How much does a Towel Cleaning Service Cost?
This pricing guide reviews shop towel and wiper costs for buying in bulk vs. a towel cleaning service.
In this article, we’ll answer two simple questions.
1. How much does a towel cleaning service cost?
2. Does it cost more or less than buying disposable rags in bulk?
Let’s get started with some typical prices.
Shop Rags or Wipers Purchased in Bulk
A quick web search will tell you the cost of purchasing shop towels or wipes.
Here are the price ranges we found from some of the leading rag/wipe e-commerce sites.
- Red shop rag (new) = $.15 – $.60 per towel (sizes vary)
- Paper wipers (new) = $.07 – $.25 (sizes and thickness vary)
Scrap towels or rags can be purchased by the pound or towel count. The most common size is a 25 lb. box, or around 300 towels. Keep in mind you don’t always know how many towels you are getting in a pound because of variances in towel thickness, material, size, etc. To keep things simple, we list prices “by the towel.”
Purchasing also requires an investment in proper waste disposal. Disposal of oily shop rags can be highly regulated by the EPA, your state environmental agency, and your municipality. Waste requirements can vary based on your geography, the type of oil/solvent being used, the storage and handling of the towels, etc.
Please refer to our blog article: The Ultimate Guide: How to Dispose of Used Rags and Oil Absorbents for more information.
Here are your disposal options.
Towel Cleaning Service
Rental pricing for a shop towel cleaning service can (but not always) include the following:
- Price per towel turned in, or price per towel in inventory ($.03 – $.20 per towel)
- Auto replacement charge ($.25 – $.75 per towel for 3%-6% of towel inventory)
- Service fees (delivery, laundry bag, drum, loss, etc.)
Let’s break these out:
- Price per towel turned in – This is the price per towel turned in for cleaning.
- Price per towel in inventory – Inventory refers to the total amount of towels needed to service a facility. These towels can be in three different stages at any given time- in use, in storage, or being laundered. For example, you may have 3 towels in storage, 3 towels being used, and 3 towels turned in for cleaning. The total inventory in this example is 9. Towel inventory is like renting uniforms for work. You don’t just rent one uniform – you rent at least 3. One being worn, one in your locker for the next day, and one in the soil bin ready to be washed.
- Auto replacement charge – Shop towels have a tendency to get thrown into the trash or carried home in a worker’s back pocket. This is usually not done maliciously but does result in a dwindling inventory. Customers generally will lose 1%-6% of towel inventory in a year. Service providers typically account for this loss with an “auto replacement fee” of 3%-6% of the towel inventory per service pick-up. This fee is commonly noted by an “R”, “REPL” or “ARC” on the invoice. The auto replacement fee per towel can be significantly higher than the towel unit cost because the service provider is charging you the full cost of the towel to be replaced. For example, if your towel usage charge is $.25 per towel, your auto replacement fee might be up to $.75 per towel.
- Service fees – Service fees can vary by provider. They are typically charged per service visit and can include a service fee, delivery fee, minimum service fee, laundry bag fee, drum fee, environmental fee, towel loss fee, etc. Ask these questions up-front:
- What are all the service fees?
- How will we be charged for each?
- How will fees be shown on our invoice?
How Many Towels do I Need
You should also consider how many towels it will take to complete a job. As you would expect, you need more disposable wipes to get the job done compared to a laundered shop towel.
We conducted absorbency testing on two of the leading brands of disposable wipes and compared the absorbency to our Ultra™ Red Shop towel. Water was introduced to the towels in 1/4 oz. to 1 oz. increments until total saturation was achieved.
The maximum fluid absorbed ranged from 66% to 233% more for the Ultra™ Red laundered shop towel compared to a variety of disposable wiper alternatives.
Using these absorbency numbers, here are some approximate conversions:
5 rental shop towels = 8 – 17 disposable rags/wipes
5 rental shop towels = 1 lb. disposable rags/wipes
Why Choose a Towel Service
Should you buy in bulk or use a towel cleaning service? Consider these factors when deciding what’s best for your facility:
- Total Cost – Beyond the cost of the towels, consider costs to dispose of the towels, purchasing time, warehouse storage, and inventory associated with purchasing towels.
- Performance – You need more single-use wipers to get the job done compared to rental towels.
- Environmental impact – Consider the impact of disposable towels/wipes going to landfill. A cleaning service is a more environmentally responsible choice.
- Compliance – A lot of time and expertise may be needed to handle single-use soiled shop towels. EPA and other state and municipal agencies heavily regulate the disposal of oil and solvent-soaked rags.
Refer to Disposable wipes vs reusable towels: Get the Facts for more information.
What to Look for in a Towel Service
If you’ve made the decision to go with a towel cleaning service, your next task is to compare service programs.
ITU AbsorbTech has a different pricing model compared to most towel service providers.
We found that customers of traditional towel cleaning services were not happy with an invoice that can fluctuate from month to month with a “pay-as-you-go” rate based on usage.
Consumers were also not happy with the surprise service fees on their invoice, such as the auto replacement fee and delivery fees. These fees “muddy up” the invoice and make it difficult to budget for the complete and total cost of the program.
As a result, ITU AbsorbTech adopted a philosophy of towel billing called StraightUp!TM, which ensures a transparent and predictable bill each month for its towel service.
ITU AbsorbTech automatically sends (at no additional cost) extra towels above and beyond the pick-up count with each delivery. That way, it is very unlikely that a customer will run out of shop towels.
Below is a comparison chart depicting the difference between a typical shop towel rental service and ITU AbsorbTech’s StraightUp! program.
Do your research. If you are deciding between buying in bulk vs a cleaning service, make sure you’ve gathered all your facts about the environmental impact, disposal costs, towel processing, etc.
If you decide to go the environmentally preferred route of a towel rental service, ask a lot of up-front questions from the service provider so there are no surprises after you’ve signed the service agreement.
In general, a towel cleaning service is more cost-effective and better for the environment compared to purchasing shop towels in bulk.