Laundry famously takes up a lot of energy and resources, but whether you use in-house solutions or outsource your needs, here's how to streamline the load
It is not just the environmental and energy considerations that dominate current thinking in laundry – there is also new work going on to minimise unnecessary waste in trade linen and workwear. The sheer complexity of the subject is such that the industry recently launched two major surveys, one of which posed the challenging question of whether the industry is currently ‘fit for purpose'.
While there is new thinking going on right across the industry, one debate has returned – once again we have the argument of whether catering trade washing is better done by commercial laundries, or whether the trend has turned again to the OPL, the on-premises laundry.
Diversey, which supplies fabric care, detergents and conditioners, has recently discussed the return of the OPL, and asked why some businesses choose to outsource and others to retain control. A spokesperson said: "It's a dilemma that has never been fully resolved, but the current trend seems to be a preference for the in-house laundry. Many businesses view linen as so important that standards and quality are best served by their own direct ownership, and advances in linens and laundry technology have made it easier and more economical.
"Businesses also find it possible to split the operation and return a proportion of their contracted linen back into the OPL. A hotel's linen is in three groups – flatwork, such as bedsheets and tablecloths, requires pressing; terrycloth, such as towels and bathrobes, is normally washed, dried and folded; and maybe there is workwear. A lot of budget to mid-scale hotels typically use disposable restaurant supplies, and many have also decided not to press bed linen. At least 50% of the linen in typical hotels can be washed without pressing – this makes it viable to wash these items in-house, and this can tip the balance from outsourcing to OPL."
All systems go
For those using OPL, Diversey has created the IntelliLinen system, which connects to a dosing unit, monitors performance and usage and signals automated alerts if any unexpected machine activity occurs.
Data goes online to Diversey's Internet of Clean platform and is reported on a spreadsheet that shows current usage and potential savings. Typical users are both managers of multiple laundry machines on a single site, and single machines on multiple sites.
"IntelliLinen spots operational inefficiencies," says Donna Mitchell, marketing manager for hospitality. "It spots where water and energy consumption can be reduced, where chemical dosage can be more consistent, and where bottlenecks or under-usage of machines can be avoided."
At Electrolux, development manager Mick Christian sees much the same: "We've observed a strong trend of hospitality sites investing in OPLs. Advances in machine technology have resulted in compact, low-noise and high-efficiency washers and dryers that give managers a broader range of options.
"The projects we are working on are driven by both cost and quality. The utility crisis is causing the cost of outsourcing to go up, and in the aftermath of the pandemic, stakeholders are now even more hygienically-minded – it would be fair to say that the renewed focus on hygiene brought about by Covid-19 has firmly remained.
"For the hospitality sector, on-premises laundry equipment must be able to achieve a high-grade wash, from both a thermal disinfection and cleanliness perspective, while remaining economical and easy to use.
The arguments for taking control of the laundry process have certainly become more compelling for those who were not previously of that mindset."
Take me out
The counter-argument from the outsourcing side is blunt and to the point – rented and laundered textiles are washed better. "Letting us deal with your tablecloths means that you get a higher-quality product than you would if your business took the task on," is a typical response from Johnsons Stalbridge.
The argument is that impeccable cleanliness is a big part of a customer's first impression – when guests walk into a hotel bedroom for the first time, their eyes go straight to the bed and they note if the sheets are crisp and white; their second glance is at the towels.
The follow-up argument is to let the experts do what they do best – let the hospitality operator concentrate on cuisine and ambience, which Johnsons says is "a specialty which requires commitment and a singular focus", and let the fabric experts manage the sourcing and cleaning of your linen.
"Washing at higher temperatures, with machines which have been specifically set-up and configured to handle large cloths, ensures that products are clean and neatly pressed and ready to lay out in a restaurant," argues marketing director Tim Mayes. "First impressions are an important part of the overall hospitality experience, and our quality processes and attention to detail mean that the experience is always first-class."
According to Procter & Gamble, 78% of hotel guests say cleanliness is the most important factor in their choice of where to stay, and less-than-perfect bedsheets are the most likely cause of a guest walking out. To check, says P&G, turn your own staff into mystery guest visitors, where they stay for one night a month in an average room and then submit a report for management.
There is far more to linen management than cleanliness, according to Elis. The industry is plagued by wastage, and it is the expertise of the rental sector which is best positioned to handle the trade's ambitions to recycle used textiles, says marketing manager Paul Swift.
"We are expanding a circular economy approach to ensure items are used for longer and to prevent end-of-life textiles from being thrown away," he says. "Businesses that do their laundry in-house could benefit from a look at their costs, from staff time and to even the cost of space allocated to laundry, and compare to the cost and benefits of a rental service.
"Elis rents workwear and linens, collects used items, and undertakes laundry and any necessary maintenance before returning them. A professional textile laundry can deliver lower costs per kilo of textile laundered, compared to on-site laundries, because of the economies of bulk buying and the ability to always wash full loads. The benefits include higher standards of hygiene and finishing because items go through state-of-the-art laundry processes."
Workwear supplied by Elis is barcoded or will contain tiny radio frequency identification tags, meaning the hospitality client can monitor usage rates and how many times items have been worn and laundered, giving a deep insight into both costs and hygiene standards.
In a typical case, says Elis, the company provides the ETM bar and restaurant group with more than 12,500 laundered workwear and linen items a week across 14 venues. The group's requirements will fluctuate, so Elis meets with the client regularly to assess the usage of items, how many items have been repaired and re-washed, and even how often they have had to swap sizes upon staff changes. ETM notes that its sites have very little storage space, so the ability to rotate linen stock without stockholding was an advantage.
At all costs
Taking a look across the entire breadth of linen and textile use can produce some surprising discoveries as to where costs are incurred.
Catering supplier Nisbets recently observed that "aprons are the most abused of all kitchen workwear," and remarked that many laundry problems and costs could be avoided if aprons were more thoughtfully selected and better treated. The same goes for other every-day items, noted the company. Although laundries may be using better cleaning techniques and management strategies, careless use by hospitality staff simply causes more cleaning problems and shortens the lifespan of products.
Typically, it has been said that a chef or kitchen worker will always use the nearest thing to hand to wipe a worktop; this, say laundry experts, is just one illustration of how endless laundry problems, product wastage and unnecessary expense are simply caused by misuse.
It is that matter of wastage that has been energising the current thinking of the Textile Services Association, which has been admirably questioning in its attitude to the overall problem, even daring to ask in its new series of industry round tables how much the current laundry industry model is ‘fit for purpose'. Among its new ideas, it has developed a scheme to avoid unnecessary catering textiles going to waste. This is the Infinite Textile scheme, which proposes that commercial laundries partner with their customers in the hospitality trade more closely to recycle end-of-life linen and towels, to save energy, tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon and billions of litres of water.
The idea is that laundries and customers will work together to maximise the life of linen, and when a product does reach the end of its useful life, it will move into a recycling phase. It is inspected and sent to the Infinite Textiles hub in Sunderland, which sends bales of material to approved recyclers for turning back into yarn and thence back to manufacturers.
This, says the TSA's chief executive David Stevens, will be "the largest laundry industry textile recycling project in the world."
Johnsons Stalbridge: www.johnsons-stalbridge.com
Textile Services Association: https://tsa-uk.org
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In