Some unknown factor has increased the hardness of the water entering my laundry. How can we combat this change so we can produce high-quality linen without jeopardizing production efficiency? What options are available to me to address this hard-water problem?
COMMERCIAL LAUNDERING: Richard Warren is the general manager of Institutional Services Corp., Conway, Ark., a commercial laundry that provides COG, rental and linen distribution services for healthcare clients. His experience also includes OPL and industrial laundering, linen supply, and leather/fur cleaning.
Unknown factors are very scary. That same factor could make matters worse in the future, or it could disappear just as mysteriously as it arrived to plague you now. But someone knows what happened.
If you’re using a municipal water supply, they are probably scrambling to resolve the issue, and they can tell you what happened and approximately how long the problem will last.
This has been happening with increasing frequency in recent months due to the lack of rainfall in many large areas of the country. Municipal water districts are beginning to blend in water from alternate sources in order to maintain the water supply.
If the supplemental water comes from lakes or reservoirs, it’s usually good quality. Unfortunately, the additional water usually comes from creeks and rivers, or wells that haven’t been used for a while. The hardness can be astonishing.
It’s a good idea for all managers to check with the water suppliers for an update to be prepared. Some water suppliers will be able to treat the “new” water adequately and there will be no difference, some will not change their procedures, and some do very little treatment in the first place.
So what do we do? The “Soap Guy” needs to be made aware of this change ASAP. The chemical blenders have a wide array of products to “fix” the situation. If you’re not using a service tech, you’ll need to assess your particular needs and act accordingly. If you have a permanent change, you may want to consider a water-softening system. But this isn’t a minor deal. Water coolers, chillers, and boilers are all affected by changes in water quality. If you’re using service techs in these areas, they also need to be notified. Or, you need to break out your old sampling kit and see where you are.
LONG-TERM CARE LAUNDERING: Vicki Elliott is environmental services manager for Kendal at Ithaca (N.Y.), a continuing care retirement community housing 300 residents (independent living, adult home/assisted living, and skilled care).
Hard water is caused by calcium and magnesium compounds found in the water supply. These impurities cause soap to lose its effectiveness and turns it into an insoluble substance that builds up on fabric, causing discoloration and creating an odor.
Also, hard water is the cause of lime buildup on the outside of washers and finishing equipment, and is responsible for increased soap and detergent usage.
Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or parts per million (ppm) of calcium carbonate. One gpg equals 17.1 ppm. Water measuring more than 2-3 gpg is considered hard. By using calcium carbonate equivalents, water sources can be compared with one another.
Water hardness levels can change day to day and can be traced to changes in the raw water supply (well water), the municipal water treatment or the laundry plant water treatment.
Because my facility is located in a rural area of upstate New York and uses water coming from a municipal water system, we run the water through a water-softening system before it enters the laundry.
Our laundry technician tests the water for hardness each month. If he were to find that the water hardness level has increased, we would look at the factors that may have caused this change. Is it a change in the municipal water supply or is it a change in our own water treatment system?
The water brought in from the municipal system may have been treated with chlorine. Excessive amounts of residual chlorine in the water (5-10 ppm and more) would require removal by an antichlor before fabrics are finished. Finally, we would check our own water-softening system to make sure it’s operating properly. As the water hardness increases, the softening capabilities of the water softener decreases and adjustments must be made to produce the correct level of hardness.
In order to produce optimum results in the laundry, it’s important to have an adequate supply of high-quality water. Thus, by routinely testing the water and maintaining the proper level of hardness, we can produce high-quality linen without jeopardizing production efficiency.
HEALTHCARE LAUNDERING: Sue Klein is the marketing manager for Shared Service Systems, Omaha, Neb., a central healthcare laundry that serves customers ranging from large urban health systems to small rural hospitals. She’s been active in the International Association of Healthcare Textile Managers (IAHTM).
Soft water plus chemicals equals clean linen. A simple enough formula, but this critical balance impacts a host of efficiencies in the healthcare laundry.
Simply put, if the hardness of your water increases, you can adjust your formulation and add enough additional chemicals to continue to produce the bright, clean linen you are known for.
A resin bed (where the ion exchange in a water softener takes place) plus hard water equals softer water. Another simple formula, capable of delivering suitably soft water, minimizing the chemical mixture and also producing bright, clean linen.
In our healthcare laundry, we combine these two tactics. The art in this combined approach is in finding the economic balance between the cost of softening water and the cost of chemicals.
John Hamilton, our maintenance manager, analyzed mini-mally treating the hard water we receive – weighing the cost savings of using less resin against the additional chemicals needed. And, although there are some economic tradeoffs, the resulting linen is hardly bright.
So, what alternatives are there? This is an area where a seasoned maintenance crew can prove invaluable. First, we constantly monitor the hardness of our water. And, we monitor it in more than one way, because the effect this has on quality is clearly discernable.
We use two chief methods of determining a change in water hardness:
1. Softening tank output.
Resin can only absorb so much calcium and magnesium, the elements that create the hardness of water. When the output of the softening tank decreases, the calcium and magnesium must have increased.
2. Boiler phosphate.
We test our boiler chemicals every morning. If the phosphate level is lower than anticipated, we can tell that more than the usual amount of calcium and magnesium is being output from the softening tank.
We also use a meter of our output as a third indication. Some laundries have a probe that directly monitors the hardness. There is debate on the sensitivity of this method, and we don’t employ it.
Once harder water is detected, John contacts our water provider and determines whether the fluctuation is temporary, or will be continuing. Our arsenal of “fixes” then includes:
1. Softener tank regeneration.
With hard water, we will regenerate the softener tank more frequently. This filters the resin against brine to remove the calcium and magnesium.
2. Adjustment of the chemical formula.
We work with our chemical representative to adjust our formulas to keep the quality we require.
3. Softener tank function.
We will also verify that our softening tank is properly functioning.
Water hardness is a critical factor in the quality, appearance and economics of our business. Understanding its chemistry and your points of adjustment are smart business.