Pointers from Paulie B: The Importance of Routine Maintenance (Conclusion)

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An example of a Metrocard transit card loitering over the drain hole in one of author Paul Russo’s washers. (Photo: Paul Russo)

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While most operators use vacuums to remove dryer lint, the retired store owner says he preferred donning a Tyvek jumpsuit, mask and goggles, and using an air compressor with a couple of 50-foot hoses attached to an air gun with a 24-inch extension to blast out every nook and cranny. (Photo courtesy Paul Russo)

Paul Russo |

Functioning parts of Laundromat could number in thousands

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Do you cringe at the sight of “Out of Order” signs hanging on your machines? Do you want to cut down on emergency service calls in your store as much as possible? Do you want your Laundromat—mat, for short—to be prosperous with as many happy customers as possible?

Then you need to be proactive and stay ahead of problems by doing preventative maintenance.

Sooner or later, every piece of equipment in your mat will eventually break down. It’s not if but when. You can dramatically slow down machine failures if you stay current on your maintenance.

It seems ironic that so many are attracted to our industry because they feel running a Laundromat is “an easy part-time business.” The reality is that a mat is a store that is packed with sophisticated equipment. If you were to add up all the functioning parts in any given mat, they would add up to thousands! Solenoids, switches, valves, gears, motors, hinges, water hoses, drain lines, air hoses…I could go on and on.

If you commit yourself to doing some routine maintenance, it will be time well spent!

Here are some tips:

RECOGNIZE THAT LINT IS THE ENEMY OF ALL LAUNDROMATS

Stay ahead of your drain obstructions by using a flashlight. Once a week (or more often if you wish), open all your washer doors and shine the flashlight down through the holes in the basket. You will be able to visualize the drain opening at the bottom of the tub.

I have found many credit cards, transit cards, competitor loyalty cards, bra wires, even an occasional nylon sock before they made it down into the drain valve.

You’ll also want to routinely snake your drain lines. Once I started snaking my cast-iron drain lines once a year, the emergency floods stopped. If you do this once a year and still experience a backup, then increase the frequency.

If you have PVC drains, you may not need to do this as often. Cast-iron drain lines, with their pitted surface, require more routine snaking. However, if you have a long run with a shallow pitch, even PVC can accumulate a layer of sand, nails and coins along your horizontal drain lines.

Lint can also play havoc with your dryers.

Not only must you keep your lint screens clean, but lint can also accumulate quickly in dryer motors, under sail switches, or on temperature probes (risk of fire here due to lint insulating the probe, which makes the dryer think that it’s colder than it is and causes it to crank up the heat).

Most operators use vacuums, but I preferred to don a Tyvek jumpsuit, mask and goggles, and use an air compressor with a couple of 50-foot hoses attached to an air gun with a 24-inch extension.

I went behind the dryers and blasted lint out of every nook and cranny, pushing it along like a landscaper will do with leaves. This can be completely done with a whole bank of dryers in just a few minutes. I also blasted the dryer motors while I was back there, because lint is a common cause of dryer motor failure.

Obviously, this cleaning should be done when the store is closed. In the case of a 24/7 operation, close that particular bank of dryers while you do this.

Don’t forget to open, inspect and clean your dryer ductwork once a year, as needed. Airflow, or lack of it, is a common cause of dryer issues.

Make sure the backdraft dampers are functioning properly. If your dryers are vented into a common duct, a stuck damper is a common cause of moisture on a neighboring dryer door glass.

THE ‘KISS’ PRINCIPLE

KISS, meaning, “Keep it simple, stupid,” applies wonderfully to running a Laundromat.

Remember what I said about a mat being packed with sophisticated equipment? I believe the more bells and whistles you have, the more things can go wrong and sap your money, attention and time.

Technology has revolutionized our business, but it is a double-edged sword. You have to take the time to learn how to keep up, and you also can get more headaches.

I once installed a vended computer kiosk. On paper, it looked like a great customer draw, and I could make a few bucks. Reality was that kids and other “ne’er-do-wells” enjoyed pulling out the wires, turning the screen upside down, watching porn, and other stuff. I was fixing the computer at least three times a week!

On the other hand, installing an ATM and Wi-Fi were some of my best decisions.

When thinking about adding something, try to think about what bad issues could crop up. It may or may not be worth it after you do your due diligence. It’s all about balance.

Even the ATM, which was an excellent money-maker for me, did require some of my time. Not much, but every minute adds up. After all, both ATMs and Wi-Fi routers do go down occasionally.

ADDRESS YOUR OTHER EQUIPMENT

Let’s not forget about maintaining your boiler. Depending on your system, you may need to do a few things. For instance, if you still use water heaters, you will want to flush the tank every six months. After a couple of years, you may want to replace the sacrificial anode, a zinc rod that your water will attack and decay instead of your tank lining. I’ve seen anodes pulled out of tanks that were almost completely eroded away to nothing. Once the anode is gone, the water turns its attention to eating the tank.

On gas heat exchangers, you may want to pull the exhaust off and take a peek at it (always shut the unit off first). Do you see any accumulation of ash or soot? Are the flames nice and blue, not yellow? Contrary to popular opinion, gas units can accumulate soot if the flames are way out of balance. It may need to be cleaned and/or the manifold air/gas ratio may need adjustment.

Tankless units occasionally need to be flushed, and screens (if any) should be cleaned. Most of the country has hard water to some degree, so you may want to install a water softener to slow down the calcium and mineral deposits that can eventually clog up a tankless unit. If your unit’s flow rate slows down, you probably have to descale it. Descaling videos can be found online.

Air conditioner condensers and HVAC units need to be cleaned if they are located on your roof near your dryer exhausts. I found I had to wrap mine with a mesh screen that was fine enough to keep the lint out. Regular window screening is not fine enough. After all, air conditioners have screens on their evaporators, so why not on their condensers.

Vending equipment may need to have their coin mechanisms cleaned once in a while. Lint gets into everything! I found that using compressed air works well. If they still reject too many coins, I’d spray a little powdered graphite in them as a last resort.

No one wants to do more work, or spend more money than they have to, but look at it this way: Taking the time to do preventative maintenance will actually save you time and money in the long run, not to mention that the number of emergency problems you deal with will drop dramatically. It’s an investment like any other. 

It will keep your store humming nicely, which in turn makes your customers happy, which in turn brings you more customers, which in turn brings you more profit, which in turn raises the value of your Laundromat.

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.

About the author

Paul Russo

Paul Russo owned and operated multiple Laundromats in New York City for more than 40 years before retiring recently. He’s a regular on the Coin Laundry Association’s online forum, posting under the pseudonym “Paulie B.” He invites comments from AmericanCoinOp.com visitors at MyLaundromat@aol.com.

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