Textile stock is an expensive and valuable commodity. Its cost effectiveness relates directly to the length of time it can remain in service before it needs replacement and this life-cycle has a significant effect on the purchaser’s profitability.

However, the life of a textile does not depend solely on how carefully it is washed but also on the quality of the textile purchased and the way in which it is handled and used both in the laundry and by the customer.

The best way to maximise textile life is to have a complete textile management system.

Unless textile stock is managed correctly at all stages, the costs can soar out of all proportion turning a potentially profitable organisation into one that suffers financial losses.

Some laundries feel that implementing a comprehensive textile management system is not worth the time and effort involved. However, failing to manage stock correctly can have a much higher cost in the long term.

If fabric life falls below expectations then this can reduce profits and increase the number of customer complaints and in the worst cases result in the laundry going out of business.

A textile management system starts at the point of purchase. The specification needs to take account not only of the class of textile but also of the way the laundry will process it and the end-use environment.

For example, an hotelier may want to have a 400 thread count 100% cotton sheet for his rooms but if the laundry process involves linen going through a tunnel washer with a high-pressure membrane press, then the risk of damage could be high.

There is a wide range of important criteria relating to the specification of textiles and it is essential that these criteria are included in the specification to the supplier or manufacturer.

In general, most of the main reputable textile suppliers now work to the key performance specifications outlined in DD ENV 14237:2002 Textiles for the Healthcare Sector. These requirements are equally applicable to hospitality textiles and I recommend all textile buyers to obtain a copy and use it as a benchmark when specifying the type and quality of their textiles.

The next step in a properly managed system is to ensure that the textiles that are delivered meet the specification.

Most of the main distributors will have a customer service policy that includes testing several samples from each consignment or batch to ensure that they “do what it says on the box”.

However, it’s always worth checking with the supplier that this is the case. If the supplier does not carry out such checks, then the laundry should do so. Failure to check consignments can lead to dire consequences six or nine months later when latent defects, such as excessive shrinkage, become apparent and fitted sheets or duvet covers have to be replaced prematurely because they no longer fit the bed.

There are several important checks that can be carried out quickly and easily without resorting to expensive and sophisticated laboratory testing.

Are the finished dimensions correct or within tolerance levels?

Are the seams, hems and stitch lines straight and do they follow the warp and weft of the fabric?

Is the material the right colour/shade?

Failure to check the consignment before placing it into circulation can cause a lot of additional work and increase costs significantly when a fault is discovered. This could be long as nine months after the textiles have gone into service.

If at all possible each and every piece should be coded or identified in some way before it is placed into service.

This identification can be a simple code or alpha numeric system that can either be incorporated into the manufacturer’s label or applied by the laundry, using heat-seal tags. The laundry could even use a hand-written number that identifies the day, month and year when the piece went into circulation.

A managed system will support this identification by keeping records, indicating the supplier and the date the items went into service. Then if a problem arises it is easy to identify which items are likely to be affected and withdraw them if necessary.

When a new consignment is delivered the laundry should also take out two or three unwashed samples, label and pack them and store them for nine months. Then, if there is a latent problem with that consignment, the original samples can be analysed in depth to determine the cause.

If no problems have occurred nine months after delivery then the samples can be unpacked and put into the circulating stock.

Train operators well

Operator training is an essential part of any total management system.

Operator carelessness and poor handling are probably the two main reasons why textiles fail to reach their target life.

Many textiles are condemned or removed because they have been torn during transit or dropped onto a wet, muddy floor.

Staff should be trained so that they always pick up any dropped textile immediately.

It is highly unlikely that any member of staff would walk past or tread on a £5.00 or £10.00 note – and even less likely that they would drop it into a puddle of muddy water.

But each textile dropped on the floor is probably worth more than £10, taking into account both the purchase costs and the income that would be lost if it is condemned early.

Transport staff should be taught that trolleys must never be overloaded. An overloaded trolley is not only a health and safety risk, it can lead to items falling off and getting caught under the wheels or trapped between trollies.

If the trolley is damaged or broken in a way that causes textiles to fall out whilst in transit or become snagged on a sharp edge or corner, the trolley should be immediately taken out of service until it has been repaired.

Staff should be provided with the appropriate equipment – which is well maintained and kept clean.

Most importantly they should handle textiles in a way that avoids them getting dropped or trodden on.

These simple precautions will dramatically reduce re-wash levels and help to ensure that the company achieves its target textile life expectancy.

Over the last 4 – 5 years the Laundry Technology Centre has repeatedly confirmed that the damage caused during washing and finishing is minimal. Based on test piece assessment, textiles should last well over 200 cycles.

However, in practice LTC has found that the typical life of a sheet is often fewer than 120 cycles.

This reduction is the result of a sheet being condemned because of irremovable marks or stains, holes or tears or theft or linen loss.

As the result of implementing a textile management system, some of the better laundries are now consistently achieving up to 200 cycles – with the very best getting up to 400 cycles.