In your experience, what are or have been the most stubborn stains to remove? What tips can you offer those of us who must contend with these most difficult substances that find their way onto and into our textiles?
Healthcare Linen Services
Cindy Molko, RLLD
Cindy is the director for Linen and Central Services at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. She is a director for the National Assn. of Institutional Linen Management and a member of its Education Committee. Cindy was NAILM's 2000 Manager of the Year.
From the perspective of a customer who receives textiles from a contracted service, I haven't had much opportunity to gain knowledge of all the types of stains and corresponding wash formulas and/or chemical treatments. However, I can share a success story related to the difficulty in addressing oil stains on surgical products.
Such stains were a huge problem for our organization about 10 years ago. The surgical linen pack room employees would consider the day "good" if they were able to use 70% of the product that the laundry returned. The primary stain was oil-based and found on both cotton and non-cotton products.
Lab analysis indicated that the oil stain was a byproduct of contact with body fat and blood from surgical procedures. Such a high percentage of rewash created an increased expense, while also building tension between the contracted service and our organization.
After several trial products suggested by the chemical supplier produced limited success, we engaged in a brainstorming session with the laundry service, its chemical supplier and the manufacturer of the surgical products. Everyone at the table agreed to work together to try to find the right formula that would produce a 90% usability for the surgical product.
The efforts required routine meetings to review suggestions about chemistry, the number of rinses, water temperature and load size. Changes were conducted in a systematic, calculated manner. Since the surgical pack room staff kept statistics on usable product and the reasons why a product was deemed unusable (holes, stain type, retired, etc.), we had a good tool to help assess the success of any change.
The pack room and staff also routinely performed barrier tests on the fabric to ensure that its performance had not been compromised as a result of chemical changes or insufficient rinsing.
Over a period of time and having made numerous process changes, we successfully met the 90% goal. Due to this success and each party's desire to keep textile-processing costs to a minimum, we still meet quarterly to review the statistics and work together on other projects. Today, the usability of our surgical products averages around 95%.
The key to dealing with this issue was utilizing all our resources. Each of us within the textile industry has a vested interest in providing a quality product to our customers. It took trust and a willingness to work together toward that common goal to reach the successful outcome.
Healthcare Linen Services
Rick Massey, RLLD
Rick is manager of Linen Services for the Lakeland, Fla., Regional Medical Center. He holds a master’s degree in health administration.
Laundry managers face a variety of products and chemicals that can stain textiles. As with any problem, consult the most knowledgeable source available to you to find the solution.
Your chemical vendor should be familiar with any chemical-based staining agents that might be in use in your area and have the research resources to identify the cause of any unknown stains.
Many times it is a secondary reaction that causes the stain. The most damaging product I have encountered recently is a chemical used in several hand-cleansing products on the market.
These products, sold under several names, are effective hand sanitizers or disinfectants, but they react to chlorine and create a tan stain that is nearly impossible to remove.
Some react with chlorine so strongly that just the chlorine content in the rinse water is enough to cause a reaction.
Some success has been noted if the linen exposed to these cleansers is washed with chlorine-neutralizing chemicals in the first rinse. It must be flushed out well before any other processes introduce chlorine into the wash cycle.
Some baby formulas with iron will cause a brown stain on baby shirts and blankets with high cotton content. This can be overcome by using a rust sour in the first stages of the wash.
Protein-based stains are among the easiest to remove with proper temperature flushes and good utilization of soap or detergent. If a stain is made on textiles at body temperature, then a rinse at about the same temperature may improve the efficient removal of the stain.
There are several good products available that will remove ink, lipstick or petroleum-based stains from textiles. Check with suppliers in your area for suggestions or contact an area drycleaner for ideas on what works.
Ideally, when a new product that will be in contact with textiles is added to an institution’s inventory, or the expanded use of an existing product is considered, the laundry manager would be consulted and asked to provide information to administrators.
If the product is known to contribute to damaging stains on textiles, this information should be presented. Introduction of such products can add to the overall operating costs in the laundry and lead to higher replacement costs.
If information is obtained from other sources regarding a product causing stains when it has already been placed in use, the laundry manager should act quickly to prevent losses and increased costs for the organization.
Provide any documentation you have available, including increases in rewash or ragged linen rates. Identification of stains and stain-causing agents is an important part of the laundry manager’s duties.