Laundry engineering for healthcare: Part 3

22 February 2023

This is the third and ­final part of the series on what makes laundry engineering for healthcare special. Richard Neale of LTC Worldwide reviews ironing, tunnel ­finishing of garments and disinfection. Here, LCN’s Material Solutions moves to the finishing line in a healthcare laundry and follows up with advice for engineers and laundry managers on what tips the laundry engineer can give to really help the laundry manager. This is one of the keys to success with healthcare textiles and has been fundamental to the astonishing increases in healthcare laundering productivity and cost management which have taken place over the past few years.

Here, LCN’s Material Solutions moves to the finishing line in a healthcare laundry and follows up with advice for engineers and laundry managers on what tips the laundry engineer can give to really help the laundry manager. This is one of the keys to success with healthcare textiles and has been fundamental to the astonishing increases in healthcare laundering productivity and cost management which have taken place over the past few years.


Variations in ironer efficiency is understood to be behind some of the largest variations in laundry performance across the healthcare sector. The main points to watch were described in the Jul/ Aug 2022 issue of LCN. They indicated how to ensure and monitor uniform bed temperatures for both steam-heated and thermal oil ironers, as well as the importance of achieving and maintaining correct vacuum to the rolls.

Thin bed, steam heated ironers have high condensate rates flowing through the thin bed. The internal plates need to be kept free of any build-up and the steam traps must be sized to clear condensate at the rate at which it is formed and checked regularly. Float and inverted bucket traps are probably the best choice for these, with adequate and correctly set steam lock release systems.

 Calender wax can blind the clothing, especially on the front roll, which means the method and frequency of waxing is critical. Using a proper waxing cloth at the correct intervals, with an appropriate quantity of fresh wax calls for good training and supervision.

Maximising bed coverage by edge to edge feeding and use of every lane is fundamental to productivity, but this is frequently not achieved. The laydown from the feeder should be set carefully and the workflow to each ironer controlled so that the usage of the heating area is maximised. This might require some careful work to achieve but it is worth doing this properly. It is the key to maximising throughput.

All ironers are designed to operate with controlled roll-to-roll stretch, to maintain good contact between textile and the bed. Where the design allows this to be set by the engineer, it is important that this is done correctly. The precise figure for each model is given in the manufacturer’s manual. This is so important that many makers supply metal tapes to check the circumference, especially where the finished diameter of each roll varies.

Some ironer beds can and distort over time. This can be detected by checking the point at which each roll closes on the textile at the in-running nip, which a good laundry engineer will do regularly. If wide variations are found, roll to roll, then discussion with the manufacturer is needed.

Tunnel ­finishing

Most tunnel finishers are designed to operate with a good blast of steam at the inlet to warm the moist garment and so start the smoothing process.

Temperature control in the tunnel finisher is critical. Cottons require around 165C for the circulating moist air, but for polyester cotton blends this must be reduced to avoid damaging the polyester (which will start to soften and distort at high temperature). This calls for regular calibration of the temperature indicator, to maintain reliable control. Reviews of the temperatures being used are also regularly required to ensure energy efficiency is matched with productivity.

The airflow downwards onto the moving garments is designed to get between the hanging textiles and smooth out the crumple creases. It will not improve sharp creases very much so if these are a problem, don’t blame the tunnel – sort out the washing and the de-watering (the areas where creasing is most likely to arise). Maximum throughput will be attained with a loading of one garment per peg and it is worth reacting to instances of more than one garment per peg or one garment on every other peg if the feeder is playing up. Once regular garment loading of one garment per peg is consistently achieved, then the airflow can be adjusted to give the desired finished quality.

Most tunnel finishers operate with

 ‘It can be cheaper to operate modern laundry equipment by direct gas ­ring rather than by using steam from a central boiler’

a heat recycle, sometimes this can be adjusted, so that the loss of heat to the exhaust is minimised, which reduces the heat input and affects the operating economy. Too high a recycle gives low energy cost but drying is slowed, which might affect output. Too low a recycle gives rapid drying but might offer reduced quality in terms of crease removal. Clearly there is an optimum setting that gives the desired output at the required quality and in these times of very high energy costs it is worth experimenting to find this.

Advising management on new equipment and methods

A major part of the laundry engineer’s role is to advise management of the consequences of some key decisions. This is a vital role and the extent to which it is effective varies widely from laundry to laundry. It is important that this is recognised by management at all levels.

The engineer is key to the elimination of plastic from tumble dryers, either by eliminating plastic entirely from the soiled collection or by at the very least getting an effective method of its total removal in the sorting area. This might require detailed attention to the sorting conveyors to maintain effective separation of incoming work. It could also require regular contact with wards and departments, who need to ensure that the correct bags and containers are used, especially where the laundry is washing unopened bags of soiled work.

Wheeled barrows used for collecting soiled and delivering clean and decontaminated linen need to be disinfected on a daily basis, which calls for specialist equipment and regular daily checks. This should form part of the certification of the laundry to the standards set out in BS EN 14065:2016, in which the engineers have a key role to play. The daily checks are not difficult to carry out ,but a brief training session is essential.

It can be cheaper to operate modern laundry equipment by direct gas firing rather than using steam from a central boiler, and the laundry engineer is best placed to explain to laundry management why this is so, with an indication of how much energy (and capital expenditure) can be saved. This forms an important part of the Laundry Engineering Training Course run by LTC. Modern laundry design uses a tiny steam generator for the washhouse, direct gas firing for the dryers and tunnel finishers and gas fired thermal oil heaters for the ironers. These concepts are vital to understand for the modern laundry, coping with the very high energy prices now prevalent across Europe in particular.

The days are long gone when it was permissible and reasonable to clear a blockage in a tunnel washer using personnel to crawl through the machine compartments to the blockage point. New healthcare machines should be able to minimise the potential for blockage and be readily unblocked without the need for entry.

Tumble dryer endpoint control is viewed by some as an avoidable extra capital cost. This should now be seen as a basic essential in any laundry, because manual control using timers is so wasteful and leads to poorer quality. The Laundry Engineer is best placed to explain this, and it is part of their role to do so.

Water for laundering usually needs chemical softening in order to maintain colour, minimise chemicals usage and avoid deposits of hard-to-remove salts (at various points in the process) It cannot be substituted by any of the forms of water conditioning using magnetic, electric or electromagnetic fields around the supply pipe. These can work or some applications, but not for washing and it is often up to the engineer to explain the reasons for this.

Many modern water supplies, especially those from groundwater, contain more than 0.1 parts per million of dissolved iron, which can accelerate the degradation of cotton, poison the laundry water softener and decolour textiles from white to a dingy grey or brown. Purchase of a suitable iron removal plant is often by far the best solution, despite the cost (which is similar to that of the laundry water softener). Again, it is the Laundry Engineer’s knowledge in this field which can be instrumental in recognising and solving the problem before it becomes serious.

Management of disinfection

The principles of the modern standard for the decontamination of healthcare textiles, set out in BS EN 14065:2016 are simple and make the standard a delight to read. The standard is not prescriptive in that it allows the laundry a wide variety of choice of equipment and processes, but requires simple monitoring to provide justified assurance to the healthcare customer that all textiles processed by the laundry meet modern requirements for decontamination. The requirements themselves are left to the customer; the standard simply sets out how they should be verified as having been achieved, and the monitoring and recording system to go with this. The engineer is often the bestplaced to carry out the calibration checks on weigh scales, temperatures, flow rates and so on which the laundry has selected for its processing method. The data collected daily is fairly straightforward and modern systems allow this to be collected and filed in a secure, paperless system.

The training needed for this includes the use of dipslides for daily or weekly monitoring of disinfection achieved, together with less frequent use of test swatches and sterile swabs for measuring the actual decontamination achieved for ‘marker’ micro-organisms.


It will have become apparent from this series of articles that the contribution which the Laundry Engineer can make in the healthcare laundry is significant and many might feel that we are not yet making sufficient use of this vital source of knowledge. ­

TOP STANDARD: BS EN 14065:2016 is now used widely in the UK and across Europe to provide justified assurance of disinfection to national healthcare standards
VERIFIED DISINFECTION: Dipslides provide a simple in-house method for the Laundry Engineer to verify disinfection on a regular basis
ASTUTE PROGRAMMING: With astute programming, modern healthcare laundries can deliver low-cost laundering with high productivity

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