Thoughts on Washing

Posted on April 14, 2012

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To depart a little from my usual themes, I’d like to comment on washing. You see, when I returned from a few days backpacking and threw all my clothes in the washer it struck me that we really overestimate how dirty we get in our day-to-day lives. Even after days of recycling t-shirts and tramping around the countryside in the same pair of jeans, all it took to get it all clean and sweet-smelling was the shortest cycle at the coldest temperature with the minimum recommended amount of washing powder. And yet this washing machines comes with all manner of settings, you can literally cook your clothes at 90°C, supposedly to keep your whites whiter than white. Really though, what do you have to do to your sheets for them to be so scummy that a quick rinse won’t get them clean? After all, most people shower every day and all you do in bed is sweat a bit. We generally live in a brushed and scrubbed environment – our streets are swept, the rubbish is regularly whisked away, indoor spaces are hovered and scrubbed. Most of us just don’t get our clothes that dirty.

So from whence does our clothes-cleaning culture come from? To look at the variety of washing products and the intensity of washing cycles available on your average machine, you’d think we spent our days rolling in the mud!

Ok, so there are cases when some more intense action may be needed – kids for one can be pretty nasty and sterilizing everything they touch is not unreasonable. But the disconnect between the advertising and the reality is just silly – we are sold endless cleaning products, each new one supposed to be more powerful than the last, we a sold machines with all manner of features to scrub harder, when for most people the worse their clothes will be subject to is the odd food stain.

It seems weird when you think about it that the idea of washing your clothes in tepid water had to be invented as an “eco-action”, that it may rise controversy with people who feel that their clothes might not end up “really clean” by this method – just how dirty did they feel they were getting?

In conclusion, well, there is no conclusion really, beyond that you should feel safe in washing your clothes at the lowest temp your washer allows, and save energy and money in the process.

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