After all the dirty subjects of recent columns, I felt like a good cleaning was in order.
I lived in apartments for 20 years without a washing machine or dryer in the building. So I got used to my local laundromat and its radio station offering top 40 hits from the 50s. I also got used to my friend Zelda’s gracious offer to let me do laundry at her house. Every week or so I’d bring my loads over, and we’d head out for lunch. It was all very civilized.
Then a few years ago I lucked into an apartment with everything I could ever dream of. Yes, a washer and dryer, not just in the building, but in the unit. THE UNIT. It’s a mudroom as a matter of fact. I had a mudroom! Luxury! I figured I’d be washing and drying clothes round the clock in my wild, debauched enjoyment of these long-pined-for appliances. But then the opposite happened, sort of. I wash my clothes as often as I used to, but I don’t dry them anymore. Not in the dryer anyway. The glorious mudroom came with a wire rack hanging above the machines. I found that I could put my delicate clothes on hangers and hang them on the rack. Then I found that I could hang everything else up there too. Even my sheets.
I visited Rome in my semi-youth, and was taken by the sight of laundry hanging on lines outside the windows of glorious ancient buildings. I loved the mix of the historical and quotidian, and I like to pretend that I’m continuing the tradition, in my 1920s apartment. Hey, in Los Angeles that counts as ancient.
The upside to this arrangement is that everything lasts way longer than if I dried them in the machine. The downside is that everything lasts way longer than if I dried them in the machine. My clothes are old and boring and outdated. But they’re in really good shape.
If you too are one of the lucky ones with a washer and dryer in your home, and you have room for a drying line across the room, or even better, outside, I’m telling you, give it a shot, it’s kind of addictive. But I hope you like your clothes, because they’re going to be around for a while. Now you can afford all the eco-fashions that usually break the bank!
Here’s a fact that may help you go au naturel with your load: if your laundry has stains, the application of heat, via dryers, will only set the stains further.
Same goes for hot water in the washing machine. In fact, let’s focus on that side of the mudroom for a moment, since the washing machine is another big drain (sorry) on water usage. I’m sure you know this, but just in case you’re passing this information onto someone else: be sure to wash only full loads, or at the very least, set the water level to match the size.
If you can switch to an energy star front-loading washer, then bully for you, I’m jealous. According to the California Energy Commission, “Front loaders cut water use by nearly 40 percent. A typical top-loading washer uses about 40 gallons of water for each full load. In contrast, a full-size horizontal axis clothes washer uses only 20 to 25 gallons.” Be sure to freecycle the old machine to some poor laundryless sod.
For those of us who can’t change out their machines, a lot of smaller steps can be taken. Like turning off the hot water. It doesn’t clean clothes better; in fact, it’s harder on them. Cold water makes clothes less prone to shrinking, elastic degrading, color bleeding or fading. I sound like a detergent commercial.
Speaking of detergent, if you haven’t already made the switch, use plant-based products that are biodegradable and easier on the environment (and your skin). And step away from the chlorine bleach. Plenty of safer alternatives abound these days. Good ol’ baking soda and vinegar do a world of good to white loads. (You might also want to rethink buying white in the first place.) Don’t overuse the detergent; it actually makes matters worse. Spots of detergent can get stuck on clothing and wear away fabric. Buy laundry soap in boxes, not plastic bottles. It’s easier to recycle, and the powder arguably provides better cleaning. You can even try reusable ionic laundry balls – no soap required. Soap nuts are another cool option; they’re seed pods that can be composted after the wash. It’s trippy.
If the idea of switching to cold water fills you with a cold dread, just try reduction instead of a full renunciation. Use it for every other white load and see how it works. I still use warm on occasion for sheets and light towels. It’s a thing, I can’t get over it just yet. Hot water still works better to reduce bacteria and viruses, so when cold season hits your house, it’s a good idea to turn on the heat.
Back to the dry side of the equation, if you can’t stand the feel of slightly crisp towels, throw your air-dried clothes in the dryer for five minutes for that warm ‘n fuzzy feeling. Laundry balls for the dry cleaner eliminate the need for anti-static sheets. On the rare occasion I’ve got to use the dryer, I throw in clean tennis balls to increase the dryer’s efficiency.
If you’re going to a laundromat or friend’s house, I feel for you, my compadres. But even you can take a few items out – the delicates – and hang them at home to dry over the tub or shower door. It’s like ancient Rome in your bathroom!
Pretty much the only time I use the dryer anymore is when a friend comes over to do a load. It’s all very civilized.
Sites and facts galore:
Here’s where I got that info about top loading washers.
Here are some fun tips on the amount of soap to use, the amount of washing your clothes need, and the temperature.
Too much soap can damage your clothes and cause mold problems, skin irritation or worse. Planet Green, by Discovery, has a very good tip on laundry detergent use:
Mark the cap. The recommended use lines are sometimes hard to read. Using a black permanent marker, draw a line at the halfway mark and you’ll always be able to see how much you should use.
If you can’t give up the ol’ heat tosser, you can at least reuse your dryer lint.
My favorite tip is lining plant pots to keep the dirt from falling out. If you have friends with little pets like mice or guinea pigs, hand the lint over for nesting material; they’ll love it.