CHICAGO — While doing commercial work may sound enticing, should you be concerned about the skill required to clean towels, rags, napkins, etc.?
You better believe it, says Glen P. Phillips, founder, president and chief executive officer of Phillips & Associates Inc., a worldwide laundry and drycleaning consulting firm that provides a variety of technical services to laundry and drycleaning operations.
“Coin-ops are good for the average domestic work, but when they start taking on commercial work, they don’t have the resources to do what needs to be done,” Phillips says.
For example, if you’re doing soiled towels from a car wash, the towels may have road salt or spray on them, or oil and grease. Table linen may contain salad oil. In these common situations, the standard self-service laundry machinery and over-the-counter chemicals applied won’t get the job done, he explains.
Self-service laundries have two strikes against them when it comes to tackling commercial stains. “Water temperature is the first factor,” Phillips notes. “Most stores are concerned about hot water, and keep it down to 120 degrees. Generally, you need hot water at about 160 degrees [to tackle the stains].”
In addition, most self-service laundries have fixed-timer machines, usually 18-23 minutes with extract/spin speed, he says. Phillips suggests setting one machine aside for commercial work. That machine should feature variable speeds and a programmable timer. “You need more than one suds cycle, two rinses and a spin cycle.”
MAKING THE BEST OF IT
Phillips understands that some commercial clients are just looking for competent cleaning, and are relieved not to have to do the work themselves. The important thing is that if you’re going to handle this work, put yourself in the best position to do the job.
One of the ways to improve your work is to educate yourself about doing laundry. Back in 1997, Phillips’ clients were seeking more information about all aspects of the laundry business. The cleaning information is available, but operators could spend a lot of time tracking it down, he adds.
“We set out to write a set of encyclopedias for people who didn’t know anything about the laundry business. There aren’t too many places to go to get detailed laundry knowledge.”
Phillips offers “Management-by-the-Book (MBB),” a reference collection of years of data designed to enable you to run your business or department more profitably. MBB features a section dealing with drycleaning and laundry.
Is MBB a bit of “overkill” for a self-service laundry operator? Yes, Phillips admits. “But MBB is the best single source for someone who wants to learn about laundering, cleaning, drying, etc.”
If you do commercial work, don’t go to stores like Costco for cleaning products, he advises. The good news is that the proper chemicals for commercial work are not hard to find. Try reading American Laundry News, a sister publication of American Coin-Op, he suggests. “You’ll find companies in [American Laundry News] like Ecolab and Gurtler Industries. Or go to drycleaning supply distributors. Small quantities of these products are available.”
Even with the right chemicals, you’re not always “out of the woods,” he warns. “Hard water will prevent detergents from working. Hard water is a bad thing to run into, no matter how much detergent is used.”
A simple thing to remember is that hot water and soft water are always key to cleaning success, he adds.
FINE-TUNING YOUR OPERATION
“If you’re doing flatwork, a flatwork ironer is definitely needed. This machine is like a dryer; there’s a gas line to it, an electric line, and it’s vented to the outside. You can iron napkins, pillowcases and sheets.”
It’s also crucial to get a properly sized ironer. Phillips suggests a 12-inch-diameter ironer by 120 inches wide.
Depending on how much work you are handling, and the space you have, a flatwork folder behind the ironer may be a good addition. The folder would cut labor costs, he says.
Do you press garments? If so, an electrically heated press could handle pants, shirts, aprons, etc.
ONE LAST TIP
When doing commercial work, having the proper space is essential, he says. “When you do commercial work, make sure you have the space for the carts of soiled linen. Have buffer space between the soiled side and washing, between washing and drying, and drying and ironing. And when you’re all finished, you need some place to put the work.
“The lack of space can be the undoing of commercial work.”