If Only I’d Paid Attention in Chemistry

Laundry is science.

I was not a good science student. It was only years—all right, decades—after my disastrous encounter with biology, followed by my utter demise at the hands of chemistry, that I even came close to appreciating how eminently practical and ubiquitous science is in our daily lives. Nowhere is this clearer than in the laundry room.

Which brings me to my recent error.

When Pandora visited the laundry room not too long ago, she came face-to-face with a washer full of suds. Her inconvenience and attendant dismay she blamed (in part) on high-efficiency detergents. But Pandora was wrong.

As a not-very-great man used to say, “Trust, but verify.” I trusted Pandora, and I did not verify; that was my mistake. You never know what you’re going to get from Pandora; she does not deliberately mislead, but she sometimes gets her facts twisted. Knowing this as I do, I was wrong to repeat what she’d said without checking it first.

Here then, a clarification:

High-efficiency detergents are efficient for three reasons:

First, they require substantially less water to do their job—from about one-third to more than two-thirds less water than traditional washers.

Second, they require less soap to achieve the same cleaning performance as traditional detergents. That’s why their compact bottles are fitted with compact caps designed to measure out just the right amount of soap for a load of laundry.

And third, they are designed to be low-sudsing because more suds does not equal more cleaning power. More suds simply equals more suds. (The Soap and Detergent Association would be thrilled if you looked all this stuff up on their website.)

The person who overloaded Pandora’s washer with detergent and left her to clean up the suds could have been any one of our neighbors. One thing is for certain though: It wasn’t a scientist.

If I’d paid attention in chemistry, I could have told Pandora that much. Thanks to the laundry room, I’m paying attention now.

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