for everyone looking for energy efficiencies.
Malcolm Martin, product manager for Miele, warns that ozone systems are often offered on lengthy contracts which lock a hotel into a system which may not work as well as the salesman promised. He adds that on-premise laundry equipment is old and designed at a time when water and energy costs weren't the issues they are today. Older washing machines have limited washing temperatures which don't take advantage of low-temperature detergents, don't have quick-wash cycles for lightly soiled linen and can have high water consumption.
An alternative route to cost savings for laundry is to run a split system, using both on-premise laundry and linen hire. While there can be financial advantages in going down the on-premise laundry route, one disadvantage is in the finish of flatware such as tablecloths and bed linen. The finish most on-premise ironers deliver is not to the standard many housekeepers and restaurant managers demand, whereas equipment in commercial laundries is capable of producing a mirror finish to sheets and tablecloths. In a split system, items which need a high-quality finish can be sent to a commercial laundry, but those that need little or no ironing - such as towels and bath robes - can be washed in house.
Coombe Abbey Park hotel near Coventry operates this system, which delivers measurable cost benefits, according to Joanne Evans, front-of-house manager with responsibility for housekeeping. "When we opened in 1995 I was asked what system to install, linen hire or an on-premise laundry," she says. "My choice was for a split system. There are cost benefits of on-premise laundry for towels, but a hotel like Coombe Abbey needs a professional finish for bedsheets and table linen. A split laundry system also has a back-up function for bedsheets and table linen if there's a glitch in delivery, or if the hotel takes a sudden late function booking or a last-minute block room booking through an airport flight delay."
- Apuro: 0121 744 0968
- Fast systems: 01491 419214
- JHC: 01422 832600
- JLA: 01422 820008
- JohnsonDiversey: 0800 525525
- Miele Professional: 0845 330 3618
- P&G Professional: 0800 716 854