Going Green in the Laundry

The desire to go green in lodging facilities is a growing trend. More hotels are looking for ways to become more environmentally friendly while still maximizing cleaning productivity and results. This need is driving requests from lodging properties for green laundry programs.

Detergents specially formulated to operate at a near-neutral pH and to be phosphate- and APE- (Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates) free are an environmentally sound choice for many lodging facilities. Many current laundry programs operate using a high pH system (11 and above on the pH scale of 1 to 14); however, there are programs that clean using a near-neutral pH. In order for some programs to clean, an alkali is added at the beginning of the cycle to increase the pH of the water to allow the fabric fibers to expand and the cleaning agents to pull the dirt and grime off the linens.

These harsh chemical systems leave linens vulnerable to encrustation (calcium build-up). Over time, encrustation can leave the fabrics feeling rough to the touch, which no amount of softener can overcome. It also means that high pH effluent is being released into the public sewage systems.

Not only does this impact the softness of the linens being washed, as the calcium deposits remain on the fabric's surface and cannot be reversed, but the workers responsible for folding and caring for these linens are affected. The harshness of the chemicals makes their hands dry and cracked. Employees using systems with near-neutral detergents often rave about the softness of the linens and how it has improved their lives.

The use of phosphates in retail detergents was restricted in the U.S. in the 1960s because of the impact it was having on waterway systems and algae cycles. Some systems still use phosphates in their commercial laundry programs, including their additives or special treatment products, while other manufacturers have removed the ingredient. APEs are a class of surfactant which have come under environmental scrutiny for their potential toxicity to certain marine life in aquatic environments such as streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Fabric softeners also make up a part of a laundry program. Fabric softeners that contain no polarizing dyes or perfumes and contain anti-chlorine to help maintain color fidelity can be a good choice for lodging facilities.

The final prong of a quality laundry program is bleach. Bleach is used to whiten, remove stains and disinfect through oxidation. While bleach has a reputation for having a negative environmental impact because of its high pH level, bleach is available in which the byproducts break down into salt and water. The bleach should not be classified by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as hazardous for transportation.

In general, when evaluating a laundry system for environmental responsibility, look beyond the sticker on the package. To determine overall environmental responsibility, you can look at the product manufacturer's overall environmental philosophy to get an understanding of their commitment and understanding to the environment and sustainability. One way to do this is by searching for companies that treat environmental responsibility as a core principle, (not a marketing gimmick where they only offer a few green products) and that have a long history of doing the right thing when it comes to green.

Choosing a green laundry program doesn't have to be difficult. A three-pronged laundry program featuring a near-neutral, phosphate-free, APE-free detergent; dye and perfume free fabric softener; and non-DOT hazardous bleach can help lodging facilities meet the growing demand for environmentally responsible cleaning practices.

Ed Offshack is associate director, global technology development with P&G Professional Cleaning Products. He is responsible for the development and qualification of all new technology and formulation, packaging, dispensing, dosage and delivery equipment for hard surface and fabric cleaning and care products. For more information on P&G Professional, call toll-free 1-888-4PG-PROLINE or visit www.pgproline.com

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