Specifying textiles for top rental performance

29 April 2016

There is no single method for specifying rental textiles, but shrewd purchasing and stringent checks on delivery separate the professional rental operator from the amateur, writes Richard Neale of LTC Worldwide

Textiles can be specified in one or more of several ways and it is important to select the ones that are most appropriate for the individual laundry. Many customers buy to sample; they take in one or more samples for wash trials and if they perform satisfactorily in washing and ironing and still look and feel good after processing, then they place the order. This is fine, but it is essential to retain a labelled sample of each of the new items for future reference. Then if there is any dispute in the future as to whether the batch currently supplied matches the sample, there is a labelled reference sample that can be rapidly analysed.
This method does not require buyers to specify construction details such as ends and picks, single or doubled yarns, yarn twist, yarn linear density, mean fibre length or even weight per square metre. If the cloth does not perform because the batch does not match the sample, then the case for replacement is difficult to refute.
Other buyers will specify performance requirements such as low tendency to pilling in use on the bed; minimal risk of string formation if a towel is snagged on a sharp toenail; maximum permissible shrinkage in use and might also call for towels for which bulk deliveries match the softness of the sample against which they were ordered.
There is no 'best' method of specifying exactly what is required, but if goods are ordered 'to sample', then keeping a labelled specimen is vital and should be all that is needed to keep the supplier on their toes.

How to verify optimum specification
Regardless of the method of specification, it is important to secure the quality of goods that meet commercial requirements at minimum cost, both as regards initial purchase price and cost of repeated launderings. When the product finally fails or disappears from circulation because it is weak and torn, goes into holes, becomes irreversibly stained or is simply stolen by a guest, then the renter must by then have recovered the initial cost plus the financing cost.
This means that the initial strength must be sufficient to withstand say 200 commercial wash and use cycles. If it has this strength initially then, when theft, abuse and irreversible staining are factored in, the average life of the stock should be say 110 cycles for a double duvet cover.
There is no British, European or International Standard for the initial strength of rental sheeting, for use in hospitality. However, there is an excellent draft standard published by BSI as a 'draft for discussion and development' (DD ENV 14237:2002) which applies to healthcare sheeting. Many have found that this draft standard works very well for hospitality sheeting also.
This recommends a minimum strength for healthcare sheeting of 400N per 50mm strip. Each wash then causes progressive reduction in strength - and many workers have found that when the strength gets down to around 200N, the material is so weak that it tears easily in normal use in bed-making or in normal laundering. It then becomes apparent that if the sheeting starts out with a strength of 300N say, then it can be expected to fail more quickly than if it starts at 400N. In practice the life is not halved but is probably reduced by about one third.
The overall weight of an item varies considerably with the thread count and the linear density of the yarns used. Very fine fabrics may have a mass of, say, 110 gram per square metre (gsm). Heavier fabrics might weigh in at 150gsm. The utilities cost for washing (energy, water, chemicals and machine time) vary with the mass of the item, so if these total say 4.5p for an item using 110 gsm fabric, then for an item with the same dimensions made from 150gsm cloth, the cost will be 6.1p. The difference over 120 washes totals £1.92, which is a significant contribution to the extra cost of the finer item. The productivity in pieces per batch in each compartment of the tunnel washer is also 35% better.
When the same exercise is carried out for towels, the difference is even greater, because of the high cost of drying energy and the general inefficiency of tumble drying. A 550gsm towel that feels just as soft and luxurious as the equivalent 500gsm one (of similar dimensions) could be over 10% cheaper to wash and dry.

What to check for each delivery
Checking properly the contents of each delivery is a step that marks out the true professional rental operator from the amateur. There is no need to perform expensive checks on each batch of towels - it is usually sufficient to measure one towel to make sure that it is to size and then to weigh it on the laundry's postal scales. All the person doing this has to know is the correct size and the relevant weight for that size.
Many go one step further and take out one item from the delivery for washing and drying or ironing trials. A single wash is usually enough to detect poor de-sizing and consequent cracked-ice creasing (which the customer is unlikely to accept). It will also pick up colour loss from coloured items.
Poor de-sizing is the single step most likely to result in irremovable creasing and poor handling. All that is needed is to specify thoroughly de-sized fabric on the order form for sheeting products. This then requires the cloth finisher to wash off starch and PVA (poly vinyl alcohol) sizing in the early part of the cloth finishing process, when it will come off very easily indeed (with just a light wash).
If the cloth finisher leaves any PVA on the fabric then when the cloth is heat set, the high temperature needed for this will promote cross-linking of the short chain PVA molecules into long chain polymers which will only be lost after the first 20 or so wash and use cycles.
It is as though the sizing becomes an irremovable plastic, which holds every crease from the washing and hydro-extraction, giving the cloth the characteristic 'cracked-ice' appearance.

Tunnel washer blockages
Continuous batch washer lines are the workhorses of the sector and by and large they deliver excellent wash quality with very good economy. However, from a safety point of view they have come under the spotlight of the UK Health and Safety Executive for their association with fatal injuries in the laundry. There have been nine fatalities in recent years, many associated with the problems of un-blocking a tunnel, when textiles fail to transfer and this goes unnoticed, often for very good reasons. A blockage in the centre of a tunnel is unlikely to become apparent until six or seven batches later.
This makes it vital to avoid new textiles that are going to jam things up. The key feature of sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers, which will greatly increase the risk of blockage, is the ability of the cloth to wet out quickly and demonstrate its porosity. A de-sized cloth will absorb a droplet of water placed on it in two or three seconds. A cloth which has not been de-sized could take 20 seconds or longer.
The correct solution is to specify thorough de-sizing and then when taking delivery to place a droplet of water on one sample and wait to see how long it takes to absorb into the cloth. If it is more than a second or two, then the batch does not match your clear requirement and is going to give you problems.

If a delivery fails to meet specification
If you inject say 1000 sheets into the system without any checks and problems arise with blockages, pilling or excessive shrinkage, then it is expensive first of all to prove the fault and even more difficult to get the supplier to take back the delivery. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that once in the circulating stock you do not know exactly where most of the faulty items are.
If you keep one labelled sample from the delivery for use in the event of dispute, at least you have one item unused that can be tested and used to support your claim. However, it is much easier and better if you can reject a batch of sub-standard goods before you inject it into circulation.

Purchasing textiles shrewdly need not be complicated or involve much laboratory testing. It is often adequate to highlight just the points important to you and to devise means by which these can be checked on receipt. Those who get this right can be recognised by their improved profitability and low record of customer complaints. There is much to go for here and it is not difficult to achieve considerable economies along with significant quality improvements.

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