CINCINNATI — The drive to provide luxury beds in the hotel industry is no longer a novelty. It’s been nearly three years since J.D. Power and Associates announced in its 2004 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study that hotels were finding great success in marketing luxury bedding.
While the industry has since moved on to monitoring the “next” trend, many guests have come to expect high-quality bedding as a routine part of their lodging experience.
To meet guest expectations, hotels can simply do what they’ve been doing — but many may argue the key to developing brand-loyal guests is exceeding expectations, not simply meeting them. The laundry room is one place where hotels can potentially save money while maximizing guest satisfaction by providing soft, white linens and towels.
Linen care traditionally poses a number of challenges for housekeepers, but through the use of simple chemicals and an effective laundry process, many hotels can find a new way to protect their linen investment.
CHALLENGES OF LINEN CARE
The Hampton Inn is one chain focused on soft, white sheets and towels. The company recently completed its nationwide roll out of the “Cloud Nine” bedding package. The package demonstrates Hampton Inn’s focus on cleanliness via all-white bedding.
While caring for all-white linens seems like a daunting task, Angela Bowman, housekeeping operations manager at the Hampton Inn in York, Pa., says the challenges her staff faces when it comes to caring for linens are the same as any other hotel’s challenges.
“I don’t think our linen issues are necessarily unique,” Bowman says. “I believe that our issues are like those many other hotel laundry departments face. Our biggest challenge is stain removal and keeping a fresh, crisp look to our all-white linen.”
Stain removal is typically a challenge because once linens and towels reach a guest room, they are subject to makeup, shoe polish, coffee and a variety of other stains. If the stain is severe enough, it can warrant taking the item out of circulation.
Brad Bushman, vice president of technical affairs for Standard Textile Co., says permanent stains are just one of the reasons that linens go out of circulation.
Wear and tear as well as mysterious disappearances can take a toll on a hotel’s linen inventory. While it’s difficult to prevent linens and towels from disappearing, preventing stains and wear and tear can make a difference to a hotel’s bottom line.
“When we look at the total cost of linens, 25% to 30% is in acquisition costs,” Bushman says. “Keeping linens in rotation for a longer period can cut down on these costs.”
According to Bushman, the other elements that make up total linen cost are labor, which is responsible for more than 50% of the total cost, and laundry chemicals. While chemicals generally account for only 5% of the costs associated with linens, they can play a major role in stain removal, long-term durability, employee productivity and guest satisfaction.
“We get many customers who ask what kind of special detergent we use to make our linens smell so fresh and clean,” Bowman says. “They are pleasantly surprised when we say it’s the same brand they use at home.”
Bowman’s laundry system goes beyond providing fresh, clean linens. She says that since switching to the system, she’s seen a marked improvement in the wear and tear on her Cloud Nine bedding.
“When we first launched our new bedding program, we noticed wear on our new linens almost immediately, but since changing programs, this problem has been eliminated,” Bowman says. “I have seen a great reduction in the amount of linens we discard. So, we are reducing the need to reorder linens.”
The not-so-well-kept secret behind this success is a near-neutral laundry detergent — just like the detergents most people use in their own homes.
Many hotels and commercial laundry rooms use systems that operate at a high-pH level — generally, 11 or above. This pH leaves linens vulnerable to a process known as encrustation, or mineral (typically calcium) buildup. Encrustation is generally irreversible and can leave linens rough to the touch over time.
Programs like the one Bowman uses at the Hampton Inn in York, Pa., are unique. Her program features a near-neutral pH detergent, an effective fabric softener and a powerful bleach.
EFFECTIVE LAUNDRY PROGRAM ELEMENTS
In addition to chemicals, the physical laundering process plays an important part in caring for a hotel’s linen investment. The four elements that keep linens and towels soft, white and clean are time, temperature, mechanical action and proper procedures.
Time – Many housekeepers believe the longer the wash and bleach cycle times, the better the cleaning performance will be. That’s not always true.
It’s important to strike a balance between initial performance and rework because a vast majority of linens go into this cycle with minimal soiling from little to no use.
Imagine a towel that’s been used once after a shower, or sheets after one night’s stay. Knowing the difference between when to wash an entire load for a longer period of time versus pulling the few linens that don’t come clean in a normal load to be pretreated and rewashed in the reclaim load is important.
Temperature – It’s important to wash all linens at a balanced temperature, preferably 140 F, because this can enhance the cleaning abilities of chemicals by loosening stains and soils without being so hot as to cause unnecessary damage.
Mechanical Action – Even if close attention to time and temperature are present, poor cleaning can still result from under- or overfilling machines.
To encourage proper mechanical action, consider filling machines to approximately 80% to 90% of their rated capacity. This will achieve a rise and fall of linens that encourages adequate agitation.
To gauge whether a machine is filled appropriately, a housekeeper can face the machine and view it much like they view a clock. If loaded correctly, the linens should rise and fall at the equivalent placement of the 10 and 2 on the clock face.
Proper Procedures – This element is probably the most difficult to implement consistently with the high staff turnover and occasional lack of training in the lodging industry.
Setting standards for chemical use, time, temperature and mechanical action are important, but if they aren’t followed consistently, it’s the linens that can suffer the consequences.
Many hotels make a significant investment in linens to help exceed guest expectations. To protect this investment, a near-neutral laundry system and thorough and consistent procedures can make a difference.