An article passes through many processes from the time it is received to when it is returned to an often anxious customer. I say anxious because, unlike most other service industries, our customers know exactly what they want. They want exceptional quality and a first-class service for an extremely low price.

After all, everyone at some time or another has done the weekly wash and it’s not that difficult, is it?.

How many times have we heard that one?

Unless we are working in a dedicated linen or garment rental plant, the laundry requirements will probably fall into the following categories:-

• Large flatwork (Sheets, duvet covers, large tablecloths)

• Small flatwork (Pillowcases,

serviettes, small tablecloths)

• Steam/Air finish (Overall coats, boiler suits, uniforms)

• Press (Cotton chefs jackets, trousers, aprons)

Having decided on the method of finish, the next decision involves service, quality and price. It is not which of these three parts of the equation is the most important, but accepting that quality and price are paramount in delivering and determining service.


For maintaining a high-quality finish it is essential that all the laundry machinery is finely tuned and that staff are well trained. All aspects of the process can be monitored and assessed against regular audits.

For example, moisture retention needs to be consistent. Too high, and the work will be produced with damp patches, requiring expensive refeeds, whilst too low a retention gives a poor-quality finish and can lead to discolouration of linen through scorching.

If the rinsing efficiency of the washing process is poor, then alkaline salts contained within the moisture will be deposited on the ironer bed and may lead to leading edges being turned back or in the more serious cases, tearing the linen. The higher the moisture content, the greater is the quantity of deposits carried over.

For machinery clothing, frequency of change type is irrelevant. What does matter is:

(i) that it is suitable for the machine to which it is fitted.

(ii) that it has been correctly fitted and

(iii) that it is being used within the machinery manufacturer’s tolerances.

Clothing should not be so bad as to prevent the fabric sinking into it, but should be sufficiently thick to ensure a perfect fit between roller and bed. Whilst severely underclothed rollers affect performance, overclothing can cause tucks and creases and in severe cases, it can roll the linen into a tight spiral.

Feeders and folders

The benefits of having an ironer capable of producing good quality, crease-free linen at a high rate of production may be lost if the ancillary equipment preceding and following it is in need of fine-tuning.

Automatic sheet feeders can assist in obtaining consistent quality, but not if every fourth or fifth sheet is thrown onto the feedbands with a corner turned over or is folded with edges not symmetrical due to low air-pressure, blocked air-jets or worn-smooth crossfold rollers.

Achieving acceptable quality at a low cost is what every laundry strives to achieve. The cost is influenced by how many items per operator hour can be produced, and often, high-speed production does have its drawbacks.

Three operators feeding an ironer and producing 900 sheets per hour are pushed to see minor stains and worn areas. With automatic folders and stack ‘n’ fold equipment, there may not even be an operator in the vicinity, and when there is, they too are pushed to spot the anomalies. Therefore the customer becomes the final quality checker, and may require a discounted rate to compensate for rejected items.

Simple Changes

Tunnel finishers and synthetic blended fabrics were seen as a major breakthrough in raising productivity levels within the press section. By simple changes to the garment design and fibre content increases in pieces per operator hour in excess of 500% were achievable.

Acceptable quality does however depend upon several factors. Firstly, have the garments been put together correctly? All too often hems and seams are sewn with incorrect tension, or with the wrong thread, this leads to puckering, which of course is blamed upon the launderer.

Secondly, has the wash process been designed to prevent creasing by thermal shock and how often have you seen the results of even the most carefully produced wash programme wasted by garments being left crushed in trucks for hours before final processing?

Once a tunnel finisher is set up, there is very little in the way of maintenance required, and this can be a problem. Little maintenance often leads to no maintenance. To ensure thorough drying not only do lint screens require regular cleaning but also heater batteries require frequent cleaning using an airline.

Key factor

My experience of engineers, particularly in the public sector, is one of ‘if it turns, then its working’. As a result of this attitude, many laundries operate without any fine-tuning ever taking place. Only when a problem is drawn to the manager’s attention is action taken. For this reason, I would advocate an engineering presence as part of any laundry management team.

Staff training is the other key factor. If staff do not know their expectations how can they fulfil them? What is an acceptable standard of folding? Are sheets passable with creasing 50mm from the hems? If so, where is the cut off point 75mm, 100mm etc?

What stains, if any, are acceptable? If operating a pooled linen rental stock, then the answer must be ‘none’. If on the other hand it is the customer’s own linen, then linen with certain stains, near impossible to remove, should be returned, without expensive rewashing and refeeding. This is one aspect of quality monitoring that can save money for the launderer.

One of our customers constantly complained that we were ‘standing’ on his linen and imprinting concrete marks on the tablecloths. It was only when he visited the plant and found that all the floor surfaces are vinyl covered that he accepted that the problem occurred within his own premises, caused by his own staff.


Benchmarking has been a buzzword during recent years and has normally been associated with ‘best value’, ‘lowest cost’ or as a measure of efficiency. I have found that by establishing other benchmarks, rules of thumb or whatever else you wish to call them, it has been possible for staff to identify problem areas and address them without the need of management involvement.

If target figures are set, for ‘pieces per hour’ operators know what is expected of them and if they are going to be praised or chastised. Knowing this, they will make every effort to avoid the latter.

I have found that the best targets have been hourly rates with accumulative totals at key points throughout the day. This has enabled staff to gauge their output against target and where they have fallen behind, it has given them the opportunity to ‘improve’ on their output and hence still attain target.

Rewash levels

Accept that from time-to-time an unacceptable stain will slip through. This is where some form of process validation would work really well. If rewash levels are consistently low and nothing has changed in the wash area then management should have confidence in its production line, unless the customer is telling them something different.

Random sampling of what staff are passing as acceptable is essential. Customers do not always complain verbally, often it is with their feet, they simply change suppliers.

Staff need to focus on examples of what is acceptable and what is not. We live in the real world and to say that nothing other than 100% perfection is acceptable would be untrue.