Stop Upping Your Downtime (Part 1)


(Photo: ©iStock/alengo)

Tim Burke |

Regular preventative maintenance can reduce breakdowns, and that controls costs

CHICAGO — “What, me worry?”

You’ve heard that expression. It’s especially humorous when used in movies and on television shows.

But in business, it can lead to some trouble. Don’t get caught shrugging your shoulders and putting off regular drycleaning plant and equipment maintenance.

Hoping you can just ignore any potential problem until sometime in the future is a recipe for trouble. Keeping to your scheduled preventative maintenance plan will actually save you money, helping you to avoid expensive “machine-down” situations. And that, it turns out, pleasantly lowers costs and gives more “bottom line” to you.

A drycleaning plant’s preventative maintenance schedule should include daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly tasks that will keep your business well-oiled and operating smoothly and cost-effectively.

Orville Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for FabriClean Supply, a Dallas-based distributor of drycleaning, laundry and janitorial products to North America customers, notes some of those key tasks to be aware of.

For daily maintenance, dry cleaners should clean laundry press heads, remove creases from shirt unit air bags, cycle the bucks without a garment when production stops for lunch and at the end of the day, and wipe down drycleaning press pads and head plates at the end of production.

As for weekly tasks, Johnson reminds dry cleaners to rotate collar and cuff padding front to back, and also check and clean all air filters, replacing them as needed.

Monthly maintenance jobs include a check of laundry press heads for proper temperature (325 F is optimum), a check of all vacuum hoses for leaks, cleaning lint from the vacuum motor, and removing any lint build-up from steel base pads and vacuum ports in shirt body presses.

Lastly, on a month-to-month basis, check air-bag attachment swivels and replace as needed, he says.

As far as quarterly responsibilities go, dry cleaners should rotate collar and cuff steel base pads front to back, Johnson notes, as well as clean the inside of all vacuum hoses, check for holes and replace if needed.

The drycleaning industry is evolving with new technologies. Preventative maintenance is a planned program of regular service to your equipment so that you run efficiently and keep the threat of costly downtime at bay.

“Tight margins are the issue today in dry cleaning,” says Shawn Hopkins, sales manager for A-1 Products Inc., a distributor of drycleaning equipment based in Birmingham, Ala. “It’s hard to convince some dry cleaners to change-out parts regularly, such as steel pads. Maintenance saves money on all the touch-ups that have to be done when old equipment isn’t getting the job done.”

Hopkins believes that utilities such as electricity and gas aren’t viewed as negotiable, but preventative maintenance is seen that way. In tight economic times, it’s not considered a priority by some dry cleaners. However, others see things differently and take the long view, scheduling regular maintenance for their machines.

Organize your plant schedules and make preventative maintenance requirements and tasks known to all your employees.

“The most important key to preventative maintenance is having the proper training, and understanding the importance of each task,” says Jason Smith, technical service for drycleaning equipment manufacturer Union Drycleaning Products USA, headquartered in McDonough, Ga.

“For example, when the customer cleans the lint filters, they are not cleaning just the lint off the filters,” says Smith. “But they are providing proper air flow for the drying and preventing the refrigeration coils from building up any lint that could cause the refrigeration system not to reclaim the solvent as it should. So, having proper training and the knowledge of each task is key.”


Manufacturers recommend maintenance. At your drycleaning business, you have to take action and ensure performance of the tasks — or have it scheduled.

Allan Cripe, owner of Valet Cleaners, Temple, Texas, has presented preventative maintenance seminars on the responsibility and awareness necessary for business owners to maintain their plants and equipment.

He says we can divide the topic of regular maintenance into three major areas: compressed air, steam and vacuum lines (or systems).

“One thing in our industry is inevitable: downtime,” says Cripe. “This is a dirty word where I come from. If we are fortunate, we can do a few things to make this a much smaller part of our lives.”

On the topic of compressed air, he says a simple motto helps: Clean, dry compressed air is good; moist, dirty compressed air is bad.

“Put a dryer or heat exchanger on the line after the compressor before it goes to the machines. This will pay dividends in the long run.”

Make sure all your machines and presses have individual, properly functioning filters at the inlets feeding the air supply, Cripe suggests. “This is the last line of defense because condensation can occur in the air lines despite being treated beforehand.”

Drain your air compressor tanks daily, and change the oil in the heads according to the number of hours operated. “A good rule of thumb is twice a year, minimum,” he says.

Next is the vacuum system. This is a critical component to proper finishing and spotting on the drycleaning side, according to Cripe.

“The vacuum is needed to ‘set’ the press job on the drycleaning side. Make sure you drain your vacuum tank daily here as well.”

This tank “stores all of the condensed steam you’ve sucked out of the clothes,” Cripe notes, suggesting you keep the vacuum valves properly lubricated to ensure long life. There are machines that have self-contained vacuums requiring little maintenance, but make sure to clean any filter screens according to manufacturer’s recommendations, he counsels.

Also, inspect the hoses for small holes or cracks that occur over time. You can repair them with silicone tape temporarily until the hose can be replaced, he advises.

“Finally, the big kahuna,” Cripe says, “the steam system.”

He says the “boiler is the most important piece of equipment we own, and unfortunately, the most neglected.”

There are two key duties that need to be taken care of “as religiously as brushing your teeth.”

“First, blow the thing down (both water level safety and the main) every day,” he implores.

“This seems easy to do, but people fail to do this and suffer the consequences. The ideal steam pressure to blow down the boiler is between 15-50 psi,” he notes. “Any more just blows out steam and does not pick up the particulate matter.”

The second key duty Cripe insists be taken care of is treating the feed water. This means using a good-quality boiler compound and, depending on your city water, a water softener.

“If possible, don’t add the boiler compound directly into the return tank unless you flush it right into the boiler by opening the blowdown drain and activating the pump,” he says.

If the compound sits in your return tank, it’s highly corrosive, he notes, both to the tank as well as the impellers on your feed pump. Ideally, you want it to go downline from the pump. “These two steps alone,” Cripe says, “will add years to your boiler’s life.”

Keep in mind there aren’t any regulations or policies on preventative maintenance. A drycleaning owner needs to be fully aware of a plant’s equipment needs. Make good habits concerning your maintenance procedures part of regular life at your business.

A few other things to remember: There are federal regulations on spent filter cartridges and chemical waste disposal for dry cleaners.

Follow regulations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) laws. RCRA requires the following of certain practices and procedures associated with the safe management of hazardous waste.

Also, insurance coverage requires inspection of boilers. Make sure you are keeping up with the R and Rs (regs and requirements) necessary to run your business. To do this, keep good files, dated and organized, where you can access them if you need to check maintenance track records on any of your equipment.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Tim Burke

American Drycleaner


Tim Burke is the editor of American Drycleaner. He can be reached at 312-361-1684 or [email protected]


Latest Podcast

Coaching, collaboration and teamwork help create an unforgettable front counter team, relates Todd Ofsink, CEO of Todd Layne Cleaners. To nurture that customer-first mentality, he says it's sort of like being a parent. And he's looking for that caring, special person who can shine at the front counter.

Want more? Visit the archive »

Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds