By Jeff Gardner | May 25, 2012
We’re going to discuss oil and grease – and the tough, nasty stains they leave on our customers’ garments. More importantly, we’re going to talk about how to grow your drop-off laundry business by effectively tackling those seemingly impossible stains.
In certain parts of the country, oil drilling is booming. And where there is oil drilling, there are oil well and oil refinery workers who are getting at least some of that oil on their uniforms. In addition, mechanics in manufacturing plants and auto shops that deal with oil, grease and other types of petroleum products also may be in need of your store’s services.
After all, none of these potential customers want to take home their work clothes – coveralls, jeans, welding shirts and caps, Carhartt jackets, etc. – and wash them in their home washers and dryers.
Personally, my laundromat is not located in an area that has a lot of this type of work being done. However, I have customers who bring in their laundry from their work sites, because they simply can’t find laundry facilities that can do the job elsewhere.
The first component in removing oil stains is water temperature. If you choose to launder oily garments, it’s critical that you use higher-than-normal water temperatures, as it’s nearly impossible to use enough detergent to break down oil stains in today’s standard laundromat water temperatures.
If you’re going to truly attack any type of oil-based chemicals, you need to be willing to raise your water temperature to more than 130 degrees; and when I say 130 degrees, I’m referring to the water temperature in the washer, which means that your water heater needs to be set to at least 140 degrees.
Next, as I’ve discussed in previous articles, it’s important for you to understand that – for every 15 degrees in water temperature over the 100-degree mark – you’re going to receive twice the efficiency from any of the cleaning chemicals you inject into that stain-fighting equation.
Therefore, you need to carefully proportion whatever chemistry you’re adding in. For example, if your water is at 130 degrees, you’re probably going to have to add twice the amount of chemicals to get the job done as you would if you were at the 145- or 160-degree mark.
Another key factor to successful handling oily loads is to wash them in machines that are programmed with multiple rinses, because it’s going to take more than one rinse to get most of those stains out.
At my store, I have one machine that is dedicated for most of our heavy commercial laundry washing. It’s a 60-pound washer, which features a hot-water pre-wash cycle where chemicals can be added. The hot-water wash cycle is 25 minutes long, and the first rinse is a hot rinse that’s 10 minutes long. This first hot rinse is crucial because we’re still actually washing the garments during this cycle; the wash cycle flushes away a lot of the stain, but there is still chemistry working during that first rinse. The last two rinses are cold rinses, and by that time everything should be completely flushed out.
With this dedicated washer, we’ve got options for the extra washes and upgraded cycles. We can opt to have a pre-wash or not, as well as a last rinse or not. And we can shorten and change the cycles.
Of course, for oily work, we opt for the pre-wash, the wash and the last rinse, because those loads are the worst items we can possibly put in our machine. Plus, we want to do the load only once. The other option would be to wash these garments twice. Even if you opt to run them through twice, you still need to raise your water temperature.
However, if you’re serious about doing this type of business, the best course of action is to have machines that are specifically programmed to some of the cycles that are dedicated for these garments. It’s also wise to keep these machines separate from the equipment your self-service customers normally use, if possible.
Regarding detergents and cleaning chemicals, it’s always best to work with a chemical distributor to find just the right products for the specific types of loads you’re washing.
But, in a pinch, there are some simple, over-the-counter products that I’ve found work well on oil and grease. One of the products I’ve used is called Simple Green; it’s a citrus-based liquid solvent that you can add directly to the wash. And it’s very effective.
Of course, you can also add ammonia without bleach to increase the pH level in the wash, which will help break loose the soil, increase the wetting of the garment and help to suspend the petroleum in the water.
Another product that I’ve found works well in oily loads is liquid dishwashing detergent. Be forewarned that it suds massively, but it will get the job done.
Once you have completely a tough load of oily, greasy garments, it is absolutely critical to inspect your machine afterward. It’s also important to smell the clothes once they’re done being washing; if they smell as if there is any petroleum residue left in them, you must wash them again. If not, you run the very real risk of creating a fire when you dry these items. After all, you’re using high heat to dry, and there is the potential for fire. Also, you don’t want to over-dry these garments. Watch your drying times, and be very careful with them because there is a lot of potential risk.
On the other hand, there is also a lot of potential reward.
Some laundry owners in the Dakotas, where the oil industry is growing, are getting $2 to $3 per pound to wash this type of laundry. And if you do these kinds of loads, you should be getting paid a premium for your efforts as well. You too may be able to get $2 to $3 per pound for oil workers’ dirty clothes, because there isn’t a commercial laundry out there willing to touch consumer-owned goods.
And, on your end, it’s all about the equipment time and the chemicals. There is no extra labor involved in servicing these customers – and labor is your largest cost. In fact, you’d probably only double or triple your cost of actually doing the wash, which only represents 3 percent to 5 percent of your total costs. So, for example, instead of costing you five cents to seven cents per pound to wash, the oily garments at the most will cost somewhere from 15 cents to 20 cents per pound.
If and when you do get into the business of washing oily, greasy items, there is then no reason you can’t continue to expand your commercial work into restaurant accounts; after all, you’d effectively be dealing with the same types of stains. This likely won’t be as profitable for you, because now you’ll be competing with the commercial laundries – but you can still do the job and make money at it.
And isn’t that why you’re in the laundry business?