Is It Time to Upgrade Your Laundry Operation?

Is it time to upgrade your laundry operation?
Old, inefficient equipment can increase costs in an in-house laundry operation
Clothes go out of style and grocery items come with expiration dates; however, it’s hard to know when a washer-extractor and other on-premise laundry equipment have surpassed their useful life spans. While there are no absolutes to determining when to upgrade laundry equipment, there certainly are signs to look for. In addition, administrators and laundry managers should equip themselves with the tools to make informed decisions about replacement products.

Afflicted and Aged
Age is perhaps the first area to consider in evaluating on-site equipment. At eight years, washer-extractors may be foreshadowing problems ahead. Managers should ponder the machine’s repair history-chronic problems at $300 or $500 a repair don’t take long to add up to a sizable portion of the purchase price of a new washer.

Frequent service calls may be leading up to the most serious of repairs-a bearing replacement. This is a problem that managers will hear coming; the machine will have a noticeably louder sound during operation. A costly repair, bearing replacement may run between $2,000 and $3,000. Managers should carefully weigh whether spending that sum on an machine that has been in service for more than eight years is a prudent expenditure. Most likely it is not.

Look at the Workload
Upgrading washer-extractors or tumblers may not always be determined by the age of the machines or their problems. Sometimes buying new can be just a matter of an expanding workload. Again, this scenario may involve several factors.

Labor is the number one cost in a laundry operation. Any time a laundry room is operating for more than eight hours, a manager should look at ways to reduce hours. Managers who are seeing increases in overtime or who are considering adding a second shift to keep up with demand may first want to investigate how equipment upgrades will affect productivity. New, more efficient equipment might solve the problem.

The Not-So-Hidden Costs
Labor may rank tops in laundry room expenses, but in the past few years, escalating utility costs have been a concern for most administrators. Lately, some laundries are spending thousands of dollars more for natural gas than in previous years. For this reason, it is imperative administrators take a close look at their washer-extractors’ g-force ratings. Even a relatively trouble-free washer-extractor can be costly to an operation if it has low g-force extraction.

With some older washer-extractors operating at extract speeds of just 86 g-force, upgrading to a new machine boasting super-high g-force of 300 could save an average-size operation between $1,200 and $1,500 per dryer, per year in natural gas charges. Such savings are rooted in the super-high extraction speed that removes far more water from linens. As a result, drying time, and ultimately gas use, goes down.

The Next Step
Having assessed the significant benefits an upgrade will add to the laundry room, managers must begin identifying desirable features of their next machine. While g-force extraction tops the list, they’ll also want to look at several elements that directly affect throughput and productivity-the size and number of fill valves, rinse times, programmability, and controls.

Obviously, the size and number of fill valves determines how quickly the machine reaches its wash level. While it may seem like a small component, extra time spent during this function for each cycle can add up to decreased productivity across an eight-hour shift. Likewise, spray rinses are significantly faster than the traditional bath-style rinse. Therefore, managers seeking to save time will benefit from washer-extractors with such a feature.

Programmability enables managers to maximize the machine’s efficiency. With the employee turnover that many laundry operations experience, user-friendly controls are a must. This feature will trim the amount of time managers have to spend training new staff members.

Price Versus Cost
No nursing home laundry operation is flush with cash. But administrators must be careful in their approach to price, avoiding the inclination to select the machine with the lowest sticker price. With utility and water/sewer costs an omnipresent concern, administrators should look past price to the total cost of ownership. This is the full measure of just how much they will pay.

For example, a lower priced washer-extractor may utilize a lower g-force extraction and consume more water. Thus, with added utility costs coming into view, the cheaper machine actually may cost more to own.

It’s important to note that if there’s a big difference in price between washer-extractors, there’s a reason. Either the performance isn’t the same or the machines aren’t equal.

The Intangibles
Having pinned the buying decision down to two comparable products, administrators will want to explore the depth of the product warranty and level of post-sale support their distributor will provide. Questions to ask include:

  • What is the length of the warranty and what does it cover? Make sure major parts such as the bearings, shaft, basket, and frame are covered for five years.
  • How many service technicians does the dealer employ? What is the response time should the machine need repair? Remember, when equipment isn’t working, productivity and throughput bottom out.
  • How many parts does the service organization stock? Some dealers may stock as much as $20,000 to $30,000 in parts on each service truck, while others may be at $2,000 or $4,000. More in-stock parts increase the chances of an immediate repair versus having to wait for a part to be ordered. Again, the difference rests in the length of downtime for a laundry that’s expected to provide residents with clean, fresh linens daily.

The Final Answers
Clearly, upgrading isn’t a simple process. As such, administrators should make their decisions carefully. They must ask how the machine will help the operation cut labor costs and reduce utility fees. Administrators may want to ask their salesperson if they have any long-term care customers and how they have reduced their costs by adding new products. The final test should be the overall approach to the upgrade. Is this a temporary fix or a long-term commitment to improve overall efficiency and throughput?

With the right approach and careful study, laundry managers at long-term care facilities can ensure that their equipment upgrade helps achieve the goals of better productivity and lower operating costs.

Kim Shady, national sales manager for UniMac, has worked in the commercial laundry industry for more than 18 years. Owned by Alliance Laundry Systems, UniMac offers an industrial line of on-premise laundry equipment designed for efficiency and durability. For more information, call (920) 748-3121 or visit To send your comments to the author and editors, please e-mail

Topics: Articles , Operations