Event linens and tent liners are valuable segments of a rental company’s inventory. But keeping those products clean and in top condition requires knowledge, experience and some TLC.
by Holly O’Dell and InTents senior editor Jill. C. Lafferty
Oil, grease, wax, rust, ink, mildew and insects. If you carry event linens and tent liners in your inventory, these are your enemies. Keeping event fabrics stain free and in top condition are the keys to getting a great return on your investment. With the right laundry products, equipment and some tips from the experts, your napkins, tablecloths and runners—and the liners and drapes that hang above them—can look just like new, rental after rental.
With four industrial washers of various sizes, All Occasions Event Rental of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky., maintains a large inventory of linens, from basic solid polyesters to fabrics with unique textures and patterns that require special care.
The basic laundry process starts with linens being returned in bags provided to the customer by All Occasions, says linen manager Amy Richards. Bad stains are pretreated, and the linens are washed in machines with programmed settings for different types of fabric. All Occasions works with an industrial laundry chemical supplier to tweak those settings as needed and put new programs on the machines. After washing, damp linens are sent to the press, where they are inspected for stains, holes and other damage while they are pressed.
But the process can vary depending on the type of fabric and the stain in question. “Sometimes it’s basically a judgment call,” Richards says. “We test a lot of fabrics with swatches. We like to say we put them through the ringer to see what they are going to do as far as water temperature and the agitation of the machines.”
For metallics, lamés and anything with lace, Richards recommends cool water and smaller washers so the agitation doesn’t damage the fabric. Linens with micro sequins need to be hanged to dry, because their plastic element can melt on a press. All Occasions uses heavy-duty Z-racks for hanging those, along with any fabric that could shrink or pucker from heat. Even a basic fabric can be tricky, Richards says—for example, a polyester with an unknown thread. “Sometimes there are things that we don’t quite expect,” she says. “We don’t know what is going to happen until we do test washing.”
Richards has found that with some specialty linens, laying them out on a table will help the eye catch more stains. But most of the time, stains are caught on the press, where they are immediately treated and returned for a second wash.
When linens pass the press inspection, they are hung in vented bags to ensure no moisture remains. All Occasions has three different styles of hangers based on linen styles, sizes and weight. Richards prefers to avoid folding linens in crates to prevent creases and wrinkles.
“We pride ourselves on making sure our customers are happy, because it is our mission to offer quality products for every event large or small,” she says.
What’s that stain?
Grease from food such as butter and salad oils is one of the most common stains for event linens. At Beachview Event Rentals and Design, an event rental company with locations in Georgia and Florida, food stains are treated with OxiClean™, says Kelly Meade, Beachview’s linen department manager.
Beachview expects customers to remove food scraps from the linens before they are placed in the company-supplied return bags. Mildew results when food or liquids are left on the linens too long, so those linens get treated immediately.
“Vinegar is our best defense against mildew, but our washers also have a preset program specifically for mildewed linens,” Meade says.
Food stains that result from a natural dyeing element, such as mustard and curries, are a big challenge, Richards adds. These kinds of stains require pretreatment and working the stain out of the fibers by hand.
Another common stain on table linens is spilled candle wax. Beachview uses mineral spirits on candle wax, as well as on grease and wine stains, Meade says. At All Occasions, linens with wax are set aside before laundering, because if the wax melts down in the washing machine but doesn’t get flushed out, it can spread to other linens, Richards says. A team member will peel off as much wax as possible and then run the linen under hot water in a sink to remove residue before the piece goes into a washing machine.
Carbon stains from inks or wheels tend to be the hardest stains to remove because they embed into the fabric fibers, Richards adds. At All Occasions, when a stain persists, the linen is sent to a spotting table—a piece of dry cleaning equipment that can include spotting guns and tanks for liquid spotting agents, a high-pressure water spray, a steam gun, and an air gun with hot air, in addition to a working surface.
For linens at All Occasions, it’s generally three strikes and you’re out—if a stain persists through a couple of washes and a trip to the spotting table, the piece is taken out of inventory. But the company tries to avoid taking that step in order to maintain inventory numbers, especially with linens that are one of a kind or a discontinued pattern.
Handle with care
While it may be obvious that the chemical formula of laundry products and the water temperature used in the wash cycle contribute to the effectiveness of the laundry process, a third variable is the water itself, says Adam Pearle, general manager of A1 Tablecloth Co.
“Water can be different in terms of hardness or what is in the water,” Pearle says. “Each environment is a little bit different, but for the most part each chemical company’s representative should be aware of how to set up a laundry or a formula based on the environment of each customer.”
Based in South Hackensack, N.J., A1 Tablecloth is a linen manufacturer that both sells and rents linens. The company has industrial laundry equipment that can wash more than 2,000 pounds of fabric per hour, Pearle says. Rental customers return dirty linens in duffle bags supplied by A1.
“Once they come back, we sort the linens by classification, whether it be size, color, fabric, or so forth, and then wash them accordingly in different formulas depending upon the classification. If it’s done by weight, everything is carefully weighed, and once it meets the weight for that classification, it goes to the washing machine. Then it goes to an iron where it gets pressed, and it gets inspected again on the backside of the iron to see if there are any defects.”
If defects are found, the piece is rejected, with a notation about why and if it can be repaired. In the case of a stain, it gets classified by the type of stain and treated immediately.
“We might treat it with the degreaser, and then it goes into a rewash formula, which is just a little bit stronger chemicals and more time,” Pearle says. “We inspect again after that’s done, and if it doesn’t come clean after that it goes into what is called a ‘reclaim,’ which is much stronger chemicals, and if it doesn’t come clean after that, it gets cut down into a smaller size or gets discarded.”
Once clean, linens are folded and placed on a shelf. While most rental companies use hangers, shelves work better for A1 because the linens get shipped out via UPS rather than on their own trucks.
Delicate tent liners
Tent liners, drapes and pole covers come with their own set of challenges with regard to stains and laundering.
“Common stains are from insects homing in liners at long-term installs
at venues or golf tournaments,” says Christopher Whitlow, owner of Structure | Liners LLC, a liner manufacturing company based in Acworth, Ga. “Everything from spider droppings to mosquitoes laying eggs on the liner.”
Rust becomes a problem when fabric rubs against hardware, and mildew is another threat. “When liners are installed at long-term venues over the summer months in high-humidity locations, mildew can present problems when the liner remains in a damp condition,” Whitlow says. “The same goes for storage of liners in un-air-conditioned warehouses. It is recommended that you store in air-conditioned space to avoid mildew development.”
Tent liners are considered a delicate fabric, he adds. “Laundering in a commercial washing machine is recommended with standard Tide® laundry soap. Use of stain removers via commercial injection systems is not recommended. We always recommend adding OxiClean with baking soda and spot treating soiled areas prior to washing with liquid OxiClean.”
Michael Tharpe, national sales manager for Rainier Industries, Tukwila, Wash., says that in addition to using a large-capacity machine for tent liners, it’s important to not overload the machine. Rainier Industries is the U.S. distributor of Baytex Tent Liners.
“Use a small amount of laundry detergent that does not contain chlorine or bleach,” Tharpe says. “Chlorine will cause the Velcro® and vinyl hub(s) to yellow. Excess detergent that does not rinse out will leave a white residue that will show up when the liner is installed. If in doubt, rinse twice.”
To prevent the liner’s Velcro from snagging the seams and fabric during the washing process, Tharpe recommends folding each liner section in half prior to laundering, with the right/face sides out, joining the hook and loop strips of Velcro completely together.
Heavily soiled areas may be pretreated with laundry spot removers, but dry cleaning solvents should never be used, as they will remove the flame-retardant properties and cause the fabric to become discolored, Tharpe says.
For drying, Tharpe recommends tumble drying on low or no heat or hanging to dry. “Temperatures over 120 degrees (F) may reduce the flame-retardant properties in the fabric and cause shrinkage,” Tharpe says. “High heat will also set large wrinkles into the fabric. Low heat as a general rule will leave the fabric with the soft crushed silk look that is desirable.”
When hang drying, be sure to separate the Velcro hook and loop to speed the drying process, he says. “Once dry, especially the webbing and Velcro, restuff the liners into their storage bags. Repeated washing and stuffing will enhance the liners, creating a soft crushed look.”
To avoid mildew, Tharpe warns against putting wet or damp liners into storage bags. The discoloration from mildew usually cannot be removed, even with repeated washing. During installation, some fabrics will require touch-up, especially valances and leg drapes. “Garment steamers are very effective to improve the finished look on these items,” Tharpe says. “Avoid hot irons as they could damage the fabric and affect the flame retardancy.”
Whitlow recommends always hang drying tent liners. In addition, all handling should be done with clean hands, and drop cloths should be used for installation and dismantles, he says.
Tent rental companies strive to keep the tents in their inventory damage and stain free as long as possible. The same philosophy goes for event linens and tent liners. It may take a little elbow grease to get rid of that food grease. But with the right tools, tips, and some time experimenting with different combinations of products, your linens and liners will always be clean, wrinkle free and ready for your most discerning clients.
Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer and editor based in Montevideo, Minn.
Sidebar: Go orange
If a stain doesn’t come out the first time a linen is washed, the problem is usually grease or oil. That’s when the laundry experts at A1 Tablecloth Co., South Hackensack, N.J., turn to a citrus-based degreaser.
“It’s a great product, and it is like it sounds—it is a citrus type of product,” says A1 general manager Adam Pearle. “Every chemical company out there has one. It can be used both in the wash and as a spotting chemical, so if we see heavy grease, we will spray it on before it’s washed, or we will put [the load] on a heavy grease formula in our machine. If it still has grease after it comes off the iron, we will spray it with that spotting chemical directly on the stain, let it sit overnight and then wash again. Typically, that will do the trick.”
Sidebar: Got rust?
Try these methods for removing rust stains from tent liners:
“Place the stained area over a folded clean white towel and spray the area with Tent Wash 101 and apply baking soda to the stain. Rub vigorously with a white Scotch-Brite™ sponge, then rinse thoroughly before washing. If it is a stubborn stain, you may have to scrape vigorously with the edge of a plastic spoon.”
—Michael Tharpe, Rainier Industries
“We recommend using 105-110 degree (F) water with OxiClean™ and Resolve® cleaners. Let the stained area soak for five minutes and use cotton towels to pull the stain out of the polyester in the direction where the stain came from. (Think of soaking up soda out of carpet with a cotton towel.) Scrubbing or rubbing hard on the stain will only set it further.”
—Christopher Whitlow, Structure | Liners LLC
Sidebar: TOP TIP
To check for stains on a lace fabric, lay out a basic fabric in the same color and place the lace fabric on top. Any stains will be much easier to see.
—Amy Richards, All Occasions Event Rental