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Laundry management: the soft water advantage.

Water conditioning can save the facility on resident satisfaction and the bottom line

Whether you're operating a nursing home, a restaurant or other commercial establishment, equipment costs represent a sizable part of overall expenses. In the case of nursing home laundry operations, equipment purchases and maintenance, as well as the cost of the chemicals used, can have a tremendous impact on overall profitability. One of the key factors affecting these costs is the quality of the water being supplied to the nursing home.

Hard water, defined as water containing calcium and magnesium, is found in most water supplies, whether the water originates from a private source or municipality. Hardness levels can vary dramatically and have varying effects on laundry equipment (see table). Hard water, if left untreated, will cause scale damage to laundry equipment by forming lime curd buildup on moving parts. All parts that operate in hard water are subject to corrosion or calcium fouling that will shorten the life of the equipment and increase overall operating costs.

To avoid these problems, many commercial establishments condition their water with an ion-exchange water softener. Even leading manufacturers of laundry equipment often recommend the use of soft water vs. hard water for optimum performance of their equipment. Softened water not only increases the efficiency of laundry equipment, but also enhances the cleaning action of detergents, decreases the amount of detergent needed and might eliminate the need for fabric softeners. Industry experts estimate that chemical costs can be reduced by 20 to 35% when soft water is used, adding up to a tremendous savings over just a two-year period.

In addition, laundry will actually look better and last longer if not subjected to repeated hard water washings. Clothes and linens cannot be thoroughly cleaned because hard water minerals interfere with the cleaning action. In fact, they can actually cause whites to yellow or gray over time. The combination of calcium carbonate and detergent that is deposited on laundry causes scale buildup and color deterioration. It can also shorten the life of the laundered product by breaking down the material's fibers, causing a premature replacement of linens, bedspreads, towels, washcloths, nightgowns and lab coats. A study conducted at Purdue University concluded that the life of clothing and household textiles was prolonged up to 15% when washed in conditioned water.

So, what are the facility's options in accomplishing this?

Most nursing homes have two separate water sources plumbed into the laundry, one for hot water and one for cold water. Ideally, all water supplied throughout the nursing home should be conditioned in order to deliver noticeable benefits in the kitchen, individual bathrooms, the laundry room and the plumbing that runs throughout the units. If the current water supply has a very high hardness level and also contains manganese and iron, the benefits of conditioning all the water are especially noticeable.

For budget reasons, however, nursing homes that don't experience this kind of problem water could choose to just soften the hot water supply. There are several good reasons for this. Both hot water tanks and boilers are subject to scale buildup. When water is heated, it accelerates the precipitation of calcium carbonate, which is colorless in water. When heated, however, calcium carbonate becomes a white or crystalline compound, CaC[O.sup.3]. This, in turn, will scale all hot water distribution lines, as well as equipment, eventually affecting water flow and overall operating efficiency. In addition, calcium carbonate acts as an insulator that interferes with heat transfer, resulting in poor heat distribution and higher heating bills.

Water Quality Association Hardness Classification Chart

Term Grains/Gallon

Soft Water Less than 1.0
Moderately Hard Water 1.0-3.5
Hard Water 3.5-7.0
Very Hard Water 7.0-10.5
Extremely Hard Water Over 10.5

Considering all the problems caused by hard water, it is easy to see why soft water is essential for all hot water supplies. However, even if tighter budgets do not allow for soft water to be supplied throughout the nursing home, a return on investment (ROI) analysis will usually indicate that in addition to softening the hot water, at least the dedicated cold water line to the laundry should also be conditioned.

Before choosing a water conditioner, however, be certain to have your water tested by a water-quality professional to determine its level of hardness and whether or not other minerals (e.g., iron, manganese, etc.) are present. Only in this way can you ensure that the system you select is perfectly matched to your specific water-quality conditions.

Second, ask about third-party certification. Many systems on the market today are certified by outside companies, such as NSF International. This unbiased certification ensures that the system will perform according to the manufacturer's claims.

Third, investigate the reliability of the system. Only twin-tank conditioners can guarantee the delivery of soft water 24 hours a day, since one tank continues service while the other regenerates (cleans itself). Also, according to leading consumer-rating publications, water conditioners with timers and electrical components are less reliable, since they're subject to power outages and electrical part repairs.

Finally, take the time to investigate the history and reputation of the manufacturer. The bottom line is that it should produce a quality water conditioner that lasts as long (if not longer) than your laundry equipment.

George Hohman is the manager of commercial sales for Kinetico, Inc., a leading manufacturer of water treatment systems. For more information, call 1-800-944-WATER (9283), or visit the company's Web site at
COPYRIGHT 1999 Medquest Communications, LLC
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Hohman, George
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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