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Maintaining Uniforms for Top Performance

Written by Jim Zahrt

Your department’s uniform says many things. It communicates the brand for your department, providing a tangible distinction from other, nearby departments. It speaks out as a source of pride among officers, and it is a statement of confidence to the public as a visible symbol of safety.

Inside the station, unfortunately, uniforms can also be a source of disagreement among officers and administrators who may have a wide variety of objectives for this apparel. The different groups in the department may have differing, and conflicting, tastes and preferences in terms of appearance, functionality, and cost.

Although it may not be possible to please everyone or to have a perfect uniform program, there can be no argument that well-maintained uniforms have something to offer everyone. They are more comfortable for the officers who wear them; they look better to those who see them. And they wear better, helping the bottom line.

So what is the best way to keep these important garments in top condition? To start with, all care instructions from the manufacturer should be followed carefully, in addition to general uniform care guidelines that comply with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Uniform Care Guidelines

If you opt for an in-house laundry, ensure that uniforms remain in good condition by incorporating these steps into your uniform care procedures. Warm weather makes for perspiration, which attracts dirt and can lead to an assault on the nostrils. Therefore, uniforms should be laundered promptly after each wearing. And before they head to the laundry, don’t crumple them in a ball and toss them in the bottom of a locker. If they’re still damp with sweat, hang them in an area where they can dry out before they go to the laundry. Otherwise, with prolonged dampness there is a risk of fading as a result of chemical reactions with perspiration.

Check the garments for potential problems such as rips, emblems beginning to tear off, and loose buttons prior to laundering. Then, make these needed repairs before laundering. Turn garments inside out before laundering. Sound silly? It’s a smart move, as it will help prevent pilling and reduce wear and tear on emblems.

Check pockets to make certain nothing has been left in them (you may find a treasure!). Make sure that light and dark garments are separated for laundering. A pre-soak is recommended for stained, non-woolen garments. But don’t use bleach as it can fade colors and weaken trim and emblems. For stained, washable wool clothing, check the manufacturer’s suggestions for stain removal.

Don’t use fabric softeners when laundering treated fabrics. One fabric treatment used in some uniform textiles is a permanent finish to make the fabric water-repellant. Fabric softener can change a uniform blouse from a water-repellant garment into a virtual sponge. Also, washable wool, now commonly available for sweaters and shirts, is a treated fabric. It possesses its washable feature because of a resin finish that allows the garments to be washed with less risk of shrinkage.

All garments should be washed in warm or cool water (100 degrees or less), as directed by the manufacturer. Drip-drying or using a low-temperature setting in a tumble dryer are the recommended drying methods. If needed, press lightly to remove wrinkles after drying. Use a press cloth during pressing to make the fabric finish look nicer. When pressing wool garments, always use steam. Hang clean uniforms for pick-up by officers in a cool, dry area, away from direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting.

Choosing a Uniform Service Provider

Uniform service companies typically rent, lease, and sell uniforms. They provide garments to customers, pick up dirty uniforms, wash them, and deliver clean ones. It can save you both time and money, freeing you from the logistical hassles and costs of operating an in-house laundry. Going with a rental program also offers the increased choices and budget-friendliness of the uniform service provider’s large-scale buying power.

Not currently working with a uniform service provider, but considering it? A little undercover work will probably reveal several uniform service companies in your area that can provide the products and services you need.

Solid investigative work is at the heart of a uniform and textile service company’s business. These professionals possess the latest news about textile developments, including performance-related information about the newest textile technologies for work wear and soon-to-be-available options from textile manufacturers.

Uniform/textile service providers consult with clients to make sure that they are choosing the uniform fabrics that best meet their objectives. And they are up-to-date in terms of their knowledge of the right laundering procedures for these new fabrics. They can also maintain big inventories of uniforms in varying sizes more easily so that if you need a size change for an officer, you can get one quickly and easily.

When selecting a uniform service provider, be aware of the following industry service standards that will help ensure that your uniforms remain in the best possible condition. Uniforms for laundering may be either picked up by the service provider’s drivers or delivered by the customer to the laundry. The latter option can provide a cost savings. The facility’s process priorities should include timely identification and treatment of any garments that require stain removal.

After drying, laundry should be sorted and packaged as you prefer, whether on hangers or folded. The uniform/textile service company should make repairs and change out worn uniforms for new ones when needed, so that your department’s image is never tarnished by the unprofessional appearance of an officer. A detailed receipt, covering quantity of laundry and specific services, should be provided after each service.

Want to know more about how all of this can work for you? The Uniform & Textile Service Association wants to help answer your questions. Visit UTSA to learn more or to find a UTSA member by location.

Jim Zahrt is director of marketing at the Uniform & Textile Service Association. He can be contacted at zahrt@utsa.com. The Uniform & Textile Service Association (UTSA) is an international trade organization that represents uniform service companies and works to convey information about uniform services and new uniform textile options.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2005

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