By Jeff Gardner | May 25, 2011
To begin any conversation about cleaning clothes, it’s important to start with a solid background as to how laundry actually gets clean.
Basically, there are four parts to what we’ll refer to as the Cleaning Equation. Those four parts are: time, temperature, chemistry and mechanical action.
It’s also important to understand that, where any one part of the equation is lacking, you must make up for that shortfall in some other part to complete the equation.
Let’s talk more about the four parts in question:
Theoretically, if you immersed a soiled garment it in water at ambient room temperature, at some point in time that garment would become clean. Of course, that time might be a month or more, but just plain water – with no extra temperature, no chemicals added and no mechanical action – will eventually break down most soils, even inks. It’s just a matter of time. And, therefore, time is an important part of the Cleaning Equation.
Of course, in the self-service laundry business, time is a critical part of the equation for another reason – as laundry owners, we’re trying to get customers through our stores quickly and turn over our equipment as much as possible.
However, when it comes to delivering a quality product for your commercial accounts or residential wash-dry-fold customers, having more time can sometimes be beneficial.
The next part of the equation is temperature, which again highlights the difference between self-service laundry and commercial or wash-dry-fold laundry.
Traditional commercial laundries generate 160-degree water (or hotter) to do their cleaning. In the self-service laundry business – for safety purposes, as well as for the simple economy of cleaning, about 110 to 120 degrees is the temperature at which most store owners set their water heaters.
Personally, I set my water heater at 130 degrees. This is because more than 50 percent of my business involves offering a full-service product.
I also advertise to my self-service customers that I have the hottest water in town, so I’m using that 130 degrees as a sales tool to my walk-in clientele. But, mainly, I’m getting an extra little kick; that higher water temperature makes a significant difference in the cleaning abilities of the washing that I do, and specific to the types of detergents that I use.
Whenever you can deliver higher temperatures to the garments, it’s going to create better cleaning. It’s also going to create better “wetting,” which is a term the cleaning industry uses for creating a vehicle to separate the soil from the fabric. In essence, you’re placing a lubricant between the garment fabric, creating a barrier to assist the breaking loose of the soil to carry it away in the water and down the drain. You’re always going to get better wetting with higher temperatures.
Traditionally, time and temperature are two parts of the equation that we, as coin laundry owners, don’t do very well. Fortunately, they are two parts that are easily adjusted, so we can always do better.
What’s really interesting is that we can adjust the Cleaning Equation even more when it comes to the third part, which is chemistry.
Many years ago, when manufacturers designed toploading washers for the home market, they tried to make them more affordable, and as a result, most of the metal inside a toploader was mild steel.
Now, if you asked your great grandmother her key ingredients for cleaning, she would no doubt include ammonia. To this day, ammonia is something everyone thinks of for cleaning windows, or even carpeting and furniture.
For most soils you will encounter, increasing the pH, which ammonia does, will help break loose that soil. However, when using ammonia or acids in a traditional toploader, you will begin to develop corrosion and rust within a short period.
Due to this fact, the chemical and detergent companies began to create pH-neutral detergents to devise cleaning solutions that wouldn’t damage the machines. With that, some cleaning ability was lost with toploaders.
Fortunately, most laundry owners now have stainless steel frontload washers. Unfortunately, one of the things most operators have not done that they could – and should – do is to add some of that chemistry back into the equation and, in turn, enjoy better cleaning results.
Chemistry can be an important part in maintaining a shorter time period while still delivering a quality product. And we’ll discuss this topic in more detail in future months.
The final – and maybe most important – part of the Cleaning Equation is mechanical action. This is what truly breaks that soil loose, and it’s what today’s frontload washers do best.
We can add more mechanical action to our loads. Also, it’s important to note that, in smaller frontloaders, we can often achieve more mechanical action than with some of the larger frontloaders or even tunnel washers, because the smaller area translates to more activity.
Those are the four critical parts of the Cleaning Equation, and again, it’s important to balance out these variables. If you’re lacking in one particular part, you can make up for it with the others.
At my store, we use specific machines for wash-dry-fold and commercial laundry. We use the machines that are located farthest from the front door and are used the least by our customers.
I have an upgraded wash cycle on all of those machines. (Depending on the brand of equipment you have, all of them have some type of specialized, upgraded wash cycle that’s programmable.) I have programmed these machines to give hot rinses, provide longer wash cycles for more mechanical action, offer additional washes and rinses beyond what the typical self-service customer will require, and so on.
This system also helps me “wear out” my machines more equally. The upgraded washers are the least-used machines in the store; however, they’re the most-used machines by us. Hopefully, this will balance out their usage so that, as I retool my store, all of my washers will be on the same replacement schedule.
In addition, designating certain washers for drop-off laundry prevents me from getting in the way of my self-service customers.