Published in the Rains County Leader on October 6, 2022:
My first memory of laundry was in Snyder, Texas where we moved when I was three or four years old. We lived in a rented three-room house, and Daddy built a laundry room across the back. I don’t remember the room itself – I just remember watching him smooth out the wet cement and being warned to stay off. We didn’t have a dryer – I’m not even sure if they existed then. Our first puppy “disappeared” after several naughty acts including pulling sheets off the clothes line. We probably had a wringer washer because that’s what we had at our next house.
With this house we moved up to home ownership – five rooms and asbestos siding. I didn’t know what that meant, but Daddy seemed impressed by it so I told everybody. We didn’t have a laundry room, but we had a carport, and that’s where the clothes got a bath. I was more familiar with this setup because I helped from time to time. The wringer washer was accompanied by three metal tubs on saw horses – one with bleach water, one with bluing water, and one with clear water. I’m not sure what the difference was in the bleach and the bluing, and I didn’t get involved in that process much anyway. I just liked to crank the wringer. When not in use, the laundry foursome rested in a corner beside the small storage closet. We didn’t have a dog in this house, so the clothes stayed on the line.
Between my first and second grade years we moved to Mesquite because the West Texas dust was bad for my brother Jim’s bronchitis and because we had family there. The house we bought was about the same as the one in Snyder – five rooms and a carport, but no asbestos siding. I guess they had discovered the dangers of it by then. I don’t remember doing laundry on-site except for hanging clothes on the line. I was tall enough to hang a few things on the saggy part in the middle, and once I was strong enough to handle wet sheets, I did a lot of hanging. I remember going to the laundromat there. At first it had wringer washers and wash tubs just like we had in Snyder except they were on permanent frames instead of saw horses. Later they switched to modern washing machines, and we felt like we were really uptown. They probably added dryers somewhere along in there, but we still used the clothes line at home.
When I was a sophomore in high school, we moved to another house that had five rooms, but it also had a dining area in both the living room and the kitchen, an extra half bath, a one-car garage, and a brick exterior. And it had a washer hookup in the kitchen. Later Daddy installed a dryer in the garage, and for the first time in my life, we didn’t have to hang clothes. The garage was attached, but you had to go across the front porch to access it. Still, that was better than lugging baskets of wet laundry outside regardless of the weather and hoping a flock of birds didn’t fly over before they dried.
By the time I set up housekeeping on my own, laundry equipment seemed to reach its evolutionary pinnacle with the exception of a few added bells and whistles now and then, so the industry turned its attention to laundry products. Bleach was one of the first targets. Having a separate tub for bleach water made it simple to control the amount of bleach and the amount of time the clothes were exposed to it, but washing and rinsing in the same drum complicated matters. Bleach dispensers were added to washers, but invariably a leftover drop or two dribbled into the next load or a favorite garment was accidentally trailed across an unnoticed spill, and chaos resulted. Chlorine bleach fell out of favor and oxygen bleach took its place – and colored underwear and shirts became more popular.
Then came fabric softener. At first, it was added manually to the final rinse cycle. For some reason, it was always blue, so unless you added just the right amount diluted with just the right amount of water, you ended up with blue spots on your clothes to match the white ones from the chlorine bleach. And unless you timed it just right, you missed the opportunity to add it altogether. Automatic dispensers didn’t work any better than those for bleach, and I never heard of anyone who really used the little balls that were dropped into the water and supposedly released the softener at just the right time. I pretty much gave up on softeners until softener sheets hit the market. To me the main reason for softener is to combat static cling. Of course, the sheets have a cling factor of their own, but it’s less embarrassing to have one of those hanging out of the leg of your jeans than a pair of underwear. I was told recently that I shouldn’t use them because they put chemicals on my clothes and in the air. Instead I should put tennis-like wool balls in the dryer – and every load would sound like Kitty was locked inside. I don’t think so.
Detergent, though, has been the main target. It has been switched from powder to liquid, reformulated to include every additive known to man, been concentrated, and been repackaged ad infinitum. The latest genre is the detergent pod. I’m reserving judgment until the manufacturers figure out how to make them less delectable to children and to teens with a certain lack of discernment. Besides, the first time I used them, I ended up with white spots on my newest set of sheets – and there hasn’t been any chlorine bleach in my laundry room in years. They’re also a bit pricey for someone as frugal as I am. However, not everyone feels this way. I heard two women discussing the subject recently. One said, “I don’t use anything but pods. Pouring liquid is too messy and too time consuming.” That may be true, but it’s not nearly as messy or time consuming as three separate rinse tubs and a wringer washer.