Ducks 'n a Row: How Much Laundry Do Hospitals Do?

27 July 2015

How Much Laundry Do Hospitals Do?

Most of us don’t enjoy doing laundry. But the laundry we deal with at home is nothing compared to what hospitals are responsible for. Blood, urine, vomit, and everything in between routinely soil hospital linens and the housekeeping staff (or an outside facility) are responsible for making these linens look new again. Meanwhile, most of us have to end up replacing a shirt that gets a little coffee on it.

laundry; microfiber; cleaning; hospital cleaning

However, it’s not just the type of laundry that hospitals have to deal with that burdens them, but also the sheer amount of volume required. Just think about the last time you were in a hospital. There were likely thousands of patients being treated in one facility, all requiring a variety of linens from sheets to gowns, and they are being replaced on a regular basis at different time intervals. That’s a lot of laundry to handle. Let’s take a look at just how much laundry hospitals really have to deal with.

How Much Laundry Do Hospitals Do?

To put things in perspective, the average American household does about 400 loads of laundry each year. According to Florida Hospital, between their eight facilities in Orlando they clean over 70,000 pounds of laundry every day!

Handling this task requires a team of over one hundred people in their laundry department. Their laundry is replaced every 24 hours or less. Once the linens have been cleaned, they are exchanged for more soiled linens in a never-ending cycle.

So how does this break down exactly? In a single day, this one hospital system cleans the following items:
  • 25,000 washcloths
  • 13,000 isolation gowns
  • 14,000 towels

Suddenly the 400 loads of laundry that American households do per year doesn’t sound like very much. The amount of laundry required by hospitals requires a tremendous amount of resources beyond the time and labor -- water, electricity, and soap are all used heavily, which concerns many. This has led hospitals to seek out methods for increasing efficiency.

The increase in efficiency starts before the linens are ever soiled. More and more hospitals are switching to microfiber products, which absorb more contaminants, require less water, and are much easier to clean with. This cuts down the use of various linens for cleaning dramatically and also makes the job for housekeepers in hospitals easier, allowing them to get more done in less time.

The linen cleaning industry, those who offer services for hospitals, restaurants, etc, are actively looking to improve their machines and processes. As the healthcare industry continues to grow, the demand for such services will only expand as well. This presents a great opportunity for innovative companies to step in and gain significant market share.

Access to clean water is diminishing and water prices are on the rise. Although this conversation hasn’t really gone mainstream yet, companies within this space are already taking notice. As our access to clean water gets lower, the public eye will fixate on industries who use the most water and these companies are likely to face the most scrutiny. No one will likely question the need for clean linens in healthcare facilities, but there’s no doubt that cleaning efficiency will need to improve.

How Much Do Hospitals Spend On Laundry?

This is the part that concerns most healthcare facilities -- the actual cost of laundry. Typical laundry costs make up for one to three percent of hospital budgets on average. Those percentages might sound low, but the total dollar amount adds up to millions.

According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), the nearly 5,795 registered hospitals in the country admit more than 37 million patients each year at a cost of $727 trillion. That’s a lot of money. However, that’s for the entire industry and not for just one hospital.

Many hospitals are decreasing these costs by improving the efficiency of their laundry facilities or through outsourcing to innovative companies providing laundry service. An example is The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which rents its linen and spends a little less than one percent (about $15 million) of its total expenses on linen services. Now imagine how much hospitals are paying when cleaning accounts for three percent of their budget.

Hospitals looking for these types of linen rental/cleaning services will typically pay between 35 cents to 51 cents per pound. Again, those numbers might sound low but this adds up to thousands of dollars per day in costs for hospitals. And the profit for these cleaning services typically only amounts to a maximum of a few cents per pound.

Even a slight improvement in efficiency can add up to millions of dollars in saved expenses for healthcare facilities. This is an industry to certainly keep an eye on in the near future. It might not be the most appealing field, but someone has to handle the dirty jobs and there’s enough demand to go around.

Kyle Stout is a freelance writer based out of Tulsa, OK. He is a healthcare professional and has prepared this article on behalf of Texas Microfiber.

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