There are wide variations in the textile life of different rental stocks and it is one of the main reasons for the equally wide range in the profitability of rental operators. There is a natural variation between different classifications, because few would expect the same number of wash and use cycles for table napkins as for one-night hotel sheets. However, there is an equally wide range of textile life between rental operators for the same classifications, which points to something other than the typical severity of use as the reason. We look at the factors which the agile manager should be taking into account and how these can best be managed in a busy processing plant. Getting this right not only reduces textile injection costs, but it also improves sustainability and the ability of the population to survive with less consumption of increasingly scarce resources.

How to calculate average textile life

In addition to stock takes there are other methods to calculate the number of wash and use cycles being achieved. For each classification, total the number of rentals over a given period and divide this by the number of new items that needed to be injected during the same period to maintain the service. For example, suppose that in a 12-month period there were 6,495,183 issues of double duvets and you had to inject 65,600 new ones. The textile life for this classification is then:

6,495,183 ÷ 65,600 = 99 wash and uses cycles on average

Purchase of textiles

A rental business will usually make a long-term decision on the textile composition of rental items, based on many factors including texture, brand standards, customer demands, handle and performance on the bed, in the restaurant or on the wearer for the market sector at which they are aimed. In many cases 70:30 cotton-rich has emerged as a very popular compromise between the breathability and surface handle of 100% cotton versus the longevity of 50:50 polycotton or 100% polyester. Laundry staff will quickly learn to recognise handling difference between different blends and only the occasional check should be necessary.

It is not reasonable or necessary to carry out detailed laboratory testing on every delivery, but two steps are recommended. The first is to weigh a sample of each classification in a delivery (to make sure it has enough fibre in it) and the second is to keep a sample of each. Put these into a large envelope and mark this with date and delivery details. If no problems emerge with the batch after say six months, then put the samples back into circulating stock. If you have problems with excessive linting, pilling, early tearing, going into holes or change of colour, you have immediately available the new sample for laboratory testing to support your claim against the supplier. The testing should pinpoint any textile fault. Legitimate claims of this type are relatively easy for the supplier to handle and calculate the refund due.

If you have a large delivery of, say, pillowcases, it is worth tearing one and rating the tear resistance. Look at the line of the tear relative to the stitch lines – a well-made item will tear parallel to the edges, indicating well-woven fabric and correct make-up. A double duvet with a distinct curve in the tear line in the width direction will be difficult to iron successfully without excessive creasing.

Laundry processing

Incorrect stain and soil removal is the major cause of short textile life in the laundry process itself. If the wash process is based on all types of stain being taken out by, for example, sodium hypochlorite bleach, then it may be difficult to deliver stain-free textiles without progressive chemical damage in every wash.

Modern detergent systems offer much better alternatives and when these are coupled with correct control of the wash temperatures (to prevent the setting and promote the softening of protein stains before the main wash), the improvement in textile life can be dramatic. If rejects are handled correctly, then rewash costs can be reduced significantly and difficult stains from iron oxide (in old blood marking for example) or aluminium (from kitchen containers) can be handled confidently. (See Material Solutions, LCN Feb 2021 issue).

Progressive discoloration can be a major factor in early rejection of white textiles, even though they may still be strong and usable. Greying of this type can be caused by a number of factors including the incorrect detergency (suspending power) or dosage, by excessive iron in the raw water, by inadequate water softening or (in the case of terry towels) by incorrect tumble drying. All of these can be solved by the laundry so that grey, dingy twoyear old towels can be a problem of the past.

Floor marks (and boot marks) from items carelessly allowed to touch the floor (or, even worse, from sorting on the floor) are often not readily removed from white textiles and are an entirely avoidable source of rejection from the circulating stock. In any laundry floor marks must not be accepted. They are not the detergent supplier’s problem. Prevention is the best cure.

Whilst finishing of 100% cotton flatwork can be carried out above 175C this is not so for cotton-rich and other polyester blends. Above 175C, polyester starts to soften and lose its strength, so that the fabric stretches easily and stays sightly distorted when it cools. Over a six month of perhaps 25 washes, the distortion can result in an expansion in the width and contraction in the length, so that the item no longer fits the bed. The solution is to set the ironers up with the correct bed temperature for the fabric being used.

Customer abuse

This is the big issue for most laundries because it is regarded as difficult to control, but it must not be ignored. Even the most awkward of hotel or holiday park customers can be taught to appreciate that if they allow their rental textiles to be damaged in any of several avoidable ways, then this is going to affect the availability of future stocks or the future price of the service. This is a task for the Customer Care Team and one which they may well resist taking on and delivering, but these are the key points need to be emphasised:

Bag drag: the practice of filling a duvet cover with all of the textiles from a hotel room and its bathroom, and then dragging this down the corridor to the linen-chute (or all the way to the used linen storage area) is completely unacceptable. The practice results in parallel lines of abrasion in an area, which leads to early holes in virtually every duvet (because it abuses one duvet cover per occupied room each morning). It is easily recognised by careful inspection of the fabric around the holes and the evidence is difficult for the hotel to refute.

Mopping up: clean or used linen items should never be used to mop up spills on the floor or to become contaminated by drips from items such as air conditioning units in the soiled linen storage area. The marking is difficult, expensive or impossible to remove and the practice leads to early scrapping of the items affected and loss of the residual rental value. The same applies to towels used to clean toilets and showers, especially if chemical cleaners are also used.


There are those who when reviewing textiles they come across will determine that regular theft is worthwhile. One laundry operator only realised the full extent of their problem when the police asked them to identify the stolen goods, which were supporting a thriving city street market business and apparently had been doing so for a considerable period.

Far more common is the casual theft of a hand towel being packed (accidentally?) in the luggage of a departing guest. Bath sheets and duvet are less at risk because of their size. There has been no solution yet offered for this, although those rental operators which now label stock with RFID tags have been able to identify items which have been delivered to the hotel but never returned. This really requires rapid in-the-bag scanning, with high levels of accuracy, but such systems are now available and being trialled.

Management strategy going forward

Achieving progressive reductions in linen life, over a two-year period, will give steady savings in linen injections and a corresponding decrease in purchasing costs. Although the theoretical life of cotton items when laundered correctly is over 200 wash and use cycles (and even more for cotton-rich), in practice most laundries should view 150 cycles as a realistic initial target. This will require strategic leadership at senior level and the following suggested checklist might help:

1. Start calculating your average cycles to failure or disappearance now for each classification, using the method described earlier. This means bringing your linen purchases onto the same spreadsheet as that used to record daily linen issues – no need for extra stocktakes. Most spreadsheet programs will allow you to bring data from one spreadsheet onto another, so once the system is setup, there should be no extra inputting of data. Do the calculation monthly over a rolling three-month period and plot the progress.

2. Train Customer Service staff to recognise and deal effectively with linen abuse, especially looking out for ‘bag drag’ and use of rental linen as cleaning cloths.

3. Consider phasing out sodium hypochlorite bleaching; with modern low temperature wash chemistry this should not be needed.

4. Tune your ironers to run efficiently to give maximum productivity, and do not rely on bed temperatures for cotton, when finishing cotton-rich, because this could soften the polyester and reduce linen life.

5. If greying of towels is an issue, check that the iron content of your water is below 0.1ppm and consider an iron removal unit if it is not. Then investigate automatic cycle terminators for your dryers, which should pay for themselves within 12 months and deliver whiter towels at higher dryer productivity.

6. Check that your engineers know how to tune an ironer to process cotton-rich at high productivity, and how to set and maintain automatic dryer terminators.

7. If you suspect regular theft leakage of stock, consider a modern, RFID-based control system. The latest ones will count (and identify) in the bag and should pinpoint the main culprits very quickly.


Control of textile losses and premature scrapping of items that have become unusable or unacceptable is never going to be an easy task for a busy laundry manager, but it should have become apparent from this article that there is much that can be done to improve textile life and hence the sustainability of the circulating stock. Rental plants which have tackled this universal problem have often been surprised at the savings that can be made in textile purchases and the improvement in profitability achieved. With average rentals per item believed to be around 120 cycles, but the best achieving up to 200 cycles (and in a very few cases up to 300 cycles) there is clearly much to go for. Good hunting.