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Imported Textiles – How do they stack up? How do they wash up?

I am not from a textile linen company, nor do I represent an interest in any textile linen distribution. That being said, I do have opinions and information that could differ from those types of sources. My interest is in the chemical technicians and the companies who are responsible for providing quality textile-cleaning results, specifically, the institutional textiles that are used in the healthcare and hospitality industries.

Over the past 20+ years the manufacture and use of domestic linen textiles has been significantly reduced. As chemical companies are responsible for cleaning and protecting the life of the textiles being washed, it is important to understand that there may be differences between domestic and imported textiles that need to be taken into consideration.

Chemical suppliers are often asked to evaluate textile linen quality relative to cleaning results in healthcare, hotel, and food & beverage industries. Results are then reported according to appearance, looking at whiteness, color, condition, and wear factor. Good chemical technicians can certainly do that, but have things changed over the years? Are chemical suppliers adapting to the imported textile fabrics being purchased by their customers?

Not unlike domestic textile linens of the past, there are differences in the quality of imported linens. I have been told by a number of linen vendors that many of yesterday’s imported textiles were not particularly high quality. Over the years, however, this has definitely changed, and the workmanship, cotton staple and consistency of imported linens that can be purchased are on par with domestic products. However, these imported textiles, like their domestic counterparts, are not cheap, low priced products - a buyer of textile products will pay for quality regardless of its country of manufacture. The more difficult question for buyers is what, or who, am I really buying from? Their linen textile vendor may be the same and has been extremely reliable in the past, but does he or she control what is brought in from overseas?

The answer I hear most often is “no.” Sometimes linen textiles consistently come from the same country, but even the same country or importer can have different mills, and that can make a difference in the quality of items purchased, even if they are identical to purchases in the past. Uniformity of whiteness or color on the shelf can be different, as can fabric brighteners (florescent optical brighteners) in the textiles so that when stacked they appear to be slightly different colors. This is particularly apparent with whites. When this is the case, Field Technicians can use chemical products with higher amounts of fabric whiteners/brighteners to help alleviate these differences.

Most linen textile vendors work extremely hard to deliver the best products possible at competitive prices. But is just not as easy to determine the quality of today’s imports as it was in the past with domestic manufacturers.

Enough said about what was and what is. The main question for chemical technicians today is “How does this affect the wash process?” In the case of some lower end imports that are packed in the hull of a ship for transport to the US, the packaging is definitely compressed regardless of the specific product. On ships, the size of the bundles is very important for storage reasons. For example a bath towel might look like a dish towel when first opened from the packaged bundle. There is also the potential for product contamination during shipment, such as becoming wet or stained from outside contact. Remember that even under the most optimum conditions, no textile linens should ever be distributed or used before being exposed to a quality wash process. This might mean that the first washing of some imported textiles be different than what was normal for domestic products used in the past.

High quality imports are on par with domestic high quality textiles, and can be treated with a new linen formula that meets requirements for producing hygienically clean linen textiles. In the case of specific healthcare regulation, the new imported textile linen products should be washed accordingly, as one would do with domestic textile linens.

What about those goods that may have yellowing or odor problems if washed using normal new textile linen processing procedures? These products need something more, regardless of the industry application. Washing these products on a formula that is more aggressive in heat, chemistry, and time has been found to be successful in most cases. So when your chemical supplier informs you that the new textiles need to have a harder first wash, they know what they are talking about.

I have also seen imported textile products of such poor quality that nothing could be done to correct the appearance, feel or look. There are “qualities” of products that are simply so poor that no bargain price warrants their purchase. In most cases a buyer is wise to research the textile linen products they are purchasing. Know the grades of quality and the associated price and make an informed decision on the overall value –using initial product cost as the deciding factor is a short sighted decision that will lead to disappointing results. Then the chemical technician’s responsibility is to know how to wash the product supplied and deliver the highest results possible for that specific imported textile quality.
 

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