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Keep it clean with tent washing machines

Features, On the Job | June 1, 2013 | By:

Tent washing options help tent rental companies clean up.

The issue of dirty or stained tent structures has been at the fore-front of the tent rental industry for decades. On average, cleaning tents yearly will give each tent an extra five years of life or more, depending on weather exposure.

Matthias Segiet of SKP GmBH, Mühlacker, Germany (a company that manufactures cleaning machines for the tent industry), stresses that tent cleaning is more important than ever. “These days the customer is interested in having a brilliant structure for his event,” Segiet says. “That is why the need of cleaning fabrics more than once a year is nowadays essential. With the in-house machine, it is possible to realize the process very shortly without transporting, without calculating, without delay.”

Cost benefit

Mark Abdelnour, director of operations at Chase Canopy Co. in Mattapoisett, Mass., says his team cleans not only their own tents, but those of other companies throughout the year. Cleaning their tents in-house helps save on outside costs. “Owning our own washing equipment allows the company to clean other companies’ tents professionally all year—but mostly in the winter months—bringing in additional revenue when the tent rentals slow down,” he says. In addition to washing tents, Chase Canopy cleans many other items such as boat sails, moon walks, dodgers for boats, awnings, tarps, camping tents and tent liners.

Like Chase Canopy, Chattanooga Tent Co., Chattanooga, Tenn., also provides tent washing services for other companies. “We wash other tents when we are not busy with our own production,” says Mike Holland, president of Chattanooga Tent. “By washing others’ tents we generate revenue that helps pay for the cost of our equipment. We use a dryer/dehumidifier to help speed up production. The cycles on the machines are about 1 hour, 15 minutes each, allowing us to get 3,000 square feet done in about three hours with two to three people.”

Steve Arendt, owner of Teeco Solutions, a Webster Groves, Mo.-based manufacturer of washing machines for the tent industry, explains that the deeper clean that a tent washing machine offers extends the useful and productive life of A-grade tops by three to four times, and that it can improve projected labor costs. “Using a tent washing machine offers exact control over production rates and expected cost of cleaning,” Arendt says. “Owning a machine is like having two or three full-time employees ready to work 24/7.”

While having a washing machine has dramatically decreased the need to wash tents by hand, Abdelnour says hand washing is still required for heavily soiled or moldy tents. “There are also times when we have to hand wash a tent on-site if there is some dirt or dust from a prior job,” he says.

Work-flow parameters

Despite the financial incentives of cleaning tents in-house, the maintenance on machines costs money and time. And the initial capital investment of establishing a facility that houses cleaning equipment can be costly.

“It is extremely expensive just to create a washroom, as it requires an enormous amount of space, and the equipment needed to start the operation is expensive,” Abdelnour says. “Some tents take quite a while to dry properly, which can be very time consuming.” Some tents do not open up in the washing machine, requiring the need for the tents to be double washed.

Arendt points out that attention to workflow parameters maximizes the effects of a machine, and that the workflow differs based on the needs of the company. “A smaller company may load the machine, then leave to set up tents while an office member attends to the machine,” Arendt says. “Upon their return they unload the machine to use that top for the next job.”

SKP offers not only the machine, but also aids companies in creating the cleaning area. “For this we are able to build our machines in different ways and to adapt the machine to the frame conditions of the warehouse,” Segiet says.

Key concerns

Water consumption and energy usage surrounding cleaning machines are top concerns for many tent rental companies.

Arendt says the most common misunderstanding of electricity for machinery is the difference between actual electrical usage and the posted electrical ratings for safety. “The amount of electricity to run a tent washing machine is very low,” Arendt says. “The electrical specifications that are stated for safety reasons are higher. A common mistake is to interpret the ratings for the safety factors as the amount of electricity the machine will actually use.”

Environmental and sustainability concerns have created demand for machines that use the least amount of water possible. “The addition of a water reclamation system is a common addition to a tent washing machine,” Arendt says. “With the addition of a water reclamation system it is often the case that water usage in a tent washer is less than that used in hand-washing applications. It is most important to make sure the design of a water reclamation system ensures that there are no trace chemicals left on the webbing or stitching of the tent top.”

When using a machine designed to wash tents, selecting the correct chemical is imperative. Common household detergents will get about 85 percent of the soils off of a tent. Dealing with soil buildup that comes with an aging tent requires more aggressive detergents.

Chase Canopy uses a blended alkaline compound soap and it also uses diluted bleach, if necessary, on moldy fabric.

Industry experts advise that when using a detergent, make sure to test the selected cleaning agent to ensure it will not damage the PVC, stitching or webbing.

“Prior to washing your best tops, wash a less valuable top first,” Arendt says. “This can offer peace of mind about the affects of the selected detergent on the PVC. Also expose the top to the mixture for the shortest amount of time possible. Don’t let it soak.” 

Arendt says the most important aspect is to make sure that all the chemicals are rinsed off the PVC and especially the stitching and webbing. If trace amounts of chemicals are left in the stitching, “stitch rot” will result. “Often this process takes months to happen and will inevitably happen when the tent is being set up—at the most inopportune moment,” Arendt says. “Using a tent washing machine is the only way to ensure that the entire top is completely rinsed.”

Life expectancy

Equally important as getting the tent clean is making sure it is dry. “A very important step is to make sure the tent is completely dry before storing,” Holland says. “The vinyl may appear to be dry, however ropes and webbing may not be dry. Storing tents wet can be a costly mistake.”

“Washing or rinsing in cold water or water that is too hot is perhaps the most common mistake in using a tent washing machine,” Arendt adds. “It is really important to understand that the use of a proper machine is only one element of the washing cycle.” Water temperature, washing chemicals, wash times and correct rinsing all contribute to the success of safely washing tents and will add to the product’s longevity.

Based in Plymouth, Minn., Maura Keller frequently writes about applications of specialty fabrics.

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