Airing the Dirty Laundry
Well now - Campbell's bed and Campbell's pyjamas...Tuesday's washday so they've had a week's use.
Dorothy L Sayers, Five Red Herrings 1931
When I was a little girl one day in every week I would come home from school to find the sheets on my bed changed and fresh with clean pyjamas under the pillow. I loved going to bed between clean sheets wearing clean pyjamas.
I was rather baffled as a new mother to discover that babies and toddlers can't go for a week between pyjama changes. I thought that new weekly pyjamas were a sort of rule of nature, like the seasons. But my toddlers tiresomely covered their pyjamas daily in pumpkin and weet-bix just to spite me. However, they eventually grew out of it around the age of seven or so, and now the universe has returned to its proper round of once-a-week pyjama washing, as noted above during the investigations of Lord Peter Wimsey.
The other things that get washed weekly like a religious ritual (you know, except if something else more interesting happens instead) are towels and sheets. Now that we are a family of four I wash the clothes twice a week, instead of the former three times a week when we were six. However I have been thinking that once a week would be sufficient, because except for gardening days, we really aren't that dirty.
Why am I spending so much thought on the washing? Because I have recently discovered that Other People wash a whole lot more than I do. I became acquainted with a family of five who cannot use their towels more than once without washing them. That is a load of towels a day, and thirty five towels in a week! My girls both wear adorable tartan school uniforms in winter. Some Mothers apparently wash these once a week (a very small minority I might add, because they are murder to iron, with all those pleats). I wash our girls' skirts once at the end of each winter. Also, apparently Some Children take all their clothes to the laundry basket after each wearing, and have clean pyjamas every day.
Clearly, some parents just love doing laundry. Which is fine, each to his own, BUT what is the cost in energy to wash all those clothes every day? And no doubt tumble dry them as well? What about the wear and tear on the clothes? Our clothes would all last so much longer if we didn't wash them so often, and tumble drying absolutely kills clothes - all that lint collected inside the drier? That is another layer of fabric skimmed off the clothes.
In the days of our great-grandmothers wash day was once a week and everything got done all on the one day. Monday morning the copper was fired up, and often the oldest girl was required to stay home from school and help. The white sheets and towels were boiled, then the sturdy white clothes, then the coloureds, and the delicate things were hand washed. All of the wash was fed through a mangle and hung out to dry on the line. Oh, they must have prayed for sunshine on Mondays, those grannies of ours. I must say I do rather love my marvellously reliable highly technical front-loader washing machine which does most of that hard work for me, and because I don't have to light a fire under the boiler to do the washing, it is very easy to throw a load on at sundry moments on various days - but I don't, because that is the way madness lies. I have tried that technique before, and it resulted in me never seeing the bottom of the laundry basket. For the past few years I have had two days devoted to sheets, one day to towels, and two to doing all the clothes in the laundry basket right down to the bottom, including the delicates and the odd things that end up in laundry baskets like library bags that the dog weed on. it is very satisfying to have nothing more to wash, I must say.
However the most significant thing I have learned from thinking about the washing techniques of my great-grandmothers is the Importance of Airing. There are often whole pages devoted to the subject in old housekeeping manuals. Airing is how you manage to go a whole week between laundry loads. The essentials of airing is hanging up clothes somewhere.. well, airy, when you take them off. If my clothes are clean when I get home from work, I hang them on a hanger from the handle of my wardrobe door. Then the next morning I put them away when I take out my next work outfit. This is reasonably easy as I have two skirts and two dresses which I wear all winter, which is very vintage of me:) Luckily I have various tops to go with the skirts, but even so there is not a lot of variety. This does not bother me at all, because it is extremely easy to decide what to wear, and also because I am very boring and don't like thinking about clothes much. Or washing, or ironing, so this system works very well for me:)
I generally work between two and four hours a day, and so if I change my clothes as soon as I get home and hang them up to air I can get several weeks' wear out of the dresses, and, confession time, I haven't washed the skirts all winter. One is a lovely fitted tweed from the op-shop, and the other is a circa 1965 tailored, lined skirt gifted by a friend. And honest, they smell fine, slight aroma of lavender from all the sachets my girls make to hang in the wardrobe! And if I had washed them every week they would probably be ruined and shapeless now. Excessive zeal for cleanliness is not always a good thing.
I try to chivvy the girls out of their school uniforms after school too, and sometimes I even succeed. In winter they get by on two or three school shirts a week, plus a couple of sets of casuals, and I wear my winter uniform of jeans, long sleeved top and polar fleece every single day when I am not at work, and that doesn't need changing every day either unless I get very dirty in the garden. So with all of the airing and rewearing I am thinking I can go to once a week laundry. Which will save all the energy - both the electrical kind, and my own.
Tell me about how often you wash. Are you appalled at my rewearing policies? Do you have teenage boys? Then ignore all of the above. How did our grannies wash for teenage boys once a week? Imagine the smell of the dirty laundry after seven days..