Cleaning It Up

Mention ozone and most people think of the atmospheric layer. Introduce it to a laundry operation, however, and the results can be impressive.

By Marni Andrews,
Contributing Editor

Mention ozone and most people think of the atmospheric layer. Introduce it to a laundry operation, however, and the results can be impressive. Terry Cook, laundry manager for the 406-room Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, discovered this after installing the EnvirO3matic Advanced Laundry Oxidation System in August 2011.

“Not only did management see a reduction in hot water, utility and chemical consumption, we also noticed an increase in production as we can now wash over 100 loads a day with the ozone system,” he declares.

Ozone’s popularity

John Loncar, national account manager, commercial sales for Union Gas Limited says that while ozone laundry systems have been on the market for more than 20 years, they are receiving new attention for their ability to effectively clean, disinfect and reduce costs in a reliable, safe and environmentally friendly way.

“Ozone is a strong oxidizer and disinfectant. In fact, it disinfects 3,000 times faster than chlorine, but unlike chlorine leaves no harmful or toxic byproducts behind, only pure oxygen,” explains Loncar. “It’s also a powerful biocide with a 99.5 to 99.7 per cent killing rate for bacteria and viruses (about 150 per cent more effective than chlorine).”

Ozone can be a powerful booster for an existing laundry system. Loncar says that a properly designed installation can reduce hot water usage by as much as 85 per cent, reduce water consumption by 30 per cent, shorten wash cycles and dry times and improve wash quality for whiter, brighter, softer linens.

Great Wolf Lodge washes approximately 10,000 towels per day. The new system from Coinamatic allows towels and linens to be washed in cold water, 68 degrees F rather than the previous 140 degrees. The drop in temperature allows staff to remove towels and linens immediately after the wash cycle and put them directly into the dryer, increasing efficiency. Plus the fibres are lifted with the ozone, which produces a softer, fluffier feel.

“Many guests have asked us what we wash our linens with as they smell so fresh and clean,” says Cook.

Union Gas recognized Great Wolf Lodge’s new system as a green solution with rebates of up to $6,000 per unit through their EnerSmart program. They say a typical laundry facility using an EnvirO3matic ozone unit can generate enough savings to achieve full ROI within  nine to 18 months.

The biggest trend in laundry is the implementation of ozone systems for smaller on-premise laundries, says Gerry McMaster, director of laundry operations for Atlific Hotels and Ocean Properties Ltd., who oversees laundry operations for more than 40 hotels in Canada and more than 70 in the U.S.

“Housekeeping products have drastically reduced and/or eliminated the use of phosphates over the past several years to keep hotels as green as possible, and single-use and/or concentrated cleaning products have reduced waste and the need to calculate complicated dilution methods,” says McMaster.

“We have also implemented a reusable nylon bag program for the collection of soiled linens in many hotels, reducing the cost of single use plastic bags and keeping plastic out of the garbage.”

Going “green” has been the major focus for the industry for the past two years, with hoteliers looking for more cost-effective solutions to manage rising utility costs, says Mike Pilolli, director of commercial laundry, Coinamatic Canada Inc., who endorses ozone technology as one of the most efficient systems available for energy saving.

Labour is largest cost

The biggest complaints of operators continue to be cost and of course one of the largest costs is labour, says Robert McNamara, general manager, hospitality division for Jani-King Canada, which provides trained housekeeping personnel and overnight cleaning programs.

“Hotels have found that if they partner with an outside company, they can supplement their staffing level based on occupancy. This helps them manage operating costs more effectively,” he explains.

Pilolli recounts a recent survey of commercial laundry distributors and managers in which 79 per cent of respondents believed OPL’s over-dry by more than eight minutes a cycle. The annual utility cost of over-dry can easily reach thousands of dollars while the annual labour cost is much more.

Another trend is the move away from low spin, low cost washers towards higher spin speed washers that remove more water to shorten dry time, says Steve Hietpas, national sales manager, Maytag Commercial Laundry.

“Ten or 20 years ago, people wanted a washer at the lowest cost. They have really opened up their thinking and are now looking at total cost of operation—whether labour, natural gas or linen life. Labour is the largest cost of the laundry and linen is second,” he says.

A move from a 100 G-Force washer to a 350 G-Force washer can reduce dry time by about 10 minutes, which would typically save hundreds of dollars in natural gas over a couple of years, says Hietpas. But the real saving is in labour—hundreds of dollars in a year if laundry hours are cut back or allow staff to be deployed to other tasks in the hotel.

“In the laundry, 45 to 50 per cent of costs are associated with labour, while equipment, linen replacement, utilities and chemicals are roughly 12 to 15 per cent each,” says Bill Brooks, North American sales manager for UniMac, who notes that since hoteliers started investing in luxury linens with much higher thread counts, triple sheeting and ultra-thick bedspreads and duvets, laundry volume and processing time has increased.

John R. Rasimas Jr., regional sales manager, Pellerin Milnor Corporation, thinks the increased volume and weight of linen has upped room laundry poundage by as much as 50 per cent in many cases.

UniMac introduced the UW65 last August, the most powerful hardmount washer-extractor on the market with 400 G-Force. It is equipped with spray rinse to save thousands of gallons of water per year and decrease cycle time, says Brooks. It also has UniLinc control, which monitors machine performance to identify key production measures and provide reports including maintenance logs.

One clear benefit of the reporting function is the time and date stamping of the last 25 completed loads. Managers can see what time a cycle started and ended. If there are long periods of time between cycles, this could indicate that staff are not working as efficiently as possible. Brooks calls it an “on-site laundry manager.”

Labour and quality issues can also be addressed through restricting the fast forwarding of cycles. Some laundry managers have reported employees skipping certain cycles in order to expedite the laundry process so they can leave earlier or get by with doing less work. With this feature turned on, managers know that linens are being fully cleaned to the standards specified.

A delayed start option allows a cycle to begin just before a new shift. Employees can load the machine at the end of one day so employees can immediately move the linens to the dryer at the beginning of the next shift with no delay. This allows for one extra load to be processed per day.

Franco Falcucci, regional general manager for Bona Hospitality, which operates three hotels and a conference centre in Ottawa, is very happy with their UniMac equipment. He says the equipment at the 179-room Hampton Inn by Hilton (shared with the 397-room Courtyard by Marriott) is almost 14 years old but has required only minimal repairs despite three eight-hour shifts of use. Falcucci notes that there is ample space between and around units as well, which makes for easy servicing.

Saving time, energy, water

Rasimas of Pellerin Milnor mentions time- and energy-saving features such as Rinsave and ExactExtract on many of their washer-extractor models.

Rinsave can eliminate the need for up to two rinses and saves up to 0.4 gallons per pound or 10 litres per kilogram. ExactExtract ensures the highest possible extract every cycle with speeds up to 300 G’s without incurring out of balance delays, which mean increased labour costs. Milnor’s electronic touch screen technology allows control of water levels to 1/10 of an inch, selective extract speeds and precise temperature control.

Milnor’s recently patented PulseFlow process reduces water consumption to less than one-half of typical tunnel water usage but increases output per module. This makes the application feasible for operators in the 1,000-pound per hour (450 kg) category.

“With the Tunnel system everything is weighed up front so there is no underloading or overloading. Water is preset for the weight. Ours is 120 pounds per load,” says John Dicicco, owner, Superior Laundry Services Ltd. in Welland, Ontario, who uses the Milnor PulseFlow Tunnel.  “In our industry, people think bigger is better and they buy an 800-lb machine but their actual loads are maybe 300-400 pounds, so they use double the water.”

“Every laundry worker is trained not to underload the washer. But the reality is human error happens. In two informal industry studies, responses indicate 60 to 70 per cent of all wash loads are underloaded. This negatively affects labour costs, water costs, energy costs and laundry chemical costs,” says Kim Shady, senior executive vice-president, OPL sales, Laundrylux.

Electrolux washers with Compass control can weigh a load before the water is added to reduce the water level throughout the wash cycle, says Shady.

When the load size is smaller and the water is automatically adjusted, there should be a corresponding decrease in the amount of chemicals as well.

Electrolux partnered with Hydro Systems Nova controls to offer a chemical dispenser that communicates with the washer control (called Smart Dosing) to do this, he adds.

Crossover Washer

Laundrylux also offers Wascomat products, one of the newest of which is the commercial standard, small chassis Crossover Washer, which uses 50 per cent less water and up to 30 per cent less energy.

Green cleaning

Two hotels in Winnipeg—Inn at the Forks and Place Louis Riel—are very happy with their switch to a green cleaning program from Avmor. The 116-room Inn at the Forks was already using cards to educate guests about the importance of reusing towels and conserving water. But they had received complaints from housekeeping employees who experienced rashes on their hands and forearms from cleaning products. The next step was moving to EcoPure green cleaning products with a dilution control system.

Barb Walker, housekeeping manager, says EcoPure has simplified the hotel’s cleaning program. The colour-coded products and wall charts are helpful for employees, many of whom do not speak English as their first language.

Place Louis Riel management had also received complaints from employees about skin irritations from cleaning products. They adopted two Avmor lines: EcoPure and Biomor as well as the Avmixx dilution control system. Since the implementation of the dilution control, Place Louis Riel has reduced their SKU’s, improving the hotel’s bottom line.

“There is greater consumer awareness about cleanliness in hotel rooms. It is a germaphobic world and people are putting a lot of pressure on housekeeping staff and hotels to make sure rooms are clean and disinfected,” explains Paul Goldin, Avmor’s chief sustainability officer.

“Housekeepers usually work in an enclosed area with no ventilation, cleaning rooms five days a week. A green, sustainable alternative so they don’t get headaches or get dizzy can literally change their lives. We’re seeing the evolution of the cleaning industry.”

There is a perception that green costs more and doesn’t work as well, but the actual quality and cost of these products is as good as or better than conventional products, says Goldin, who adds that a big part of the green movement is concentrated products that reduce packaging.

McNamara of Jani-King suggests an energy management program for housekeeping to better control electricity, gas and water operational costs. For example, room attendants can be trained to set room thermostats at a certain temperature depending on the time of year.

“Efficiency is linked to profitability,” explains McNamara, who says many hotels look at housekeeping as an expense line rather than a profit centre.

“In fact, some hotels have looked at options on how to change compensation. Some pay housekeepers or bonus them by how many rooms they complete within standards. This motivates them to be efficient. Another idea is a ‘Deep Cleaning’ strategy, i.e., deep cleaning some rooms each month rather than all at once since this is easier and cheaper in the long run.”

Hotels want to be greener, says Felicia Roy, trade advisor, Cascades Tissue Group, the largest producer of tissue paper in Canada. The company’s North River brand is 100 per cent recycled with third party certifications and the only brand to offset all electricity used for its production with Green-e renewable wind energy.

As an example of a time- and money-saving product, Roy suggests the Flex Wipes refillable wiper and bucket system that eliminates the need for open solution buckets, cleaning sprays and dirty rags. A clean, pre-saturated towel each time controls cross contamination while the bucket allows for easy placement on cleaning carts.

“Illness-causing germs may survive on hard surfaces for as long as 72 hours,” says Roy. “Statistics demonstrate the importance of surface cleaning in reducing the transmission of infectious disease in all types of hotel facilities.”

The Cascades’ Busboy colour-coded towel system along with proper sanitizing procedures can be a solution to help eliminate cross contamination, she says. This system identifies different cleaning tasks, for example in the kitchen and bar area, with specific colour-coded towels in a way that is simple to implement and easy to monitor.

Water heating

The biggest complaint from hoteliers seen by Trey Hoffman, global product manager for Rinnai America Corporation, is lack of hot water, which can be caused in three ways–through a broken hot water tank, undersized water heating technology, or a decline in capacity over time.

Assuming a property has been correctly assessed for capacity, Hoffman says a tankless water heater can offer a real advantage for the other two problems. Also known as an “on demand” or “instantaneous” water heater, a tankless unit heats water as it’s being used and is about the size of carry-on luggage.

“You’d need several tankless units–maybe four to 20 depending on number of rooms,” suggests Hoffman. “But the great thing is redundancy. If you have 10 units and one goes down or has an error code, you still have nine which should be enough to get by. If you have only two or three boilers though, your capacity is down by one-third to one-half, a much bigger impact.”

Hoffman also mentions condensing water heaters, which are from 90 to 98 per cent efficient compared to about 80 per cent efficiency without condensing technology. The newer technology basically captures the 20 per cent of heat lost to exhaust and transfers it to water through a secondary heat exchanger. For commercial operations with a $10,000 annual water bill, typical savings would be about 10 per cent, which can make the difference in cost for the unit, he says.

The two most recently built Le Germain boutique hotels in Calgary and in Toronto, and the company’s ALT Hotel chain were designed and built for environmental conservation and efficiency, says Stacey Masson, national director of communications, Groupe Germain Hospitality. All laundering processes chain wide are done in-house for quality control and the water used in the washing machines at the newest hotels is heated with geothermal energy with the heat recovered once the water has been used.

It is easy for hoteliers and suppliers to forget how the scale of laundry/housekeeping requirements can awe guests who think in terms of residential applications. But since these departments are so integral to the business, they play an important role in guest satisfaction, which plays to the bottom line.

Gerry McMaster of Atlific Hotels and Ocean Properties recalls the time a guest who loved the quality and presentation of linens during her stay wanted to visit the laundering plant in Toronto to purchase their laundry soap and see the “ironing board” used for the sheets. He showed her around, explained they use 208-litre drums of various chemicals and that the ironing is done with a $135,000 Flatwork Ironer that dries, presses and folds 600 sheets per hour. He suggested he could obtain one for her if she liked. She left suitably impressed by the guest relations!

Four Keys to a Lean Laundry

John Enright, technical representative, Harco Co Ltd, has a few suggestions for a leaner laundry operation.

“The key is for the owner to know as much as possible in terms of how many pounds of goods he needs to wash and how much labour he needs. For the laundry team, it is not about washing and drying and folding; it is a material handling job and a mindset of how many pieces do I need to produce to meet the demand,” says Enright.

1.   I see growing laundry volumes as franchisors and independent properties raise linen profiles with higher thread counts, duvets on beds, and triple sheeting. While this helps sell rooms, it has a huge impact at the back of the hotel because the laundry has not been upgraded to process the increased volume. For example, there may be a 20 per cent increase in room linen volume but no corresponding increase in machinery or people to process it.

2.   Leasing is a great way to upgrade laundry machinery because it defers lines of credit and makes big ticket items more affordable. I urge every owner, manager or operator to explore the leasing option.

3.   Invest in machinery with programmable features. If a washer can be set to reduce each rinse by two minutes, a fill step by 30 seconds and provide quicker drain responses, at the end of the day that washer extractor has saved the hotelier a good half hour or more (labour-money). Most newer washers have an inverter drive that cuts electricity bills by a third.

4.   It’s not for everyone but with the right volume an ozone laundry system is an excellent way to save up to 70 per cent on hot water usage, and provide longer linen life and cleaner linens.