Sunday, May 27, 2012

Washing day thoughts

I'm doing laundry today. I am fortunate to have a very, very nice Maytag front-loading washer. Thrifty point #1 - it's no savings to choose the cheap version if 'less expensive' also means 'crappy quality.'  Then again, some folks use a washboard, or clean their clothes in a bathtub, often by necessity rather than choice. I'm going to be inadvertently snobby here and assume a washing machine of some sort.

Why am I doing laundry today, as opposed to any other day? Well, aside from the fact that I'm here today, and I'm not always at home, I chose today because the sun is shining, and that means I can hang my laundry out on the clothesline to dry.

Now, lots of folks carry on about how great a clothesline is. I'm inclined to agree. However, I'd like to articulate WHY a clothesline is so great.

Item: my clothes are dried for free. That's a huge plus.

Item: using a dryer dramatically shortens the life of clothing. It's a hard gig, being cooked, pummeled, and tossed around. Elastic particularly hates that kind of heat - and that means saggy socks and ill-fitting underwear - and life's way too short for uncomfortable knickers. That lint filter, when it's full, isn't just dog and cat hair (though that is perhaps one of the better uses of a dryer!) - it's little bits of the fabric. Me, I'd rather have those bits still attached to my clothing and linens, thanks.

Item: you just can't buy the scent of line-dried clothes for any price. The scent is amplified if the clothes are left out overnight so that dew accumulates on them, then dries.

There are possible drawbacks to line-drying, though:

Problem: clothes can fade in the sun.
Solution: dry clothes inside-out

Problem: clothes can be pulled out of shape on the clothesline, especially sweaters.
Solution: I hang my sweaters by the waist hem, putting the entire hem over the line by several inches, and put clothespins every 2-3 inches, to disperse the pressure points.

Problem: pollen allergies.
Solution: toss clothes into the dryer once dry, using the 'air dry' or 'fluff' cycle, for 5 minutes or so, to remove the worst of the pollen.

Problem: cold and/or wet weather in winter
Solution: this one can require a bit of space, and possibly also a tolerance for looking at clothes-drying racks. Clothes can be hung in various locations - from hangers on shower curtain rods, from bedroom window curtain rods, from door frames. You can use a folding drying rack. One of my girlfriends has a frame with half a dozen lines run through it, which she winches up to the ceiling once loaded. My house was built in the mid-90s, and the default heat is baseboard hot water, which is VERY drying. We used to raise sparks off of the dogs in the winter! I have 6 clotheslines in my basement for winter use. I put a fan at each end, just to keep the air circulating. This offers the double benefit of line-drying and of raising the ambient humidity in my house. I do NOT use this in rainy weather in summer, though, as my basement in summer is humid enough to need two dehumidifiers.
Caveat to Solution: Clothes sometimes take a couple of days to dry fully.

Problem: physical limitations can make lifting and hanging difficult.
Solution: I'm sure there is one, but it won't be a one-size-fits-all fix. I trust you to be creative, if you're determined to be. Ask for help, if you can - most of us don't like to ask, but remember: if it's more blessed to give than to receive, there MUST be someone to receive, or there won't be anyone for the givers to bless!

Ok - that's low-hanging fruit, obvious stuff. Let's think a bit further... and this is much less glamorous and self-evident. WHY are you washing what you're washing? Is it truly dirty, or was it worn for a few hours and removed while still clean? I'm here to tell you, if it ain't dirty, I don't launder it. Now, I live on a small farm. There are times when a garment barely lasts an hour before being shucked for, shall we say, unscheduled contact with livestock fecal matter.  However, a pair of jeans worn for running errands can go a week without being dirty enough to need laundering. Bath towels hit the wash about every 2 weeks, or when they develop an objectionable 'pong.' I am amazed, and not a little horrified, that some folks wash their towel after a single use. I mean, really? You were CLEAN when you used it, just wet. Let the thing hang dry on a towel rack and carry on!

This can be problematic if other household members aren't on board, especially of the sub-genus "teenagerus lazius." I have one teen, one proto-teen, and two ten-and-unders. I get this. My answer is to give it a quick visual inspection, and, if appropriate, a sniff-check. If it passes both, it goes back into the CLEAN laundry basket. I make an obvious point of this, by the way; I don't try to hide what I'm doing. I want my children to understand what I'm doing and why.

Next up - let's consider what we use to clean our laundry. I don't use commercial detergent any more, but neither do I make my own. Some folks do, and that's awesome. Of commercial detergents, I insisted on "Free" - no dyes, no scents. I mean, honestly... I can identify the ownership of clothing left here by my children's playmates by the smell of the detergent used. Gain = one household, Tide = another. When I realized that I could run a load of wash through the 'rinse' cycle and STILL have a full complement of suds, from residue on the clothes, that was enough for me. I have tried Charlie's soap and liked it fine. It was hard for me to source locally. I also tried Norwex laundry detergent and have LOVED it. Norwex seems to be a multi-level marketing company, though I consider that a plus rather than a detractor. I order through Marilyn Moll, whose name you might have heard via her business, The Urban Homemaker. This product has recently had its package size reduced and price proportionally increased, but I still love it. A 1-kilo bag will last me about 4 1/2 months and costs $21. I don't use fabric softener. I do bleach socks, underwear, and hand towels, though.

Consider your washer's water requirements, too - if you have town water and sewer, you pay for it coming into your house and going out. If you have well and septic, you still have to pay the opportunity cost of using drinking-quality water for cleaning clothing. Other choices can include harvesting rain water to use, at least in the first part of the cycle, putting a bucket into the shower to collect the 'not-hot-yet' water, and in summer, re-purposing dehumidifier water for the washer (it's distilled - just keep the reservoir clean). Is it a bit of a hassle? Sure. But if you're really thrifty, free is free, as long as you don't do in your back in obtaining the free stuff.

Finally, and this requires a bit of forward thinking, LOOK at the tag before you buy clothing. It doesn't matter how cute that dress is, nor how low it's been marked down, if you have to dry-clean it. Another suggestion along those lines is to buy second-hand (which merits its own post) but in this case for the reason that if it were going to fall apart on first wearing or laundering, or bleed color, or shrink, it will already have done so.

Ok, friends - what have I forgotten? What clever ideas do you have that I haven't considered yet?


  1. I blush to write this, but I wash, before I wash me, in the bath, my underware and the shirt I was wearing, put the in the sink, and then hang them on a rack in the bath when we are all finished. Over a week, that's half a load saved.

    1. I think that's AWESOME! We used to hand-launder our skivvies on the Carrier, since they did not reliably come back from the ship's laundry....