Money down the drain?

The pleasant smell of clean clothes, of clean sheets, of clean towels…. Processing laundry might be a back-of-the-house service but it is essential in the operation of an efficient, reputable facility-especially in long-term care. Its operation, however, is a drain on an organization’s resources. Or is it? Industry experts agree that there are remedies and offer suggestions for cost-containment in the laundry room.

Laundry personnel

Most long-term care managers don’t look at managing their laundry expenses. They feel that their formulas are working and they’re happy. Kim Shady, national sales manager at Alliance Laundry Services, asks, “Do you know how your workers are performing?” Employees often are unsupervised because the manager is focused on other job responsibilities beyond the laundry-if two people show up every day and the job is getting done in the allotted time, everything’s okay. Shady disagrees, “What the manager doesn’t know is that their employees might be working for eight hours, but there may only be six hours of work stretched to eight.” Take an in-depth look at how many pounds of laundry are processed per full-time employee to determine how much work one employee produces. “The rule of thumb,” he says, “is that an employee can process around 75 lbs of linen every hour, which is typical in this industry. This information is essential in determining if your labor costs are in line.” If your facility only processes 45 lbs/hour, determine what’s wrong-it might not just be labor. Other variables might have an impact: Is the laundry room layout wrong? Is the equipment in bad repair, sized incorrectly, or is there just not enough of it?

The average nursing home laundry has perhaps three 60-lb or three 80-lb capacity washers. Larger facilities might have two or three shifts in operation and the manager is only in-house during the day. Some models record when the cycle starts, when it stops, and the downtime between loads. “Consequently,” Shady says, “you might discover that there are 20-minute gaps between wash loads because someone is trying to make the day last longer.” Larger facilities might have two or three shifts in operation and the second and third shifts are unsupervised so having this data becomes even more crucial because downtime adds to labor costs.

Care about your equipment

One of the most important laundry management protocols is to follow the machine’s maintenance schedule. Older machines should be scheduled for maintenance, including a greasing, every 200 cycles because of the high spin speeds, recommends Shady. Newer machines send maintenance alerts based on usage much like the “check oil” light in an automobile. The “warning” features are also beneficial because the high turnover in this department results in procedures that are missed, reinvented, or simply lost.

The utilities factor

Discuss operations efficiency with your chemicals representative who supplies the detergents. Steve Hietpas, national sales manager-Commercial Laundry at Maytag, advises to “work closely with your local chemical distributor. By working together, facilities can determine the appropriate amount of detergent to clean the laundry and meet resident expectations.” He adds that incorporating a chemical injection system into the machine will help dispense the required amount of detergent at the right time. This takes the guesswork out of the process for staff and ensures clean laundry. “The chemicals rep might want to run a seven-step process and later another rep might want to increase it to an eight-step process. Well, the eight-step process might take an extra seven minutes and require an extra fill of water,” explains Shady. Breaking this down into costs, the longer process would increase water usage by 15% and it would probably add an hour of labor each day. Ask your chemical supplier for the shortest cycle time to conserve water. To stay in compliance with state regulations for laundry operation, Terry Satchwell, vice president of Strategic Accounts at Pellerin Milnor Corporation, advises that the laundry manager periodically reviews each wash formula with his or her chemicals representative. “This ensures that the formula is optimized in terms of time, chemical dosage, and process temperature,” he says.

Kim Shady

Steve Hietpas

Terry Satchwell

Another way to conserve and reduce hot water usage is by using ozone washers. Their shorter cycles save water and reduce gas consumption on the hot water heater without sacrificing quality cleaning.

What about drying?

The savings potential of tumblers is relative to how fast the washer spins in the final extract, which determines how much water gets pushed out of the linen before it goes into the dryer. To be efficient, Satchwell advises that the dryers are sized to handle a complete load. “Splitting loads negatively impacts efficiency,” he says. The smaller the washer and the higher the speed of the spin, the more g-force is created and the more water is removed, explains Shady. A 400 g-force washer requires a shorter drying time than an 86 g-force machine. “Of course, you can save money on an 86 g-force washer at the front end, but you’ll pay much more over its lifetime because of its inefficiency-and it’s all in natural gas costs,” Shady says.

He cites this example: If the operator has 86 g-force in a 60-lb washer and puts the load into a 75-lb capacity dryer, it will probably take about 43 minutes to dry a load of towels. However, if the washer has 400 g-force, the drying time can be cut down by about 10 minutes. Multiplying that by 10 to 12 loads a day can cut out almost two hours of labor and the dryer runs less for additional energy savings. Hietpas and Satchwell agree that this is one of the most beneficial ways to improve efficiency throughout the laundry operation. “Many times slow equipment is what costs time and it’s not just a labor problem,” Hietpas adds.

The purchasing decision

The life of a well-maintained washer is about 10 years. Of course, if the laundry runs double shifts or even 24/7 operations that life is dramatically shortened. When the equipment starts incurring significant service costs (labor, parts) that climb upwards to around $2,500 per year, Shady recommends that you look into possible equipment upgrades. “Not only do the service fees mount up,” he says, “but you need to factor in the cost of downtime which, when the washer is back in operation, necessitates staff overtime.”

In addition, Satchwell recommends a professional approach to laundry design that ensures both capacity and flexibility to the laundry manager. “In other words, washers, dryers, and the ironer should be sized to meet the needs of today’s fabrics and other changes in processing that frequently occur.” He recommends purchasing a small 30- to 40-lb capacity washer to take care of smaller, or short, loads. The main washers should be sized so that at 100% census, the laundry tasks are accomplished without overtime.

Take an in-depth look at how many pounds of laundry are processed per full-time employee to determine how much work one employee produces.

“If you currently have a low g-force washer that is more than eight years old, you need to analyze the situation and calculate your savings if you upgrade to a 300 or 400 g-force washer,” advises Shady. Check out all the available models and manufacturers. If after your equipment analysis is done you find that new equipment can be financed for $300 a month, and your gas/water/labor savings is $400, it should be an easy decision.

With the consistent increase in utility costs, bringing efficiency into your facility is a sure way to begin generating savings while providing your residents with the freshest laundry and conscientious service they expect from your organization.

Long-Term Living 2010 December;59(12):26-27

Topics: Articles , Operations , Staffing