Saturday, January 14, 2017


I remember the day that the paving crew came through my hometown of Flat Bay very clearly. Big machines, loud noises, people hustling about, shouting, and the smell of tar. I remember it so well because it was also the day that I remember my arm getting pulled into the rollers of the old washing machine. I was no more than 4 years old, but remember it well. Oh, the horror!

Oh, yes, wash day. The five-gallon bucket full of Javex water and yellow cloth diapers, the deafening swish-swash of the agitator (if you were lucky enough to own a machine), the basket full of damp clothes to be pinned on the clothesline. And, of course, who doesn’t remember the double action on the washboard? Good times.  For my mother, it was an all-day job. The washing started at sunrise and was finished with the last bit of ironing well after sunset. She was meticulous in her work, and it showed in the white socks, stainless cloth diapers, and perfectly ironed shirts. (She would even iron the underwear.)

Since I was the oldest—and the only girl—in the family, I was handed down the precious duty of laundry. I hated the ironing, hated it with a passion. But, so it goes, the jobs we hate to do are the most valuable ones. (I wouldn’t be caught dead without an ironed work shirt!)

Now back in the 60s and 70s clothes detergents still contained phosphates (the chemical that got the clothes clean and bright). It was a great time to do laundry. That was until scientists found that phosphates promoted the growth of algae—killing fish, stagnating water, and turning lakes into swamps. Phosphates - not toxic to humans, only toxic to the environment.

It took a while to phase out the use of phosphates in detergents and I believe Tide was still using them back in the 80s and 90s, which is why I suppose they were the number one detergent on the market. I really didn’t notice the difference when laundering my clothes when I was single as my clothes were just smelly from clubbing, back when smoking in clubs was cool. It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I really started noticing.

Since clothes detergents no longer contain phosphates, nothing seems to get the clothes clean and bright. Have you noticed how many laundry products there are on the shelves of your local supermarket? I want to throw something at the TV every time I see that commercial for Oxy-Clean. What a joke! It’s like pre-washing your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, which is what I have to do with my laundry: pre-wash. And most times, I find myself scrubbing on my own stained clothes in the sink because the stains will not come out in the pre-wash or the regular wash. I’ve tried to find a washboard like my mother used so long ago, but to no avail. I’ve tried all kinds of detergents, and boosters, but nothing will get the clothes that level of white and bright I remember.

And those front-loading washers! Sure, wonderful, let’s save the planet’s water supply. What a crock, we’re not going to run out of water (not anytime soon). How can a litre of water get a washer full of clothes clean? It can’t. If you put too much clothes in the washer, the middle may stay dry and unwashed because there is not enough water to get through the load of clothes. I’ve noticed on the internet that more and more people are ditching those front loaders for the conventional agitator type models. And just because you use one of those doesn’t necessarily mean that you are using too much water, after all who can afford these outrageous water bills anyway!

Doing laundry these days has become an art form, an all-day job once again. (Well, not all day, but you get what I mean.) I get up early on Saturday morning, and while drinking my first cup of coffee, sort the clothes and pre-wash any soiled or stained clothes by hand, and pre-soak socks in Javex water for a bit. Then I roll the hampers to the laundry room. I use my regular detergent—nothing else is worth the money—and boost that with just plain, old-fashioned baking soda. One-half cup gets the clothes from looking dull and old to half decent. For whites, I use detergent, baking soda, 

and my old friend, Javex. To add fragrance, I find that Unstopables in each load does the trick. Liquid Snuggle or Downy doesn’t work to provide fragrance, nor do dryer sheets. Thirty minutes later my clothes are washed. The white sheets haven’t come completely white, but besides spending more money to have the dry cleaners add whiteners once a week, it will do. The socks are still lightly soiled, but they “feel” clean. I transfer wet clothes to the dryers and I add dryer sheets to each load because I cannot handle static cling. If I’ve missed a stain, I take the piece(s) upstairs and scrub again, using dish detergent Dawn (as my dry-cleaning guy told me to do). Then I’ll just hang that on a hanger in the bathroom to dry. Forty-five minutes later I take the clothes out of the dryer and start folding and putting away. And there you have it, clean clothes for another week. I iron only clothes that need to be ironed and I do not iron underwear.

And that folks, is the art of doing laundry.