Whether trying to express professionalism in the healthcare sector or maintain luxury linens for guests of a five-star hotel, a laundry’s need to produce high-quality ironed goods has never been greater.
“Well-ironed linens are not just pleasing to the end users, they provide a subtle but important statement of your commitment to quality in every aspect of your business,” says Steve Culver, director of management information services for Chicago Dryer Co.
Regardless of an ironer’s makeup, several aspects of its operation and condition impact the level of quality that it’s capable of producing.
These include “proper chest-to-roll contact, proper roll size, adequate chest temperature, optimum linen travel, and having a cleaned and lubricated chest,” says Ty Acton, national sales manager for Tingue, Brown & Co., a global supplier of ironer textiles and supplies.
CHEST OR CYLINDER?
Chest-type ironers press goods against a fixed chest, heated from the inside and contoured so that the goods travel along its surface, moved by padded rolls of several different designs, he says.
Modern, deep-chest ironers have large-diameter padded rolls and typically approach 170 degrees of contact in each chest, Culver says. They will often have two to four chests, and the differences in speed from one to the next can be achieved mechanically or electronically, the latter making them variable for different types of fabrics.
“Proper roll size and chest-to-roll contact is important to producing quality linen and maximizing pad life,” he says. “A pad twisting off or unevenly stretching likely indicates there is uneven chest-to-roll contact.”
Cylinder models invert the ironing process, wrapping the goods around a rotating heated cylinder and holding them in place with heat-resistant ribbons. Because the flatwork is held against most of the cylinder, 300 degrees of contact is common, according to Culver.
HOT, HOT, HOT
Heating can be supplied by steam, thermal oil, electricity or gas.
“The maximum temperature that steam can supply is determined by the pressure and rarely exceeds 350 F,” Culver says. “Thermal oil can provide higher temperatures (400 F), which is advantageous for some fabrics, but requires an external heat source and piping like steam does. Some integrated units carry their own oil heater on board and thus get around this restriction.
“Electricity tends to be an expensive option and is used only when other heat sources are unavailable. Gas can be very economical.”
Acton recommends setting gas or thermal oil ironers at 360 to 380 F. “To run at temperatures hotter than 400 degrees is to risk damaging the linen,” he says.
Inadequate heat transfer throughout the entire body of an ironer chest causes what Acton calls “cold spots.” Faulty steam traps, scale or other blockages can cause uneven heat distribution, he adds.
CLEAN AND MAINTAIN
For chest ironers, Acton advises running a cleaning pad through the machine twice during each eight-hour shift, prior to running a wax cloth through the ironer.
A wax cloth should be run through the ironer four times during each eight-hour shift, according to Acton. This cloth has a pocket to hold the wax; more wax should be added only if the pocket is limp when the cloth is cool, he advises.
Ironer textiles — pads, ribbons, covers, etc. — must be replaced at various intervals.
“The more polyester content in a pad, the shorter the life,” Acton explains. “The greater the Nomex content, the longer the pad will last.”
The decision to specify padding type depends on several factors, including washroom chemistry and the types of goods being processed, according to Acton.
Typical life expectancy (based on a 40-hour week) would be 4-6 months for polyester, 8-10 months for a blended pad, and 12-14 months for Nomex.
WHAT’S IN THE FLATWORK?
Apart from proper ironer mechanics and care, an operator must consider the characteristics of the flatwork being processed to achieve quality ironing, Culver says.
“High-thread-count cotton goods will require different equipment procedures than cotton-polyester blends or all-polyester products,” he explains. “Goods with high moisture retention will have to be processed differently from those that hold less water or have been preconditioned. Larger pieces will behave somewhat differently than small ones.”
The pH level of the wash is another important indicator of how successful ironing will be, Culver adds.
“Whatever chemistry remains in the flatwork when it arrives to be ironed can have a serious impact on the results achieved,” he warns.
Another factor beyond the control of the maintenance department is the care with which the flatwork is fed into the ironer.
“The old adage of ‘Garbage in, garbage out’ also applies to ironer feeding,” Acton says.
Feeding by hand — the traditional method — has several advantages, according to Culver.
“It’s very flexible,” he explains. “Whatever arrives in front of the ironer can be fed, no matter how mixed the goods are from the washer or cart. A sheet can be followed by a tablecloth and then by a number of napkins just as easily as a long run of the same goods can be processed. The quality of the feeding is directly attributable to the employees, so there is no question of accountability.”
But feeding by hand also has its disadvantages, according to Culver.
“It is too slow and labor-intensive for a truly high-production facility,” he says.
Automated feeding machines “present goods to the ironer with the kind of repeatability and consistency that only a machine can provide,” he adds.