How many times have you heard a strange noise coming from your cleaning machine but couldn’t figure out what is was?  Maybe it stopped after a few seconds, so you ignored it. But then a few days later there it was, louder than before. Finally, it got really loud, followed by silence because your machine was down, and you were stuck. You should have listened when it was talking to you.
Every day our machines talk to us. The question is, are we listening and do we understand what they are saying? It is rare that a machine will break down without any warning. You need to learn the signs and pay attention. If you ignore problems, they will eventually catch up with you and will probably cost you more in the long run. Problems don’t solve themselves.

Common Problems and Their Solutions

Your dry cleaning machine is in the middle of the wash cycle and the pump starts moaning. When the pump makes that noise, it’s telling you that it is low on solvent. The pump moans when it sucks air. Solution: Either there is not enough solvent in the wheel or the button trap/lint screen is plugged and the solvent is not draining into the pump properly. Stop the machine and fix the problem right now, or that load will not be properly cleaned.

When the machine begins to extract, the belt screeches. Solution: Tighten it or replace it. Or the problem may be that the motor is running overloaded because the button trap is plugged and you are trying to extract a load that hasn’t finished draining. If you are not extracting properly, your drying time will be longer and more difficult than necessary.

You hear a valve hissing. Solution: it’s not just a little air leak, it’s a warning! The solvent valve is probably not opening all the way, which will affect your quality.

The steam valve is leaking. Solution: if steam is leaking past the seat, you need to fix it immediately. It will be difficult to control the temperature during the drying cycle if you cannot control the steam going into the heating coil. Most steam valves use a Teflon disk as a seal. If you act quickly, you can probably just replace the disk or maybe even just turn the disk over and use the other side. If you wait too long, the steam will cut through the brass seat and then the whole valve will have to be replaced.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Scheduled maintenance is much cheaper than emergency maintenance. Every week you should do a thorough inspection, the same as a mechanic would do if you hired him to check your machine. Maybe everything is running fine – but you should know that for sure. Study the manual for your machine and make a checklist. Go through it automatically every week. If you make it a regular part of your routine, it is not so hard to do.

Another benefit to regular maintenance: when you take care of your equipment, your operators will too. It will save you money in maintenance, your operators will be happy and your production quality will improve.

It’s not necessary to know what is wrong every time your machine makes a noise. But you need to be able to tell when it is making a different noise. If you can describe the symptoms exactly, it will be a great help to your mechanic. Listen to that machine just the same as you listen to your staff. If you ignored one of your pressers, he or she may quit and you will deserve it. Your dry cleaning machine is no different and it is just as important to your operation.

When your machine talks, you don’t have to answer, but you had better be listening!

Inspection Checklist

  • Set aside a regular time to inspect your machine
  • Use your senses. Can you smell perc? Does the water separator stink?
  • Check for leaks – perc, air, steam, sludge
  • Watch to see if the air line oiler is adding a drop of oil every few valve cycles.
  • What is the colour of your solvent and what is the detergent charge?
  • If you inject detergent or sizing, are the pails full? Is the air lint screen clean?
  • Check to make sure that the button trap is not getting plugged up.
  • Is the perc level sensor in the button trap working properly?
  • What is the evaporator temperature? Do you know what it should be?
  • Vent the air out of any cartridge filters and make sure the disk filters have been dropped recently.
  • Is the still clean and operating properly?
  • When you walk past the machine, put your hand on the loading door. Is it too hot? Is it too cold? Can you feel the vibration when the machine begins to extract?
  • Watch your temperature and pressure gauges. You may not understand what they are telling you, but you should know what they normally read.