Don’t throw the towel in on finished work odours

Richard Neale of LTC Worldwide shares his expertise on controlling odours on finished work, with particular reference to cabinet roller towels (CRTs). Don’t let these problems bug you, they are surmountable, he says


ustomer expectations of cabinet roller towels (CRTs) are usually based on the assumption that a freshly laundered towel is sterile from end to end and the fact that each new user gets a clean bit as it is unwound from the roll means that the freshly exposed towel is free from bacteria and viruses, as well as soiling and staining. This rosy perception is clouded a little if the towel displays visible staining and even more if the user gets a whiff of horrible odours or experiences a greasy sensation from unremoved oils and fats. Fifteen years ago, users’ suspicions that CRTs were not as clean and bug- free as they supposed might have been entirely justified. Measurements by Laundry Technology Centre sometimes revealed high levels of residual soiling and staining, unacceptably high bug counts and the occasional revolting stench. All this has now changed, and market leaders are delivering cabinet towels with residual bug counts that would satisfy a

hospital, virtually stain-free and smelling consistently as sweet as a rose! This has enabled the CRT market to stabilise and clear the way for expansion, despite the large share of washroom hand-drying still being taken by paper towels and hot air blowers; and the recent pandemic has placed the spotlight back on CRT hygiene. This major quality improvement was not just down to careful laundering. Research work by leading chemical suppliers played a significant role, along with some engineering innovations from equipment manufacturers. Much of the research is still under wraps, but this month we examine the ways in which the leaders are addressing the

What causes odours?

There four major areas of odour generation: ■ excrement from bugs that breed on unremoved soiling,

■ particulates that get up the nose, ■ residual oils, fats, greases or ■ wash chemicals.

Removing each of these, to a satisfactorily low-level, calls for some imaginative wash chemistry that relies on a multi-component mixture, each part of which targets a different type of soiling.


Examples of particulates that can give rise to complaint if not removed include: ■ carbon particles found in soot or dirty grease from firefighters’, engineers’ or industrial oven-cleaners’ hands,

■ flour and other food ingredients from workers in food processing and food preparation and

CLASSIC PATTERN: This towel has been stored damp and the area shown has become contaminated with fungal spores, which have grown to give the classic pattern now seen

16 LCN | June 2021

■ dust from powder manufacturers and floor dirt from cleaning operatives, for example.

Particulates are removed using mechanical action and a good suspending agent in the main-wash detergent. This ‘wraps

around’ each particle of food or whatever, helping to lift it off the textile and (equally importantly) keeping it suspended in the wash liquor until it can be flushed to drain. Protein particles need softening in a well-designed, cool pre-wash to avoid setting of the protein (which could lock this onto the fibres of the yarns and prevent removal).


Any residues of organic matter (from foods, drinks, human or animal body fluids and so on) are liable to give rise to bacterial growth. It is the excrement from breeding bacteria which generates the wide range of odours which these give off. These might be acidic, which smell sharp and pungent. Others could be alkaline and tend to smell dank, like an open sewer. Human vomit gives off the sharp and readily recognisable smell of butyric acid. Stale perspiration can give an equally sharp and characteristic acidic odour and contains protein which must be softened in the pre-wash before it becomes set and irremovable in the main wash. Bacteria are an ever-present feature of the environment in which we live. The key to preventing bacterial odours on clean towels in storage is to remove every trace of organic material, and to dry the towel thoroughly, so that there is nothing for the bacteria to feed on. This should be quite adequate to yield clean towels which smell just as sweet days or weeks later (in the customer’s store cupboard) as they do when they leave the laundry.

Residual oils and fats and tarry residues

The critical component in the wash chemistry for removing oils is usually the emulsifying agent. This has amphoteric molecules which make it soluble in both water and oils. It is this which takes the oil, fat or grease into solution in the wash

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