When selecting and purchasing linens or uniforms, what specifications or qualities are most important for me to consider, and where on the price scale can I find the best long-term values?
Steve, the director of research and development for Gurtler Industries, South Holland, Ill., has more than 30 years of experience in laundry chemistry research, development and marketing. He serves on the TRSA Healthcare Committee and the UTSA Plant Operations Committee.
The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” is often as true in the laundry industry as in the rest of the world. But the other adage to remember in all cases is “Let the buyer beware.”
When purchasing linens or uniforms, the first thing you need to consider is what do you want out of them? In other words, how are they going to be used, how many use-cycles will they typically go through, and what quality does the ultimate end-user want?
For example, the sheets and bed linens for a high-quality, five-star hotel may be a much higher quality than the sheets needed for a hospital or a low-cost motel. And, the quality of a bar towel doesn’t have to match the quality of a bath towel at an exclusive health spa. So, the customer’s quality expectation is the first consideration.
The number of use-cycles can also predetermine your quality level. Washcloths generally are high “loss” items in a hotel or a hospital. The average number of use-cycles is very low, because they either get damaged or lost before they ever wear out. Bar towels used in
restaurants are also high loss items.
If any item is potentially going to be used in an application with a high likelihood of bad staining or physical damage, consider a lower cost level. It doesn’t pay to purchase a high-quality item that will be lost after only three to five uses.
Developing a good understanding of the average number of uses of each type of item you process is the most important step toward making sure that you’re getting the best value for your linen or garment purchases.
But what can you do to make sure that the quality you desire is really what you’re getting? The best way is to develop specifications that clearly define the quality levels you want for every key item you process. The basic specification should consider several different aspects: thread count, staple length, blend percentages, fabric weight and more.
The “T” number designates thread count. Muslin sheeting is usually T-130; percale is T-180. However, some manufacturers claim that they manufacture percale sheets, but the thread count is only in the high 160’s. So, make sure you know what you’re getting.
For cotton fibers, staple length is a measurement that is not usually specified, but it helps to know what it is. The longer the staple length, usually the better the quality. Longer staple cottons come from Egyptian or North American cotton sources, and they will have a finer feel or “hand.” Shorter staple threads have a tendency to lint more, and may not last as long.
The manufacturing techniques used to weave fabrics can have a great impact on quality and feel. The tighter the weave the better the quality. Generally, U.S. “high-tech” looms produce a tighter weave. Many foreign manufacturers are replacing their older, lower-quality looms with the newer looms that produce a better fabric.
It helps to know the source of the fabric and the consistency of the quality. And for cotton, the process of producing the threads is important. Combed cotton is a higher-quality, better, smoother feel than carded cotton. And there is a potential 25-30% longer use-life with combed cotton.
With terrycloth fabrics, there are three key things to check. First is polyester content. Most terry towels now have about 15% polyester. The base fabric is a 50/50 blend of cotton/poly. This gives strength to the base fabric. Sometimes the blend is achieved by running a 100% poly thread in one direction, rather than an integral blend in which each thread is a 50/50 blend. The integral thread version is a stronger base.
Second, the yarns of the terry pile can be 10, 12 or 16 ply – the higher the number, the softer and more absorbent the towel.
The last thing to consider is the weight of the toweling. To compare two different types, you will have to compare the weight of a standard size, such as a 12-by-12-inch square. The greater the weight, the more absorbent the toweling, and the higher its quality.
When it comes to bed linens, our industry usually uses 50/50 blends of cotton/polyester. Foreign blends are usually 55/45 cotton/polyester. There are different types of polyester. You may be aware that 100%-spun polyester is now a dominant choice for restaurant table linens. But, like cotton, there are different qualities.
Spun poly fabrics are treated and modified to be absorbent and also to release stains. We have seen some spun poly fabric from Asian sources with no such treatment, thus it repels water and locks in oily soils.
Make sure you check the performance of your spun poly table napery. Spun poly is robust; it can withstand the harsh treatment in a restaurant environment and be ready for cycle after cycle of use. So, the prorated acquisition cost of the item is a minor component of the use-cost, because the number of use-cycles can be significantly higher than 100% cotton or even 50/50 table linens.
You can be sure that there are textile scientists working on ways to produce new fibers that are hardier, and mimic the performance of the finest cottons. So, no matter what specification you develop, rest assured that the industry will introduce something new that will require you to rethink your and your customers’ needs.
As for price versus value, once you have specified your quality needs, analyze your cost per use as opposed to the acquisition cost and you will make sure you get the best value.