Crisp, clean, soft sheets aren’t a treat, they’re an expectation. After a long day of working, travelling or sightseeing, there are few indulgences a guest cherishes more than slipping between highquality, comfortable linens. She might forget a sputtering coffee maker or ageyellowed phone but not a visit sullied by missing towels and stained pillowcases.
While laundry may not be the most exciting topic of conversation, the state and presence of a hotel’s linens is crucially important. Fortunately, hoteliers have options. And, while those options are often contingent on the size and scope of the operation, savvy operators adopt a system that works best for them. For hoteliers operating small facilities, chief considerations may be efficiency and affordability. At bigger establishments — with bigger budgets — knowing exactly what machine is washing the highthread count Egyptian cotton sheets, trumps economics.
“We use a supplier that works with a lot of local hotels,” says Delphine Elefante, executive assistant and marketing coordinator at Mont Tremblant, Que.’s 30room, boutique Hotel Quintessence, which sends its laundry to a cleaning facility every two days. “It wouldn’t be possible to do laundry on premise because of our size, so sending it out is more efficient and less expensive.”
Space and affordability are big factors when deciding whether to outsource laundry. “We send laundry out because we’re a boutique hotel with 77 rooms,” says Nada Vintar, the director of Housekeeping at Vancouver’s Loden Hotel. “Doing it here isn’t economically viable.”
Economically speaking, outsourcing laundry isn’t necessarily cheap. Vintar estimates it costs approximately $175,000 per year. However, the hefty price tag comes with its share of benefits, such as reduced labour costs. “If we did laundry here, labour costs would be higher, and we’d need a lot more equipment space,” she says.
Sending laundry out is an option, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. While not common, sheets and towels can be lost, and abiding by another facility’s schedule can be stressful. For those who outsource, a strong relationship can mitigate risk and ensure topnotch service. “A lot depends on the relationship [you have with your supplier],” says Vintar. “You need to know when the laundry is coming back, and, if you need something done quickly, they can do it.”
It comes down to communication, which is crucial if you want to ensure another facility’s machines can do the job. “When you have 300-count cotton sheets, you know they’ll fry in hot temperatures,” explains Vintar. “The company has to know what linens you have, and you need to know they have the equipment to handle them.”
Good communication is also important if something goes awry. “We sometimes receive damaged linens or linens from other hotels,” notes Vintar. “Before we send linens out, we do a careful count, so we know right away if there’s a discrepancy. If it’s a large discrepancy, we follow up right away.”
While an outsourced model, which saves on labour and capital costs —according to Vintar, small washers and dryers cost more than $3,000 each — makes sense for a smaller operation, at larger properties, such as the new 267- room Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, washing laundry on premises is preferred because it guarantees control. “It’s good for quick service and reliability,” says Stavros Kouyoumdjis, director of Housekeeping at the hotel. “You can prioritize, and it’s good in case there’ssome problem, like snowstorm. We also have less loss, and people respect the linens more because they’re our own. It’s also easier to do accurate inventory.”
The Ritz-Carlton has three large washing machines that can handle 165 pounds per load, and dryers accommodate 175 pounds of linens per cycle. The establishment also houses such housekeeping treasures as a towel folder, ironer and steam tunnel for items that need a gentler touch.
On the equipment side, green initiatives are top of mind at the Ritz. “We have green or eco-friendly drycleaning machines that use hydrocarbon, which has less impact on health,” Kouyoumdjis says. “Our equipment is modern, and we use an Ecolab product called Formula 1, which is a detergent that requires fewer chemicals. It comes self-contained in a small bucket, so you don’teven have to touch it.” And, to curtail alergy sensitives, Kouyoumdjis likes to wash with Formula 1. “[It’s] a very mild detergent and doesn’t usually cause irritation. However, if a guest informs us in advance of certain sensitivities, we wash those linens separately with home style non-allergenic products.”
As far as budgets go, laundry equipment isn’t thrifty. Kouyoumdjis says the ironing machine costs about $180,000, with the washing machines running about $50,000 and dryers approximately $15,000 each. However, the steam and electricityrun system, which requires no oil or gas, saves money and stress. “It’s less expensive, and it’s safer, since there’s no risk of an explosion. It’s also lower maintenance, because you don’t have to clean any boilers,” he says.
Much like smaller operations, laundry at larger hotels is done constantly. On a typical day, linens are sent to the washer, where one employee oversees the process. After being washed, two employees process and press the freshly cleaned products. Though it seems more labour intensive, Kouyoumdjis argues that efficient equipment translates to moderate labour costs.
Fortunately for hoteliers stuck in the middle, the laundry conundrum is not an eitheror proposition, and, for some, a mixture of inhouse and outsourced laundry service works well. Such is the case at the Canmore, Alta.based Econo Lodge, a 60room property that has one washer and dryer on site for smaller items such as towels and facecloths. Meanwhile, linens are sent to the local Fairmont Regional Linen Service, and another hotel does its laundry.
“Logistically, [a mixed system] makes sense,” says Jason Hamilton, the establishment’s operations manager. “Towels tend to get stained more often, so you have more control over how they’re treated. We send sheets out because washing them is more labour intensive.” Like the Loden’s Vintar, Hamilton stresses the importance of labour savings, saying it’s most beneficial when sheets are taken care of offpremises, translating to less need for inhouse housekeeping employees.
“There can be some logistical issues,” he admits. “Sometimes [the contract company is] busy or unable to get some stains out, or they take longer to clean some sheets properly, but it’s not a big enough issue to make us want to do all laundry inhouse.” And, in the event that a sheet does return with a telltale imprint of a latenight snack, Hamilton says an inhouse employee should spot clean. “You have to make sure staff is on top of their inspections,” he says.
At the end of the day, while a guest may never know if their sheets have spent time on the laundry cart alone, or have been shipped across town, crisp cleanliness of bedding and towels remains the fundamental goal of any operation. With new technologies and laundry solutions available, hoteliers simply need to find the best fit.