By Durk Johnson — The best part about working in housekeeping and maintenance is being able to learn so many things. One of my favorite learned trades is in laundry chemistry, taught to me by a laundry soap vendor. He taught me that washing sheets and towels is as much science as it is art. While the chemistry portion is in how the time, water temperature, mechanical action and chemicals work together, the art comes into play when any of the four components are adjusted. Any slight change can create an imbalance that has to be leveled. Being able to properly correct the components becomes like an art form.
I won’t bring up the terrible memories of high school chemistry, but below is a general guide on each of the four factors that directly affect wash loads and cleaning linen. In order for linen to come clean, each one of these must be in balance.
There are many steps that add to the total wash time. Each step has a specific purpose and may be used several times.
- Initial Flush is used to wet and raise the temperature of the laundry load and rinse any loose soil from the drum.
- Break (suds) are used to break soil from the fabric. Alkalies and/or detergents are added to loosen and suspend soil from the textile.
- Carryover provides additional mechanical action.
- Flush(es) are used to remove suspended soils and washing chemicals from the load.
- Bleach removes stains, whitens and creates hygienically clean fabric, and is usually used when there is no loose soil in the drum.
- Rinse(es) reduce drum temperature, remove residual chemicals and prepare the load for removal.
- Antichlor is added to deactivate any residual chlorine bleach in the drum as to not damage the textile.
- Sour is designed to neutralize alkalinity in the drum and leave the product slightly acidic, leaving the linen more compatible with the skin.
When deciding which temperature is best to use in the wash cycle, the following items need to be taken into account.
- Soil Type
- Soil Quantity
- Operation Type
- Operation pH Levels
- Operation Time
- Fabric Care
For instance, if you are washing linen that has protein-based stains, the initial flush should be 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately body temperature) to help loosen the protein. Suggested temperature ranges include:
Sheets/Pillow Cases: 120-140 degrees
Towels/Wash Cloths: 120-140 degrees
Diapers: 160-170 degrees
Polyester/Cotton Uniforms: 140-150 degrees
This is performed by dropping the product in the drum, forcing the water and chemicals through the textile. There are several factors that affect the mechanical action:
- If the water level is too high and there are too many suds then the linen will float and not have enough dropping action.
- Loading the drum with too much linen will not allow the linen to drop because there is no room to do so. On the other hand, if the drum is under loaded then the product will not fall and stay against the wheel, reducing the mechanical action. Depending on drum size, there should be enough space (either the size of a football or basketball) to fit from the back to the front of the drum when it is fully loaded.
- The drum design and number of ribs affects how the linen falls in the drum.
- Rotational speed is how quickly the drum turns affect the dropping of the linen. Also, if the drum pauses between rotations then it will decrease the effectiveness of the mechanical action.
This is the proper use of chemicals in each stage of the wash cycle. The wash cycle depends completely on what is being washed. Different fabrics have different chemical formulas. It is important to remember that chemical action is defined as the interrelation of the chemicals, time, temperature and other mechanical action and must be used in connection with each other in order for the chemical action to work. Here are two examples:
- If the operation time is increased, the beating action will go up, increasing mechanical action.
- If a cold water valve is stuck open, water will continue to fill the drum, diluting the chemical and reducing the water temperature which will reduce mechanical action.
Managing a washing machine and cleaning laundry is not only a science, but an art. It requires a certain skill set that can’t be found in just anyone. You must be able to not only have all the scientific facts of how and why these components work together, but you also have to have artful mind in order to be able to adjust what could be a disaster and create a perfect balance.