“My budget has been cut, and I’ve got to find ways to keep my costs down. Can you suggest operational changes I can make to cut or at least control costs without having to purchase anything or cause a major upheaval in my laundry?”
Long-Term Care Laundering: Albert J. Raymond, Healthcare Services Group, Bensalem, Pa.
There comes a time in all industries when we’re asked to do more with less. A truly experienced manager will be able to guide his or her department through this time and produce a highly efficient organization. There are a few ways this can be accomplished.
Administrators and managers often look at your monthly linen budget as an area where they can save money. There seems to be the idea that if you don’t order your budget for several months, you’re actually saving your company that dollar amount. Not true. You can save money over several months if you order your entire budget each month. Build up your inventory and your monthly costs will decrease.
Another area to study is your hand-folding operation. How are the items being folded and who is folding them? Maybe you’re using two employees to fold one sheet, when one person could do it. If you’re folding a reusable underpad three to six times, consider reducing this to two folds per pad.
Analyze the number of times that a piece of linen is handled from the soiled side to the clean side. Making some changes could reduce time and dollars spent.
For example, folding a bin full of towels in which each towel receives four folds takes 45 minutes, but folding the same bin’s contents with just two folds per towel takes only 35 minutes. So, that’s 10 minutes per bin, three bins a day, seven days a week. You’d be saving 210 minutes — or 3½ hours — each week. If your average pay rate is $8.50 an hour, that’s a savings of $29.75 per week or $1,547 per year. The numbers really add up, and all you did was change the way the linen is folded.
Finally, look at linen distribution. Piece count is vital to long-term care laundering. Establish a solid par-level system with all units to alleviate any linen hoarding.
The laundry is our factory. Every piece that comes into our factory (down) vs. every piece that leaves our factory (up) needs to be counted every day. Comparing the variance between linen up and linen down will signal any needs for the monthly order.
When you receive the new linen, put it into service immediately. The units’ staffs, upon seeing that the delivery carts are full, won’t hoard linen and will actually use less.
Chemicals Supply: Rhonda Amendt, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.
Any part of your laundry process that can be made more efficient will keep your costs down. Here are a few areas of focus (my thanks to David Barbe, U.N.X. engineer equipment designer, for his input) that may help. Note that all are low-cost practices!
Equipment: Washers and Dryers
Textiles: Elizabeth Easter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
To extend the life of textile products, there are several factors one should take into consideration:
Purchase products of the highest quality your facility can afford.
Towels are constructed of low-twisted yarns, therefore, the longer the fiber, the better the towel’s quality. Most terry towels have 100% cotton loops for functionality, i.e. absorbency and dryability. If polyester is added, it is in the background of the loops. Polyester enhances product durability and strength, and reduces costs because the product will dry faster.
The total number of threads in a sheet helps to determine overall product quality. In general, the higher the thread count, the higher the quality and durability. Sheets with a high thread count (200-400) have a tighter weave than sheets with a low thread count (130-180). Low-thread-count sheets will be significantly less expensive, but high-thread-count sheets will last much longer.
Cotton vs. cotton/polyester also applies to sheets. Blended fabrics last longer and are less expensive to maintain, thereby reducing replacement costs.
Construction is important, too. Look for lock-stitched hems, so that if the stitch breaks, it won’t fully unravel. Inspect the selvage edge of towels for added durability features such as higher thread counts. The life of flat sheets can be extended when the sheets have uniform hem widths at the top and bottom and are reversed from top to bottom as well as face to back during use. Fitted sheets don’t provide the serviceability of flat sheets since they’re restricted to one layer of the sheet ensemble.
Consider Laundry Care
Care guidelines — Check the care guidelines (washing temperatures, chemical restrictions and drying temperatures) each time you purchase new textile products. Don’t assume that the care instructions will be the same as that for other linen.
Be aware that an increasing percentage of linen-care guidelines warn against the use of bleach. Some also specify the use of a mild detergent for washing. These restrictions are an effort by the manufacturer to help extend linen life.
Wash temperature — “Wash in warm water only” or “Wash temperature not to exceed 120 degrees F” are common restrictions on today’s new linens. Shrinkage, color loss and/or wrinkling may occur if wash temperatures are too high.
Overdrying — Utilize the minimum time, temperature and cooldown cycle to remove the moisture, but not to the point of being bone-dry. Do not overdry. Cotton strength and durability are reduced by 15-20% when overdried.
Facility issues — If the linen-care guidelines cause issues in your facility, contact your supplier to see if there are alternatives. Guidelines that specify no bleach usually refer to chlorine. Contact the manufacturer to see if that restriction also includes oxygen bleach.
Consider the Par Level
Par levels in your facility can greatly impact the life of your textiles. Insufficient circulation levels impact the life and hand of the product when they are washed too frequently. Stock rotation — allowing the textiles to “take a break” — will keep your textiles in the system longer.
Secure Your Linens
Assign a linen manager to track linens for use, storage and security. Laundry managers can save a lot by locking carts and closets so linens can’t be pilfered. Since theft is always an issue with linens, don’t overstock the guestrooms.