CHICAGO — Offering fully functioning washers and dryers consistently is a key to any successful self-service laundry operation, which means performing regular preventive maintenance (PM) and making swift repairs have to be a priority for the store owner.
For a recent “Equipment Maintenance 101” webinar, the Coin Laundry Association (CLA) invited a panel of three experts to weigh in on the topic of troubleshooting and simple repairs.
Russ Arbuckle is president of distributor Wholesale Commercial Laundry Equipment S.E., based in Southside, Ala. The 32-year industry veteran got his start as a service technician for a small parts and service company servicing primarily household laundry equipment before transitioning to commercial and industrial machines. He owns four laundromats ranging in size from 2,400 to 5,000 square feet.
Ken Barrett owns five Washin’ laundromats in east-central Alabama. Before he joined the laundry industry, the multi-store owner worked in automotive industrial robotics.
Dan Marrazzo is a multi-store owner of several Laundry Depot laundromats in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and has decades of experience in residential and commercial construction. He has owned and managed several residential, commercial and industrial properties, including two 35,000-square-foot shopping centers.
From the outset, first-time store owners should assess their own abilities when it comes to performing maintenance, panelists say. This will inform their decision-making later on.
“Find your comfort level in electrical abilities and mechanical abilities. Understand where your limits are to start with, then build from that,” Barrett says. “Take every chance you can to learn more and expand, and understand those steps on what makes the equipment work so it helps you troubleshoot what the problems are.”
As for tools and parts to have on hand, Arbuckle recommends having a basic tool set containing wrenches and sockets (standard and metric) and a multimeter. Supplies might include zip ties, solderless connectors, wire nuts and electrical tape.
“I always keep an adjustable wrench and needle nose pliers in my back pocket, because I can do a lot with those,” he adds.
“Sometimes you’re better off with a good set of tools than a mediocre mechanic, rather than the other way around,” Marrazzo says. “Honestly, you’re not talking about a lot of tools or a lot of money.”
COMMON AREAS OF REPAIR
First up in the common areas of repair are coin mechanisms, Marrazzo says: “Money is extremely dirty, and it’s difficult when it gets recycled over and over again in a coin mechanism. So, if you have a store that takes quarters … that’s one of the items that usually goes bad often or quickly.”
Water valves can be another source of problems when they go bad or become clogged, he adds.
“We buy them in bulk (because we have six stores). It depends on what kind of equipment you have. If you’ve got different types of equipment like Ken does, you’re going to need a lot of different manufactured valves.”
Drain valves represent another area where problems can arise, and they often can be blamed on … bras?
“Bra wires are a villain of this industry,” Marrazzo explains. “They have a stainless steel ring in the bottom of them for rigidity. It’s stainless, so it doesn’t rust. It goes through the barrel very easily, finds its way through the drain and, for some reason, gets caught in the worst part of the drain. All the sediment and lint gets backed up on top of it.”
REGULAR PM TASKS
Barrett summarized some PM tasks that you should perform regularly, although the recommended timing could be almost daily to more than a year between servicing.
- Clean coin drops — “Get those long Q-tips, like the ones at the doctor’s office, and usually with just water, clean your drops. It’s not too often, every couple of years, it just eliminates a lot of issues, that little bit of soap residue in there.”
- Clean drain valves — “We’ll work our way through a store and just pull the drain valves apart and clean out the drain tube behind it. It’s not something you do every month, it’s every six months or a year, depending on how busy you are.” (Don’t forget to clean the drain level tubes as well, he adds.)
- Clear lint buildup from dryers — “Lint in dryers is something you’ve got to stay on top of. There’s access from the front, access from the back, depending on which manufacturer you have. … Ideally, just set a time when you’ve got a slower day, hit it with a couple of people and good Shop-Vacs, compressed air and compressor, and just work your way through.”
“Those are ones that you really do want to schedule,” Barrett says. “Look at the manufacturer’s recommendations, and understand (with the help of) your distributors how busy your store is. I might do one store once a year but another store every six months due to the volume going through there. … Then you can adjust. Maybe it’s too often, maybe it’s not often enough.”
“In newer machines, make sure you’re keeping the inverters clean,” suggests Arbuckle. “Inverters are one of the more expensive components in washers and now in dryers. They don’t like dirt and dust that allows them to build up heat. When they build up heat, they start to break down and eventually they’re going to go bad.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!