Today's Spin on Laundry

Colleges and universities across the country are installing card-operated, energy-efficient washers and dryers in existing and new student laundries.

“We’ve been manufacturing card interfaces for our washers and dryers for about 12 years now,” says Ron Fey, general manager of commercial laundry for Maytag Corp., Newton, Iowa.

Fey declines to discuss the percentage of its college and university business using card-operated washers and dryers, but he does say that the annual growth of this segment of the company’s college and university business has exceeded 10 percent for each of the last six years. “The trend definitely is to get away from coins and to go to cards,” he says.

As more institutions move to debit and smart card technology, laundry stands out as one of the primary campus vending services amenable to card operation.

Card-operated laundries are also easier for students. Swiping a card gets the laundry done faster than hustling around campus looking for change.

Card systems also offer convenience to facility administrators, who no longer need to deal with coin collection issues. Card systems give facility managers control of revenue. With coin-operated machines, route operators, who typically lease space from institutions, install and maintain the equipment, while collecting the revenue. Operators then bank and split the revenue with the institution under whatever terms have been negotiated.

Card systems relieve operators of money-handling responsibilities and the errors that can easily accompany those responsibilities. When a student pays for laundry services by swiping a card, debit or credit information flows into the institution’s data network where software ensures accurate accounting. In addition, the institution gets the money right away. Instead of waiting for a check from the operator, the institution cuts a check in the amount of the operator’s share.

Perhaps the most nettlesome issue related to card-operated laundries involves the card-reading equipment. Many washers and dryers come from manufacturers with preinstalled readers, which may or may not work with the cards an institution has issued.

Maytag has solved this problem by shipping its equipment to route operators with an interface, but no preinstalled reader. “Our engineers have worked with most card reader manufacturers, and those companies have developed readers that tie into the electronics that operate our washers and dryers,” says Fey.

The Maytag route operator consults with the institution’s facilities manager to determine what card reader will both accept the institution’s chosen card style and operate the equipment.

Energy Efficient Equipment

In recent years, rising energy costs have led facility managers to scrutinize equipment proposals from route operators with an eye to energy efficiency. Drought conditions in some areas of the country have also given rise to an interest in the efficient use of water.

Both of these issues are particularly important down at the laundry.

According to Fey, the cost of the electricity necessary to operating laundry equipment is nominal. “The important costs involve the amount of water used and the energy required to heat the water,” he says. “In some cases, you have to pay a sewer fee to dispose of the water -- an issue that also relates to the amount of water used by a clothes washer. This is more common in laundromats, but a college or university may find that this is becoming an issue in its community.”

To deal with water volume and water heating issues, equipment vendors have introduced new washers through the past five years. In 1997, Maytag brought out its Commercial Neptune washer, which has become popular in laundromats as well as in the college and university market.

In technical terms, the Neptune is a front-loading, horizontal access washing machine.

Top-loading washers require a full tub of water. Even a small residential top-loader uses as much as 18 gallons of water.

In a front-loading washer, clothes tumble through a pool of detergent concentrate water filling only the bottom of the tank.

The Neptune requires about half the amount of water necessary to launder a full load of clothes in a conventional commercial top-loading machine. This, of course, cuts the water bill in half. It also reduces energy use, given the need to heat less water.

“A horizontal access washer also spins at a greater speed than a top loader,” Fey says. “So the clothes come out of the washer a little dryer. That can save energy during drying because the dryer can do its job in a shorter time.”

New Laundry Locations

Student laundries have traditionally operated on campus, in buildings near the residence halls. Today, however, new apartment-style housing for students on and off campus have begun to alter this traditional model.

How many washers and dryers does it take to service a garden-apartment residence hall? “There might be several areas where there are two washers and two dryers, instead of one large area with 12 washers and 12 dryers,” says Fey. “As a rule of thumb, route operators generally provide one washing machine for every 20 people. In a garden apartment, a typical installation assumes that two people live in each apartment and that every 10 apartments needs a washer.”

Depending on the size of college or university apartments and the numbers of students assigned to each, this general formula might need to be rinsed, spun and adjusted.