Get your house in order

Congratulations to Fabricare Canada on the new digital format. It looks great. We really appreciate the Canadian perspective on our industry.

This has been a difficult few months for our industry. It seems that more and more people are working from home these days. Speaking of which … our maid told us that she was going to start working from home. She sent us a list of things to do. (Sorry – bad joke.)

I’m not a housekeeper but there are some things you can do on your own during this time. It’s expensive to bring a technician in for everything. You should be able to do some basic maintenance. Here’s your to-do list.

Clean up the Lint

Please clean your machines. Wipe off the lint and dust. Pay attention as you clean – you may find some minor leaks or parts that are worn. For example, a lot of dust around the belt guard is a warning that you should inspect the drive belts. Business is down 50% right now? Use that to your benefit. Clean that plant till it is spotless.

It is also easier for professionals to do maintenance when a machine is clean. You may think it’s a waste of time to wipe up the lint and clean things, yet that is probably 30% of the work that we do – at a much higher rate than yours.

When we get a call about a dryer that doesn’t get hot, the first thing we do is clean out the lint and clean off the sensors. If things are really bad, we may have to take the chimney apart and clean the lint out of there. 50% of the time that is all it takes to get the dryer working again.

Air Leaks

First thing in the morning, turn on the compressor and nothing else. Once the compressor is up to pressure and things are quiet again, walk through your plant and listen. Find the air leaks and fix them. You may have to replace a push-to-connect fitting or a regulator. Your presses will work better and there will be less wear and tear on the compressor.

Steam and Vacuum Leaks

You should do the same kind of inspection looking for steam or vacuum leaks. Listen to the buck on the press to see if there is a steam or vacuum leak. Can you see water dripping from any pipes? A minor steam leak may not drip. It may sound like an air leak without any drips.


Is any of the insulation on your pipes missing? That is something simple that you could do. It will save energy and it may also save you a WCB claim. Take care of your people.


When we get to specific machines you should always consult the manufacturer’s manual for maintenance procedures. They have specific recommendations to help you save money and make your machines work better. The following are some general guidelines.

• How is the padding on your shirt unit?

• Have you vacuumed the lint on the air intake filter?

• The newer units have a built-in blower that uses heated air to dry the sleeves. If the filter is plugged with lint you will not get sufficient air flow.

• Do the cuff clamps hold tight?

• Does the machine transfer smoothly?

• Do your presses bang when opening or closing? Maybe the shock absorber is low on oil. It is a 5-minute job to top up the oil.

• Have you checked the timers on your legger?

Irons are not too difficult to change. Just do it one hose at a time. (If you cross the hoses on an all-steam iron you will have water dripping from the iron all the time.) Have a look at the iron shoes and iron rests. A few dollars spent there can make a big difference in your production.

Toppers and Suzies need you to clean the air intake screen. It will allow for better air flow. Check the timer settings. Sometimes they get changed and give too much steam or not enough air.

It’s not difficult to check your washer. Does it fill to the right level? Does the soap pump turn on? Use a felt pen and put a line on the soap level on the side of the pail then check a week later and make sure the level is going down. You should also check that the drain valve is working properly.

There are lots of things you could check on your dry cleaning machine. How is the solvent level and colour? Have you scraped the still to bare metal? The manufacturer will have several pages of preventive maintenance that should be done regularly. Check that the airline oiler is full.

You say you lost the manual? Don’t let that be an excuse. Go online to the manufacturer’s website and get a new one, and then actually read it. It’s important.

Boiler Room

Check the air compressor oil. It should be checked monthly. It is not hard to change. You should be changing it every 6 months.

Make sure the vacuum drains when you turn it off. Sometimes the drain valve gets plugged and the tank fills with water. Your vacuum will not work as well and you may even burn the motor out.

The boiler is a little more dangerous to work on but you could at least check for any leaks. Check the hand hole gaskets. Monday morning is the best time to check them – the boiler has had all weekend to cool off and is more likely to leak then.

Does the return tank overfill? The float valve may be bad.

What about your water softener? You can buy test strips to monitor the softness of your water. The softener may be using salt, but is the water soft? We usually don’t find out it’s not working till we do a boiler inspection and the boiler is full of scale.

Get Help

You are probably not able to fix everything on your own and that’s fine. If you are monitoring things you are less likely to be shut down for emergency repairs. It’ll save you time and money to be aware of every machine in your plant.

Business is Slow

Yes, everyone is suffering right now. Don’t moan about it being slow. Get to work.

Maybe you could wash the windows or the carpets. Or even paint the lobby. For a couple of hundred dollars in paint you could have a whole new look. You don’t have to hire someone to do a professional job. You are only cleaning clothes 3 days a week, so make use of the rest of the week. You need to be at the plant anyway; use the time wisely.

Walk in the front door as if you were a new customer and take a look around. Get rid of those 20-year-old posters. Fix that broken tile. Make the place look like someone cares about it. If you can ‘afford’ to upgrade your lobby, you must be a very successful business – people like to deal with successful businesses.

I know this all sounds like simple stuff that anyone could do. The problem is that most people don’t do it. Once you learn to do these things well, you can graduate to more difficult tasks. You are not going to do all your maintenance, but you need to be able to do some of it.

I hope this list is helpful. I have enjoyed working from home. Just let me know once you have finished everything – I want to know when to send the bill.

Kevin Marois founded Calgary-based Integrity Mechanical in 2003 to serve plants in Alberta. He writes on issues related to equipment, its purchase, maintenance and use.

You can reach Kevin at, or via his website.


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