By Joseph Ricci
February 17, 2020
More new hotels in the largest US metropolitan areas are opening without laundries. They view the floor space that would be devoted to this purpose as better used for some other benefit, particularly guest services.
The owners of these new properties are bidding their linen laundry work to off-site linen service companies. Those owners who don’t want to invest in textiles can also rent these from such a service, eliminating much of the inventory management workload, including acquiring replacements from manufacturers or distributors for lost or spent items.
Furthermore, owners and operators of older hotels in many cities are increasingly outsourcing laundry as linen services prompt them to close their on-premises laundries (OPLs). Most hoteliers who convert continue to purchase their own textiles, while also contracting for laundry services. This addresses their concerns about providing a high-quality product for guests.
For many hoteliers, quality bed linen usually means a high count of a bed sheet’s horizontal and vertical threads per square inch. Better sheets are at least 200 and some are in the 1,000 range.
Linen services view quality differently. They may provide high thread-count sheets, but their real value lies in assuring plentiful inventory and eliminating wrinkles and maximizing hygiene.
A tunnel washer from Metro Laundry Service in Capitol Heights, Maryland.
Economies from processing hotel customers’ items can facilitate this performance. Outsourced laundries require high-capacity machines such as tunnel washers that can handle thousands of pounds at once. A hotel with 100 to 200 rooms probably would have no more than a few small machines processing a few hundred pounds combined. Those machines may not have the same controls as larger, more expensive machines to vary water temperature, mechanical action and wash chemical injection.
Hotel laundry outsourcing specialists also promote tunnel washing’s assembly-line efficiency. These bus-sized machines move batches simultaneously through individual modules along the length of the tunnel. Each module works on a different wash step, such as flushing, suds, bleaching and rinsing. Modules can be equipped for mechanical action, soil removal and chemical distribution. It’s also possible to run colors and whites back-to-back without concerns of colors running.
Larger laundries are able to automate material handling, which can reduce contamination risk from manual handling. Conveyor belts deliver soiled items to sorting stations where they are bagged, hoisted onto overhead rails and dropped by gravity into washing machines. Batches of linens are discharged from the washers onto belts that convey them to extractors (spinning) dryers. Any re-wash and damaged linen can be minimized through this process.
Dryers (in the background) and ironers (in the foreground) at Metro Laundry Service.
Outsourcing can be a means to assure a quality linen finish for hotels. The smallest OPLs often rely on dryers for wrinkle removal as opposed to a separate machine for this purpose. This contrasts with a self-contained gas ironer, which provides optimized evaporation capacity with reduced energy consumption. The unit’s plate technology prevents marks from the tape on the ironer’s rolls from marking linen.
These technological developments can contribute to quality, but the human element of larger-scale laundering is also a factor. The chances that machines will perform properly can be increased due to dedicated maintenance/engineering staff, which only larger OPLs can justify. A small OPL may not require 10 employees, while most hotel linen service laundries will have at least 40 and likely around 100. Although this does reflect an outsourced laundry’s higher volume, it also can indicate the professionalism of workers who are trained especially for sorting, washing, drying/finishing, pack out and delivery, all of which are critical control points (CCPs).
Hotels that close OPLs and outsource often are sold on making the change due to economic factors. Such a shutdown can free capital, space, resources, time and energy to focus on other aspects of hospitality to support the guest experience. As businesses become more interested in minimizing risks, outsourced laundries are positioned to address this concern.
Joseph Ricci, CAE is the President & CEO of TRSA, the Association for Linen, Uniform and Facility Services.