Have you ever seen a signboard in your hotel room that asked you to drop used towels on the floor if you want it replaced the next day? Or perhaps, during the last time you dipped in the hotel swimming pool, did you ever lay your towel by the poolside floor for convenience?

These practices are known to cause microscopic damages on towels.

And here’s another sad truth: They continue to be tolerated until today.

In the hotel industry, linen life is everything. Linen, which ranges from sheets to duvets to towels, is what makes a hotel stay aspirational and valuable. Hotels promise a restful sleep as you lay on the softest pillows and sheets, or a pampered bath enveloped by the best terries. In fact, a study in 2016 by Xeros revealed that hotel towels can affect the overall guest experience.

Yet many practices in the hotel industry continue to go against the very focus of keeping linen lives long. One good example are signages which encourage guests to drop their towels on the floor if they wish them replaced. While the intention is positive, a towel on a dirty floor only brings more soil and stain to the terry, which would mean the laundry team will need to subject the towel to extra cleaning processes, such as stain-removing procedures.

It is extremely possible to remove stains with today’s technology, but as I have learned over the last 49 years in laundry: the stain removal process causes stress to the linen, eventually shortening its life if done regularly. (Once is acceptable, but imagine doing this on the linen every day.)

Leaving towels by the poolside

Dropping towels on the poolside floor before jumping into the water is also a notorious customer abuse that must be stopped. 

Pools are disinfected everyday by applying granular calcium hypochlorite. This cleaning chemical eventually finds its way to the edges of the pool and stays on the poor towel. The chemical causes small holes on the fiber, which eventually turns bigger as the towel fibers are stretched by the frequent washing process.

This is the very reason why you should not wash other linen with pool towels as the chemicals from cleaning the pool can potentially cause damage to other linen.

This is great example of chemical damage on towel, image courtesy of Standard Textile.

From linen damage to par problem

If you have stayed in a hotel and you found you are missing a towel or a sheet after repeated requests, it could be that the property is facing challenges such as linen supply.

In the hotel industry, we call this par level. The housekeeping par level is the amount of linen kept by the hotel to meet guest demand. Four (4) par means there are 4 sets of linen ready to be used. High par levels are maintained to serve new arriving guests as soiled linen from the previous day are washed and dried. (If laundry is outsourced or offsite, this process is longer.)

Problems with par are caused by various reasons such as pilferage and mix ups. Damages are also to blame, especially when bad practices such as the ones I explained are tolerated.

When a set of towels are rendered unusable, it depletes the par level of a hotel. A hotel then is forced to use and wash the remaining towels more frequently, which then accelerates the natural loss of the terry’s tensile strength. If a towel were to have a hypothetical life span of 1 year and you stretch its originally intended use from once to twice daily, its life span would hypothetically be cut short by half.

To resolve these issues, hotels need to apply methods such as the fishbone analysis and dig deep into the problems. Sometimes, it would surprise the analyst that simple means such as proper instruction for guests (which I call interdependency, but more about this later) and guidance can save the hotel not only money but also reputation.

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About the author: Engr. Romy Apolega has been in the Philippines’ cleaning, sanitation and laundry industry since 1973, or over 49 years. He is one of the country’s sought after experts in the field, having had leadership roles at BASF, Diversey, Kalinisan Steam Laundry, Oxychem, Chemlux, and WARM, among othersHe served at the national board of the Philippine Institute of Chemical Engineers. Email him at rhapolega@yahoo.com