Manage Your Laundry Carefully
Kirby D. Payne, CHA, is president of The American Hospitality Management Company which provides consulting and management assistance to hotels in the U.S. 

I have some strong feelings about how laundries should be run in small hotels that I'd like to share with you. Some of these things apply to larger hotels, too. The key idea is that a laundry should be managed. It is not just an area of the Housekeeping Department which doesn't have much impact.

I believe that an important part of marketing a hotel is maximizing repeat business. Linen is one of the physical items with which guests come in the most contact. It should look good and be well maintained. I feel strongly that this is one item that an economy lodging property can use to set itself above its competition in perceived value relatively inexpensively. This can be done in several ways.

Size and Weight of Fabrics 

The first is in the weight and size of the terry. Imported ROL (run of the loom) or seconds should never be used. Terry should be either a quality domestic or a first class import. The higher the cotton content the better. The size and weight should be similar to what a person might use at home. Nobody uses a ten inch square 12 ounce per dozen wash cloth at home. Likewise, nobody has an 18 inch wide bath towels that you can see through at home.

Our linen (sheeting and terry) standards for limited service economy lodging are as follows: All sheets are T-180 Percale and 110" long. There are 108" sheets, but hey don't tuck in as well and the guests' toes can feel the mattress! Bath towels 24" x 48" or 50" - (10.5 lbs. per dozen); Hand Towels 16"x27" - 3.0; Wash Cloths 12"x12" - 1.0 and Bath mats 20"x30" - 7.0; Shower Curtains are washable nylon.

We also have another unusual standard for this market segment: all linen is beige. This costs about 5.0% more than white but has several advantages. The first is that bleach isn't used which results in two costs savings: one doesn't have to buy bleach, and because bleach isn't used, the linen lasts much longer and wears and feels better. The cotton in white linen breaks down after many bleachings and begins to appear gray as the cotton is washed out, leaving only the synthetic backing.

The second advantage is that the beige linen just looks better and less institutional. The guest room and bathroom have a more residential feeling. A smaller advantage is that stains do not show up as readily. The disadvantage is that the terry is stolen at a slightly higher rate. On balance, we feel that, overall, beige linen provides a cost savings and a marketing advantage.

Process Laundry Carefully 

Based on what I have read and heard from major quality laundry chemical vendors such as Ecolab and Diversey, here are some important things to keep in mind when processing laundry. The room attendant should note stained lined when she removes it from the guest room separate it so that it will be noticed right away when it arrives in the laundry area later. Spotting and stain removal instruction and supplies should be readily available in the laundry.

Regular soiled laundry should be separated by type, percal, terry, and others such as spreads, etc. Within those groups the heavily soiled laundry should also be separated so that all laundry is not washed with the heaviest concentrations of chemical and suffer the extra wash cycles. If more than one color of linen is used, white should be separated from other colors if bleach is to be used on the white linen.

Linen should never be placed on the floor by the room attendant or the laundry staff. The floor soils linen and contributed to wear. Unsealed concrete some other surfaces will stain or change the pH (Acidity/alkalinity) of the linen at the point of contact. Sort linen into laundry carts.

Have Good Equipment 

For the sake of the people working in the laundry and your workers' compensation premiums, use spring loaded inserts in your laundry carts. They will raise the linen as the cart is emptied so your staff does not have to bend or stoop as much. Remember to clean under them regularly! High bottom carts whose sides are about even with the doors of your of washers and dryers are good for moving linen from washers to dryers.

Washers should generally be loaded fully but not with linen crammed in them. Use the minimum cycle setting to do the job. Don't waste chemicals, energy, wear and tear on the washer and linen by overdoing the wash cycles.

Your laundry supply vendor, if reputable, will help you make sure your machines and chemicals are set properly and review the operation with responsible supervisors for no extra charge. They will also test your water and inspect your machines as part of their service. If they won't do it, and help you keep a written record of it, change vendors!

When the wash is complete, move the laundry to the dryers as soon as possible. I say dryers because in a properly planned laundry there are typically two dryers for every washer. Typically it takes twice the capacity of the washer, as measured in pounds, to do the drying. With this mix of equipment, drying time will be approximately the same as washing time, linen will tumble loosely, and dry out without being beat up as much in the dryer. Be sure to use the proper cool down cycle and remove the linen as soon as possible to reduce wrinkling.

If you have an opportunity to redo your laundry area because replacement or additional equipment is needed to take advantage of this to arrange the equipment so that labor expense is minimized by lessening the necessary motions in moving things are minimized.

Fold Immediately 

Linen should be folded immediately and allowed to rest overnight. Yes, rest! The rest allows linen to iron itself and become wrinkle-free. Most of our dirty linen complaints come from what the guests believe is dirty because of the wrinkles. The second biggest cause is hair, which seems to be a result of overloading washers and/or dryers. Laundry experts also tell me resting the linen helps it last longer in terms of usage.

The person folding the laundry should watch carefully as s/he folds to observe stains and excessive wear or fraying. Stains can be reworked and fraying can be trimmed sometimes. Some housekeepers I have known hem the terry as it begins to fray so they can get more use out of it. Personally, I only believe in that for bath mats.

Transport Laundry Efficiently 

It costs money to move linen around in a hotel. It is a labor cost which can be controlled. In our Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Florida, we recently purchased a very large cart with shelves. The laundry staff folds laundry and immediately places it in the cart. The cart is then used to deliver clean linen to the room attendants' carts around the hotel. Room attendants' carts are also brought to the laundry each night for cleaning and stocking by an afternoon laundry person. This reduces labor cost and enables us to control the stocking and appearance of the carts. 

Keep Reliable Inventory 

An adequate linen inventory is essential for the efficient operation of a housekeeping department. Having to strip rooms to collect up soiled linen in order to begin washing so there will be clean linen for the rooms is very wasteful in labor expense and precludes letting the linen rest. Having at least two and a half times the linen necessary to set up all the rooms once is called having 2.5 par. This multiple does not apply to mattress pads, bed spreads, shower curtains, pillows, etc. For these items 1.2 to 1.5 par is usually sufficient.

Inventory should be taken monthly and include a count for the linen en route from your supplier. Subtract the resulting inventory from the 2.5 par and order that quantity. Most items come in dozens and packed a minimum of five dozen to the case. Round up to get full cases. Build up to three par if you have a busy season immediately ahead of you. 

If you must order in less than case lots because your hotel is small, order from a reliable supplier who will maintain an inventory that meets your specifications.

Typically those storing and shipping unless that case lots still work in even dozens and their charges all include freight. In the Twin Cities area I have found Inn Room Supplies (612/645-0000) to be an excellent value and very reliable. 

Finally, the laundry and housekeeping areas must be immaculate. This is not only where you demonstrate to your staff what the standard is for the entire hotel, but also the way you should treat your employees. You want them to have pride in their hotel and their work area. Just because it is out of sight of the guest doesn't mean it can be ignored. Keep the area so that it functions efficiently and you are proud for both your guests and your banker to see it.

For additional information, contact:

Kirby D. Payne at the firm

American Hospitality Management Company
1500 South Highway 100, #375, Minneapolis, MN 55416
Phone: 763-591-7640 Fax: 763-591-1593

email: kpayne@american-hospitality.com


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