Friday, August 12, 2011

Why We Do Laundry

Getting my kids to change and wash their bedding is such a hassle. Getting my youngest to change his underpants and socks this summer requires spot inspections. I'm certainly not trying to brag! But I suspect others may have similar problems -- if not because they have weird, lazy or even gross kids as I do *wink* but because children and even many adults do not seem to understand why we do laundry.

I think the logic of what my grandma would call the common sense behind laundry, is lost to many today because we have been so conditioned to be consumers who consume -- rapidly

For many, clothing is not a basic necessity, but rather about fashion. Clothing purchases are not a need to replace a practical functioning garment, but are now made out of desire. Ditto linens -- which are now called "home fashions." How many people even think of mending their socks, their sheets -- or, for that matter, how many people have tired of something before it would even need mending? Fabric isn't mended, repaired or even cared for anymore; as fashions textiles have become disposable to so many.

I've nothing against fashion. But I do have to wonder how such a focus on it has twisted perceptions to the point that we don't know how to mend or even why we do the laundry.

Freshly armed from (repeated) lectures to my children, here's the facts.

We launder clothing, linens, bedding, and other fabric items for four reasons:

1.) Hygiene

Along with the things which can creep and crawl into our bedding and textiles, we bring plenty of moisture to the fabrics in our lives. Moisture, whether it's humidity or drool from our mouths, sweat from our skin, or just good old drops of water, is what creates a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and microorganisms that can cause disease.

2.) Pride & Respect

More specifically, we wash our clothing and textiles because we have pride in ourselves, in the willingness to take care of ourselves, and we have respect for those we are around. We enjoy looking nice, presenting our homes as looking nice. Culturally, this signals health (including genetic prosperity) as well as being "nice" -- as humans are social animals, being nice means we are more likely to get along with and be accepted by our family members, neighbors, and communities.

Along with looking nice, we want ourselves and our homes to smell nice.

Although perspiration is practically odorless, perspiration can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with the normal bacteria on your skin. Bacteria lives on the skin and feeds on our dead skin cells and fluids, such as sweat. Some of these bacteria make chemicals that smell unpleasant, such as methane and hydrogen sulfide. Washing and using deodorants removes these for awhile, but they build up again every day.

We may not be able to smell ourselves; but others will. Since our olfactory senses are designed to detect new odors (changes alerting us to dangers), our continued exposure to our own scents "deaden" our perception of it.  (This is why there are those ladies walking around reeking of perfume and cologne; they can no longer smell it, so they keep increasing how much they put on!) When we wear clean clothes, have fresh linens, we are doing what we can to ensure that we are not offending someone else.

3.) Thrift

Washing fabric -- as directed -- is as act of preservation. It's not just a matter of stains ruining appearance, but every day soiling breaks down fibers, thinning the fabric, making holes, weakening seams, etc.. The longer such simple and often unseen (icky) things as salt crystals from our sweat remain in contact with fabric, the more damage they can do.

For example, not all the holes in socks and hosiery are caused by rubbing against toenails. Abrasions are hastened by the salt crystals, sloughed-off skin cells, good old fashioned dirt, etc. which cut away at the fabric threads. So wash your hosiery after every wearing -- the sooner the better, for as the moisture evaporates, it drys the salts into harder crystals. Or "darn it," you'll have more repairs to mend! (Or more socks and hose to buy.)

This is why tee-shirt necklines, collars, and waistbands fray. It's not just friction against skin; it's the friction combined with nearly invisible but sharp thread-eating dirt, soil, and microorganisms.This is also why phy. ed. uniforms and gym or work-out clothing seems to get so shabby so quickly. It's not just the exertion; it's the lack of washings combined with the (No more having your children only bring their gym clothes home to launder on school breaks!)

Proper laundering removes the soils and prolongs the life of the fabric, which means you have less repairs to make, less things to buy.

4.) Comfort

By now I bet you likely feel far less comfortable in what you are wearing right now! *wink*  But, seriously, we all know how uncomfortable soiled, dirty, smelly, and/or wet clothing is. Hardened or dried bits of things scratch or make us itch.  Spots and stains on our clothing or that of our children and spouses make us embarrassed; we know that people judge (it's an ingrained biological imperative).

Looking nice in clean clothing, having clean sheets on the beds, crisp clean linens on the table, is not a matter of false pride, of trying to appear wealthy or shaming others.  It's something we do for ourselves and our families because physical and emotional health as well as the family budget are at stake.  Doing the laundry just makes good sense. It makes good scents and good cents too. *wink*

Image via Vintage Linen Treasures.

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