Archive for the ‘The Way We Wash’ Category

The Wonderful Washing Machine

July 20, 2011

I’ve been captivated by this video of Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, singing the praises of the washing machine.

Who knew that the humble washer had such far-reaching influence on society? For while people concerned with the state of the environment would willingly give up their cars (or at least use them less often), who among us would surrender her washing machine for a tub and washboard?

Next time I do the laundry (which should be this afternoon) I’ll do it with pride and respect.

Safe Haven

February 24, 2011

The laundry room should be a safe haven. It’s where we go to get clean. Nothing stays dirty there long; and the pleasant hum of the washers and dryers cleanses your mind as it cleans your clothes.

So I can only imagine what an intrusion like this one would have done to the minds and bodies of the unsuspecting launderers in this New Hampshire laundromat.

The driver of the car lost control when she answered her cell phone. Another reason that cell phone should be banned from cars, and from laundry rooms.

Hot, Damp and Uncrowded

July 1, 2010

We wash more when it’s hot. Our clothes and ourselves both tend to get sweatier and grimier when the thermometer rises. So even though the clothes are smaller—shorts instead of pants; T-shirts instead of turtlenecks—there are more of them. The hamper remains full.

We shower more frequently. And because damp towels never seem to dry properly in our windowless bathroom, they are washed more often as well.

We’re still contending with the aftermath of our water main break, and the attendant demolition, repairs and mold abatement. The laundry room provides a respite that I am appreciating more frequently and more deeply with every wash.

If Only I’d Paid Attention in Chemistry

April 18, 2010

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.

A Wrinkle in Time

March 31, 2010

I know two people who love to wash dishes. “Give me rubber gloves and I’ll wash them all,” says my friend with the perfect manicure. She finds it soothing to soak her hands in soapy water, scrub, and rinse. It’s the quietest moment in her very busy day; the only time when her mind is free to wander and when she’s sure she won’t be interrupted. When it’s time for dish duty everyone else steers clear.

Some people find the same satisfaction weeding their gardens or raking leaves. Some like to lose themselves in the hum of the vacuum cleaner or the scent of cleanser sprinkled on the bathroom fixtures before they’re wiped to a sparkle.

Washing dishes is not a chore I enjoy. (Yes, I believe it is possible to enjoy a chore, but you have probably figured that out already.) I don’t have a garden, and I’ll vacuum or clean the bathroom because it needs to be done but not because I enjoy it. My chore of choice is ironing.

Ironing is methodical. It doesn’t require active thought or decision-making.

Ironing shows tangible results. It’s easy to gauge your progress.

Ironing is solitary. It doesn’t demand help from anyone else.

Ironing is serene. Except for the occasional gurgle of steam from the iron, it’s quiet. It doesn’t disrupt.

Ironing is housework’s answer to meditation. When I’m feeling particularly out of sorts I’ve even been known to iron the sheets and pillowcases. I always feel better when I’m done.

I ironed my first shirt during my freshman year of college, when button-down Oxford-cloth shirts were all that I wore and I wanted mine to look neat. The girl who lived across the hall from me in the dorm taught me how to do it. She’d been handling all the laundry chores for her father and her brothers since she was a kid, and she was understandably surprised when I told her I simply didn’t know how to press my shirts. So she showed me and I learned: Collar first, then the shoulders; right side; back; left side; and finally the sleeves and cuffs.

I think of her every time I set up the ironing board and fill the iron with the cool water it uses to make steam. It’s a pleasant memory that she and I share, whether she remembers it or not.

The Day I Started Running Hot

March 25, 2010

The day I started running hot was the day I read a report that said 100 percent of dust mites could be eliminated from fabrics by washing at temperatures of 140°F or over. Ever since then, sheets and towels have been strictly Normal Wash Hot. Underwear and athletic socks too. I’ve slept better ever since.

But not without misgivings.

The people who support air-drying laundry as a way to reduce household energy consumption also advocate washing in cold water for the same reason. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends it as well. So, while I won’t argue with the fact that heating the wash water accounts for 90 percent of the energy used by a household washing machine, I will say that cold water doesn’t have the same effect on my sheets and towels. Much as I hate to admit it, I make an exception for myself in this regard.

I do what I can to compensate—wash a full load and tumble dry it on a medium setting. I hang dry everything else.

Laundry reminds us that it’s hard to go through life without getting into hot water.

Hanging Out

March 14, 2010

Project Laundry List is pursuing an interesting crusade: attempting to convince people—Americans in particular—to line dry their clothes instead of using tumble-dryers. You’d think this wouldn’t be a difficult task, but you’d be wrong.

Americans love their creature comforts—Hummers, cathedral ceilings, electric can openers—most of which (not so coincidentally) are energy hogs. Tumble-dryers are no exception: The Department of Energy estimates that they account for 6 percent of household energy usage in the United States. That seems extreme, and avoidable, which is part of Project Laundry List’s reason for being.

Making the campaign an uphill battle is that fact that line-drying laundry is actually—and bizarrely—against the law in many communities in the United States. This is somewhat akin to prohibiting people from riding bikes and walking, and forcing them to drive SUVs instead.

To someone, somewhere, this makes sense. Not to me. I’m in favor of hanging out.

My Laundry Bag

March 6, 2010

During my junior and senior years in college I worked in a launderette. This job mainly involved making change for students who lived in off-campus housing so that they could use the washers and dryers; tagging and bagging dry cleaning, which was then sent to another facility for processing; selling candy, cigarettes, newspapers and magazines; making photocopies and taking care of various other tasks and services for students and locals.

The laundry bag I have used since then is a dry cleaning bag that I “procured” from that launderette. There were hundreds of them. I was a poor student. It seemed acceptable at the time, although I suppose I should feel guilty about it now. On the other hand, I feel confident that mine is the only bag from that vast litter that is still in use; the others no doubt abused and discarded long ago.

My laundry bag has lived a long and useful life. Aged now, faded and frayed, it continues to serve.