India's Only Hospitality Business Weekly Issue dated - 11th November, 2002
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Home > Inside > Full Story

Inside Housekeeping
Laundry Service: In-House Vs Outsourcing

Narendra Verma -

One of the most neglected aspects about good housekeeping is that it requires the support of a good laundry. More often than not, hotels spend large amounts of money on linen (for rooms as well as bathrooms) since that makes a statement about the quality of accommodation offered by the hotel. What goes largely ignored, however, is that to maintain this quality one needs an efficient and good quality of linen processing by an on-premise laundry.

All large hotels and especially the ones in the five-star category have in-house laundries to maintain high standards of quality and cleanliness. On the other hand, most small and medium-sized hotels do not have in-house laundries, as they cannot afford to have one, in terms of the cost of equipment and space required to house the laundry. No matter how good the outside laundry may be, all housekeepers dream of having their own in-house laundries for many reasons, of which, a few are listed below.

There is virtually no check on the quality of washing done by an external agency since there is no direct supervision by the hotel. Housekeepers complain that on many occasions the linen is returned without adopting the entire cleaning process since most of the time linen out of a hotel room is visually clean and is returned after rinsing and ironing. This creates a serious problem in terms of hygiene and sanitation.

By having an in-house laundry, the storage space in the linen room will be reduced as would be the overall requirement for the linen inventory which would come down by nearly 30-40 per cent, thereby contributing to the cost of the laundry. This would also apply to other items like towels, table linen and uniforms.

One is also never sure what type of treatment is given to the clothes by the outside laundries, as they tend to use stronger chemicals, acids, alkaline and bleach in-order to increase their production. These chemicals in turn weaken the fabrics and the quantity of discard increases.

In an in-house laundry, one is able to choose the right chemicals to ensure higher production and also longer life of linen and uniforms. With external laundries, it is at times difficult to get the kind of output required by hotel operations like in case of back to back check-in of a conference or a large group.

Since most commercial laundries cater to many establishments, the chances of the linen getting mixed up is most common. And even if the hotel manages to get the same quality of linen back, there are always chances that it may be much more used than the piece sent.

Ask any housekeeper and s/he will tell you that it is practically impossible to supervise all the above mentioned aspects in case of an external laundry. One must also not expect external laundries to be cost effective since in many cases, they charge the hotel on per piece basis instead of a lump sum contract value.

Over a period of time one invariably finds linen of different sizes, shades and quality being stacked up in the hotel’s stock — which can upset any quality-conscious establishment. And to add to the perils of the management, it finds laundry cost to be out of its control and supervision.

At times a hotel has to depend on an external laundry to meet its demand and in such cases there are several independent commercial laundries which can be used to clean the hotel linen, however, it is necessary to periodically visit the laundry to check on the process, chemicals and detergents being used and the quality of finish and folding. It is also important to check the source and quality of water to ensure that it is soft and will not discolour or damage the linen.

It is a fallacy to think that an in-house laundry is an expensive investment. In fact it can be modest if you keep the design and requirements simple. For instance, to process the room linen, one only requires a washer-cum-extractor and one flat-work ironing machine. If you also want to process bathroom linen, then you have to add a drying tumbler. A few hand ironing boards can be added to press the uniforms and the guest laundry.

As a rule, one requires a washer-cum-extractor of 100 lbs capacity to wash the room and bathroom linen of a 100-room four-star hotel in six days of eight-hour shifts, which does a double occupancy of 20 per cent. The flat-work iron required for processing bed linen and pillows can be a single roll machine, electrically heated, with a 15 dia roll of 110 length to process double sheets.

If single sheets are to be processed then the cost can reduce as the length of the roller will reduce. If the hotel does not have sufficient power for the iron then a small steam boiler will suffice. This boiler should be sized to handle the requirement of a drying tumbler to process the towels. A 50 lbs capacity drying tumbler, which can steam- heat, will be required to dry the bath towels.

These equipment and a baby steam boiler do not require much space as they can be installed in a room of approximately 400 sq ft comfortably. If this spaces is increased to 600 sq ft and two hand ironing boards with one steam heated buck press are added, one can process the uniforms and the guest laundry in the hotel.

For washing of guest laundry, one can buy a domestic type washer/extractor as it is ideal for washing smaller loads of 7-10 lbs. The income from the guest valet, laundry and ironing can offset the cost of washing the in-house linen. In most of the large hotels, the in-house laundry is free of cost and the laundry department is a self-sufficient profit making centre.

Why then more hotels do not go in for in-house laundries? Since people tend to make the subject more complicated and more expensive than it needs to be for a small 100-room hotel. Most of the laundry equipment required by a small hotel is being made in India and its cost would be in the range of approximately Rs 9-10 lakh or Rs 12 lakh including the uniform and guest laundry.

While purchasing or sourcing equipment, one should keep these in mind and try to meet people who have used the machines in-order to get first hand information.

The quality of the processed line, uniforms and guest laundry, check from other users. How compact or bulky is the equipment, as the extent of space required will depend on this. For example, one should go in for a washer/extractor combination, rather than purchasing two separate machines ie, washing machine and a hydro extractor at cheaper prices.

What is the efficiency and the actual production of the machine when compared to the rated capacity? This is important since the actual capacity is what it actually produces and not what it is rate for. What is the consumption of various utilities such as steam, electricity, hot and cold water as there are machines available which save more energy than others. What is the servicing and maintenance requirement and breakdown frequency? How expensive are spares? Whether the machine is automated or not as the staff requirement will depend on this. What extent of training needs to be imparted to staff to make best utilisation of the featured offered by the equipment.

Once these questions are addressed while setting up a on-premise laundry, one will find it has not only resulted in enhanced standards of accommodation, but has also brought the cost down.

Those who want to import under the EPCG scheme, can import a variety of equipment from Europe or the US at comparable cost than what is available locally. The imported equipment is certainly much more compact, efficient and energy saving than its local counterpart in India.

(The author is director of Consolidated Equipment Pvt Ltd)

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