Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Laundry, my way: Part III...Washing

Finally we are getting down to business. We figured out all that sorting, you have your helpers, and now here we are in front of the washer (and I would show a picture of the front of my washer but it's sooooo daaaark down there).

 We can pretend these are mine.  I have the same brand, (Maytag doesn't make them any more -- the washer is one of the early he models. They've improved vastly by now I'm sure, but they work, knock on wood.) but this a prettier picture than the one of my dungeon.

Anyway -- washing. I think, of the entire process, from sorting to putting away, that the washing is the easiest part. Lord knows, I'm not standing waist deep in a cold creek banging my laundry on the rocks.  And, goodness, my grandma used to have a machine that cranked the laundry through the rollers after you washed the clothes on a washboard in a metal tub.  She did all this in a cellar that was filthy, dirty with coal dust. Throwing the clothes into the drum and pushing a few buttons is absolutely mindless comparatively.

Washing, however, is a bit of a science experiment.

What you are doing, essentially, with the washing machine, is using chemical and physical action to remove dirt from clothes. Dirt, besides being smelly and unattractive, damages the fibers of clothes. All those little dirt molecules are like teeny, tiny knives, cutting into the fibers. If you don't get your clothes clean, they will not last as long. Often times we think it is the chemical or physical action of washing that is wearing our clothes out, but it's just as likely to be dirt that is embedded in the fabric (unless, of course, you are banging your clothes on the rocks).

Today we will begin to talk about the physical action of washing, i.e. what the machine does.

Your washing machine, if it is like almost all of the washing machines out there, has several washing cycles, several temperature choices and different speeds of spins. The combination of the wash cycle and the water temperature are the two physical actions which clean your clothes.

The wash cycle -- regular/normal/cotton, medium/permanent press, low/delicate, and even hand wash (which I love) -- creates the friction with which the dirt is rubbed out of your clothes. Imagine yourself hand washing an item. You rub, rub, rub all the dirt out. That is what the washer is doing during the wash cycle -- agitating your clothes, rubbing them up against each other to release the dirt in the fibers. Top loading washers do this with an agitator in the middle. The agitator causes the clothing, and the water, to push back and forth, creating constant motion of water and fabric. An he machine (high efficiency for those who are not familiar with front-loaders) is, according to experts, supposedly less frictious (I don't think that's a real word), because the friction is obtained in a tossing action (and because the clothes come out more dry thus lessening the time spent in a dryer). The friction in an he machine is obtained by raising and dropping, as the drum moves around vertically. Whereas the top loader provides friction with more of a side to side swishy motion (totally unscientific opinion here). I actually think he machines provide more friction, which is why you have to use a special suds-free soap (more on that later) but I'm no expert.

Just a little token cuteness -- age 3.

One thing an he machine does not allow you to control is how much water you use in your load. Because an he machine is designed to use the least amount of water possible (hense the high efficiency label) you can't set the water level -- it is determined by the weight of the clothes. Because the water in the load buffers the friction of cloth on cloth, I think that is proof that my theory that he machines may actually be harder on clothes is correct. But, that's just my personal opinion. If you can control your water level, and you have clothes that are particularly prone to pilling (which is caused from friction) use more water, and a little more detergent, in the load than normally necessary.


Most washers offer the choice of hot, warm, and cold wash water, sometimes in differing combinations with the spin cycle. My machine allows me to choose cold, warm or hot wash water, but my warm water runs more toward the hot range. Have you ever felt the water running into the machine? You should know how your machine runs, temperature-wise. Warm should be about baby bath water warm. Because mine runs a little hot I usually let the machine run warm water in for a minute or two while the drum begins to fill and then I switch it to cold for the rest of the cycle, unless the clothes can stand the hotter water.

The rule of thumb is the hotter the water, the cleaner (and more sanitized) the clothes, but all clothes can't handle hot water. Clothes that are prone to shrinking or bleeding must be washed in cool or cold water. Your water temperature choice should be a good balance between needing to make laundering efficient and getting the clothes clean. Using all hot water might get your clothes really clean, but you'd have an awfully high gas bill, and you'd end up with a lot of shrinking and fading among your clothes.

Very warm or hot water is necessary for very dirty or greasy clothes. The detergent just works better in warmer water, so in order to get (especially grease) stains out, use the hottest water the fabric can take. Most clothes can take moderately warm temperature, with the exception of hand washables. Check your wash water and see what the temperature is for your warm cycle. If it's about 90 to 110 degrees Farenheit, that's perfect warm water.  A baby's bath water is comfortable at about 100-110 degrees F., so if the water entering the machine when it is set on warm is about baby bath temp., you're good. You can always use a thermometer if in doubt. The temperature of your cold water is going to depend on where you live. If you are a northerner, your cold water in the winter time is going to be absolutely frigid and no clothes will get clean in frigid water. On a cold day in the north, even the warm water will be affected by frigid cold water, so keep in mind that you may have to check your water temperature regularly.

If the items you are washing need sanitized, they should be washed on the hot setting. The hotter the water, the more microorganisms are killed, including dust mites. For that reason sheets, underpants, towels, and kitchen linens, should always be washed in hot water. If you have stains on those items, like blood or vomit, rinse them first in cold water to help release the stains, and then wash on the hottest cycle. Hot water should also be used on cloth diapers, and anything else that might have bodily fluid on it, like handkerchiefs.

Warm water should be used for the bulk of your laundry: colored clothes, permanent press, dark colors that are not exceedingly dirty of greasy.

Cool water (not frigid) should be used for anything that is delicate, bleeds or runs, or has protein stains, like blood (or you can rinse the stained item before actual washing).

If you have a water heater that runs low on hot water and doesn't recover quickly, wash your hot loads first. The other loads will likely have enough hot from the tank to make a moderately warm water.

To be continued...

"There are practical little things in housekeeping which no man really understands." -- Eleanor Roosevelt



  1. I am loving this series, Barbara! Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    (And as someone who has been on the receiving end of your hand-me-downs, I can attest to the fact that you know what you're talking about!)

    (So there.)

  2. If that picture is your washer and dryer, then we have the same machines. So, technically speaking, I should be able to achieve your level of laundry perfection!

  3. I am reading these with great interest. I sort my laundry by color and wash. Everything is washed on cold, except diapers, those are washed on hot.

    I have noticed that stains do not come out as well as they used to. Also as the kids grow and our family grows, I get further and further behind on the laundry. Oh, sure, everything is washed, but folding and putting it away is just painful. I look forward to your tips on that!

  4. Same machines, Jenny (at least from what I can tell from the picture) -- the Maytag Neptune.

    Beth, You may need to heat up the water a bit for stain control. Stay tuned for folding...though you may not like what I have to say because there is no magic trick. ;-)

  5. So educational!

    Did you get my email the other day?


  6. I am enjoying your series, Barbara. So much of what you write is how we do it, how my mom taught me. So much of it is common sense, but it's so nice to see it all put together so well!


I appreciate your comments -- sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself!