Illustration by Sigmundur Porgeirsson

The voluminous amount of laundry that tumbles in and out of washers and dryers every day is a huge drain on hotel resources — both from an energy point of view and from a people perspective. In fact, next to the kitchen, an onsite laundry room can be the costliest part of running a hotel. And using commercial launderers brings its own set of pros and cons. But, whether laundry is done on- or offsite, hoteliers and suppliers alike are working to minimize costs and demands by maximizing labour efficiencies, while investing in innovative products and technology.

Marriott International’s sustainability goals for Canada, for example, aim to reduce water usage by 20 per cent, carbon intensity by 35 per cent and landfill waste by 45 per cent — all within five years. The 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston took the plunge in 2015 and installed a water- recycling system for $166,000, which, two years later, delivered a savings of $763,217. The system actually cleans laundry wash water, allowing it to be reused up to five times.

Not every property has the budget of the big brands, of course, but smaller hotels are making great strides in their own ways.

Clean Solutions
Soaps and chemicals have undergone rigorous research development to help reduce water, product and wash/dry times, and their overall environmental footprint as much as possible.

The 74-room Ramada by Wyndham Drumheller Hotel & Suites in Drumheller, Alta., averages 60 daily check-outs during the busy summer season. And, considering each room generates about 15 lbs. of laundry a day, “It’s a lot of laundry,” says general manager Theresa Vyvey, whose hotel launders in house and sources chemicals from Ecolab. “Our machines are calibrated so we just push a button for sheets and another for towels. The detergent, bleach and softener go in according to the cycle.”

Even commercial laundries use Ecolab. “They’re one of the leaders [in] environmentally friendly products, because their customers — and their customers’ customers — demand it,” says Ryo Utahara, executive director of Burnaby, B.C.-based K-Bro Linen, which services 45,000 hotel rooms from brands such as Marriott and Accor, as well as smaller boutiques, including L’hermitage Vancouver.

According to Ecolab, laundry costs for a typical 150-room hotel average $200 a day, or $75,000 a year. The company’s Aquanomic 2.0 low-temp liquid laundry program reduces those costs by using 40-per-cent less water and 50-per-cent less energy, as well as reducing linen replacement by 20 per cent. Also, its new Aquanomic Biocare Solid Sour-Soft combines laundry soap, fabric softener and iron control into one product to guard against yellowing and rust stains from water with high iron content. In fact, 70 per cent of launderers say stain removal is their biggest challenge, resulting in a three-per-cent rewash rate.

Labour Pains
When roughly half of every dollar spent on laundry goes to labour, staff efficiencies are essential. At the Ramada Drumheller, as in so many small towns, finding good help is a challenge, so maximizing the staff it does have is paramount. “It’s important to have a well-trained, efficient laundry person,” says Vyvey.

Even upscale resorts have trouble attracting and retaining staff. Andrew Misquitta, director of Rooms for The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, has recruited workers from as far afield as China, Australia and the U.K., with varying degrees of success. “No one wants to [work in] housekeeping,” he laments.

The key to keeping the staff he has is offering a good salary, work environment and perks. “[It’s important that they] enjoy their work. If I look after them, they look after my guests and the guests look after my owners.”

And when occupancy is high, efficiencies are vital. Industry standards suggest keeping at least three turns of clean linen and terry stocked for room attendants. “Our housekeepers’ rooms are labelled, so when [they] look for a queen-sized bundle, they’re not getting them mixed up with the king, because all the top sheets are the same,” says Vyvey.

Her laundry staff also skips the iron. “If we had to iron everything, there would be no choice but to out-source,” she says. “If you’re doing your laundry properly — not letting it sit in the dryer — you rarely get wrinkles. That’s more about the training of your laundry attendant than anything else.”

Bigger hotels with the cash to invest in towel-folding equipment can rely on just one operator. Some models differentiate among towel size and even bath mats, which saves staff from pre-sorting.

Well-Oiled Machines
Machinery, and the new technology built into that machinery, affects a hotel’s bottom line directly. Manufacturers recommend new hotels, or those upgrading their onsite laundry rooms, consider multi-load, high-speed washers with a G-force of 200 to 300, which extract more water, thereby reducing drying time, energy usage and costs. Most industrial dryers now feature residual moisture controls, which adjust heat input to prevent over-drying — reducing energy consumption, cost and linen replacement. Some estimates report that, by cutting drying time by just eight minutes, a property’s annual savings would amount to more than $800 in utilities and nearly $5,000 in labour, based on 10 loads per day.

“It’s a win-win for the launderer,” says Utahara of K-Bro. “You want to be energy efficient because that’s what our customers demand in terms of their branding…And [limiting the] electricity, gas and water we use is a positive business impact for us.”

Utahara says preventative maintenance is also vital to a well-oiled operation. “Laundry is very labour-intensive, so obviously the labour side is critical, but at the end of the day, it’s equipment,” he says. “Just like, at some point, you’re going to have car troubles, you’re going to have equipment troubles.”

Misquitta, who works with K-Bro for The Westin Whistler’s laundry services, says those equipment troubles can delay laundry delivery by up to 10 hours. “We have a lot of stock to maintain [necessary] levels, so if there’s a delay, we won’t feel that impact. Food and front-desk come second and third, but without housekeeping, if that room is not ready, what do you do?”

Lasting Linens
Misquitta purchases new linens for The Westin Whistler every six months, but replacements and upgrades generally depend on the property type.

Michael Starrett, vice-president and general manager of Edmonton-based Eden Textile, which supplies a wide range of properties, says hotel demands are less about size and more about client expectations. A higher-end hotel looks for luxury, but all properties look for durability. “[No one wants to] turn over their product quicker than they have to,” says Starrett. “But a five-star [hotel] would be willing to spend on higher thread count; higher quality cotton; plusher, heavier towels; more expensive pillows — maybe a pillow menu for down or hypo-allergenic micro-fibre. A three-star [property] won’t typically invest in those kinds of products, but they still want a good product that lasts.”

As Starrett explains, linens are typically comprised of only two materials, cotton and polyester. A higher polyester content is useful for repelling stains, whereas cotton tends to absorb the stain. “It’s really a balance, that’s why the most common linens are a blend.”

Blends also help reduce wrinkles, since 100-per-cent cotton needs ironing. But, “it’s not so much [about] wrinkle-resistance in the product, it’s more [about] the process. If you take them out and fold them right out of the dryer, sheets will be smoother,” Starrett explains.

He also notes most suppliers pre-shrink their product, but commercial laundries tend to “use very high temperatures — up to and above that which would be suggested by the manufacturers — and that could increase your shrinkage. It also depends on blend: the more cotton, the more shrinkage.”

This year, Eden Textile will introduce 100-per-cent micro-fibre sheets, which Starrett says will be stain-resistant and more durable, in addition to cutting drying time considerably — great news for operators. Efficiencies in linens, labour, product and machinery not only make for happier guests and healthier environments, but also help hoteliers sleep at night.

Written by Robert Roberts


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