Today, laundry tips and a few thoughts about laundry. I promise this is more interesting than it sounds.
My mother, Phyllis, who is 92 years old, is a bookish sort. One of my earliest memories is watching her make coffee in a stovetop percolator and settle into a kitchen chair with a hefty book. There was no June Cleaver vacuuming in pearls and heels in our house; Phyllis was pretty detached housekeeper. When it came to laundry, she didn’t sort, she didn’t use any special products; she just threw it all in together on hot and hoped for the best. Clothing had to be tough if it wanted to survive in our house. Needless to say, Phyllis took the phrase “permanent press” at it’s word, meaning I never saw anyone iron my entire childhood. From her, I learned the joy of ignoring the mess and getting absorbed in a book.
My friend Frances’ mom was the complete opposite. First of all, her mother, Teresa, looked and dressed a bit like a young Sophia Loren. She smoked, teased her hair and wore eyeliner while doing housework. Watching laundry day at her house was an amazing sight. Teresa had a whole lot of complicated pile separation criteria. Her process involved some Fels Naptha laundry soap, which came in a bar and was used with an actual washboard to get out stains. And, almost unbelievably, she used a hand crank wringer-washer. Of course, there were clotheslines, wooden pins and woven baskets, which all seemed very old world and exotic to me.
I had a few things to figure out when I grew up, and laundry wasn’t high on the list, though I did get the basic sorting and temperature thing down pretty quickly. Lately, though, my own laundry situation has been complicated by my need to wash lots and lots of vintage clothes for the shop.
Here are a few of the things I’m learning by trial and error:
I always soak the garment in plain cool water to rejuvenate the fibers before using any products or even soap. Sometimes there is residual detergent, fabric softener or starch that you don’t want to battle in the stain removal process. Change the water until it runs clear.
To get rid of a musty smell, I soak the garment in water with a heathy splash of vinegar, and rinse well. After I soak it, put it out in the sun for a couple of hours. Fresh air and sunlight will freshen vintage textiles.
I sometimes pre-treat tough stains with club soda or carbonated water. There is something about the carbonation that helps loosen stains. Just drizzle the sparking water right on it. The water will fizz up; let it sit for a while. While you wait, you can drink the rest of the carbonated water and read a good book. Then apply stain remover and rub gently. Wait a bit, rinse, then repeat if you need to.
My favorite product by far is Oxiclean. I use the powder, which I dissolve it in very hot water before adding cool water and the clothing. Make sure Oxiclean is dissolved before adding to delicate fabrics such as silk because a small granule sitting on the fabric can eat it away.
For yellowing age-stains in cotton I mix a solution of half Oxiclean and half dishwasher detergent in hot water. I use 1 Tbs. of each cleaner in a gallon of hot water and soak overnight.
Oxiclean will eat rayon and metallic threads, both of which were often used in vintage clothes. In this case, mix and dissolve powdered Biz and Dreft 50/50 in water as hot as you think your dress or blouse can stand, add the garment and let soak for a few hour or a few days. If the water gets dirty, rinse and start over. Some stains may take a week, but they eventually just ‘release’.
See, laundry isn’t so bad! Of course, if you tease your hair, apply some eyeliner and read a book while you do all of this, you’ll have the best of all worlds.