Originally posted – Jan 11, 2012

You’ve finally decided to diversify your laundry business and take on some commercial accounts.

Great! But you must understand that there are some big differences between the residential wash-dry-fold laundry you may already be doing and commercial work – especially from a chemical and cleaning standpoint.

The primary difference is that, with most commercial accounts, you’ll be washing the exact same thing. They may be a combination of towels and sheets or napkins and tablecloths, but they’re usually a large quantity of the exact same type of item – same materials, same colors.

Therefore, you can do most or all of the cleaning in the washing machine. Generally, I don’t do any pre-treating on commercial accounts, because I can treat everything chemically inside of my washer, which eliminates a lot of the work. That’s one of the beauties of commercial work.

In Hot Water

However, to do so, you must make a few adjustments to your washers. The first thing is to raise your water temperature to potentially as high as 180 degrees, because the best cleaning and chemical reactions within a washer occur at approximately 160 degrees. You will achieve better results at 180 degrees, but after that, you start creating potential problems as you get closer to the boiling point of 212 degrees.

Why do you want to increase the water temperature in the drum?

It’s because you don’t want to have to take the time to inspect every individual stain on every single commercial laundry item. It’s the only way self-service laundry owners can truly compete with commercial laundries, which don’t do any stain treating.

In fact, the way a typical commercial laundry handles stain treating is by dumping everything through its system and then having its finished product inspection identify garments that did not get cleaned through their standard process. At this point, they will create a “reclaim load,” where they will go back and highly increase the chemistry – just simply blasting those items with heavy doses of non-chlorinated bleaching agents, detergents and surfactants.

Traditionally, commercial laundries don’t do any stain treating at any point, ever. They never take the time to look at an individual stain.

Therefore, if you’re going to be successful in pricing and competing with those big guys, you can’t take time with your commercial accounts to individually treat stains.

That said, there are a couple of ways to do raise the heat inside your washing machines. At my store, we handle a lot of our commercial laundry first thing in the morning, so we’ll simply turn up the temperature on our water heater when very few customers are in the store on Monday through Friday. Then, when we’ve got the last commercial load in, we’ll turn the water temperature back down, and operate the rest of the day and on the weekends at our normal self-service laundry temperature.

Another option is an inline water heater, where you actually select certain washers on which to raise the temperature. Of course, always select the machines that are least used by your customers; this way you will wear out your equipment evenly, and you won’t be in the way of your self-service customers.

You can purchase either electric- or gas-powered inline water heaters, and they will increase the heat only to those machines you’ve selected. Also, you can turn the inline heater on for commercial laundry and off again when that machine is being used by self-service customers.

Less is More

Once you decide to raise the water temperature for your commercial accounts, it’s important to understand that you won’t require nearly as large as quantity of chemicals as you would with lower temperatures, because those chemicals are going to work a lot more efficiently.

For example, any bleaching agent doubles its effectiveness every 15 degrees. In other words, you may use a certain amount of bleach in 100-degree water to achieve favorable results. However, at 115 degrees, you’ll require half of that amount of bleach. And, at 130 degrees, you’ll need only a quarter of that amount.

The same is true for many detergents, except for enzymes (which are typically too expensive and too time-consuming to use on commercial laundry anyway).

‘Built’ to Clean

Most of the stains you’ll be dealing with from your commercial accounts are likely going to be protein stains, such as food, massage oils, etc. Most of them will fall toward the high pH side of the world.

The best detergent to use for these stains is called a “built”detergent. And most commercial laundries indeed use some version of a built detergent.

In general, built detergents are those with alkali in them, and alkali comes in a lot of different formats. One of my favorite ones is caustic soda, or sodium hydroxide. It’s typically friendly to most garments and really builds up the alkalinity significantly in the washer drum. However, it’s quite dangerous to handle by itself; that’s why it’s sold as a built detergent, where it’s mixed with other chemicals like surfactants, which suspend the soil in the load.

A quality built detergent will raise the pH level inside your washing machine to 8 or 9, which should be enough to remove most commercial stains. Also, for most of the commercial work you’ll be doing, you will be able to bleach in the same cycle with your built detergent.

As a word of warning, you cannot use ammonia as a pH builder if you’re going to use chlorine bleach with it. You’ll create an adverse reaction and end up with chlorine gas in the laundromat. It’s wiser to buy a built detergent than to use ammonia when you’re doing commercial laundry. You’ll get better results and, more importantly, you won’t run the risk of doing something that could potentially harm the people in your store.

Another advantage of using a built detergent is that it’s effective in small quantities and reacts well at higher temperatures.

Lastly, never ever use a built detergent in a topload washer. Most of today’s toploaders are constructed with mild steel parts, and if you alter the pH, that mild steel will begin to rust in short order. Basically, it will destroy the washing machine.

Some Final Thoughts

When using soap detergents for your commercial work, you want to be sure to rinse those loads at least three times and, on the third rinse, add some type of fabric softener/sour. This is because, after you raise the pH level in a fabric, you must bring that level back down; otherwise, whoever comes in contact with that high-pH-level fabric will likely have some type of allergic reaction. Multiple rinses will get the pH level back down to neutral.

In fact, you may want to consider having specialty programming on some of your washers dedicated to commercial accounts. On my “commercial”washers, I have longer wash cycles. I also program multiple rinses and extend the time on the first and second rinses, because there are still chemicals inside the items during those rinses. I also program at least the first rinse of the special cycle to be a hot-water rinse; this does a better job of breaking loose the soil and getting a larger amount of it out.

Ultimately, doing commercial work is all about learning what specifically works best with individual fibers – whether it’s cotton, polyester or a poly/cotton blend – and then understanding the specific stains that each commercial account will be generating on those fibers.

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