• Thursday, April 25, 2013

Primitive women, I’m told, beat the dirt out of their clothes with stones.
Probably the preferred laundry method for a wardrobe consisting mainly of animal skins.

My grandmother, who was born in 1865, had a five-pronged clothes-  washing protocol: use a metal ridged wash board; boil in tin tub over an open fire; pull out of hot bath with a heavy pole; douse in cold water and ring-out  by hand. Imagine the weekly hard work to keep up with a husband and three sons (all wearing heavy overalls) and two frilly daughters!

I’m old enough (alas) to remember my mother’s delight in getting a ringer  washer, with an attachment that removed water from each individual piece of clothing by rotating an extremely hard-to-turn handle. My first washing machine, 56 years ago, had but three buttons: On-Off, High-Low, Hot-Cold.

All this palaver about washdays is because my faithful machine recently turned up her toes. She was well over a dozen years old and in her last days spun herself like a landing helicopter and then danced all over the laundry room. So we decided to let the old girl rest in peace and get a modern replacement. We almost needed a replacement for me when I grasped just how much the technology of cleaning clothes has advanced. As usual, I found myself way behind the power curve.

For the past several days I’ve been assiduously studying the Use and  Care Guide, to practice washing clothes. I say “practice” because there are so many more decisions to make before the machine even starts. First of all, I needed an HE detergent, which is a High Efficiency smart bomb model that delivers concentrated cleaner directly to soils.

Initially you have to consult the Cycle Guide which has 12 different  major options, depending on the weight and type of clothes and heaviness of soil.

Each of these options is broken down into dozens of minor ones, like fabric color, water temperature and various spins. Once these decisions are firm and the laundry has been sorted via the aforementioned divisions, it’s time to get started. This marvel also has a sensing process to automatically determine the water level.

After all these buttons are set, you put in detergent, add clothes –  stacked in piles along the sides, not wrapped around the agitator – (cross your  fingers) and close the lid. The machine has a lid lock to prevent nosey owners from peeking inside to see what’s going on.  You can override the lock, but then the whole cycle starts over.

There is a whimsical heading in the instruction book called “Normal Sounds You Can Expect.” My old machine featured noisy coursing water, agitation, rinsing and spinning. No so, this model. After the lock clicks decidedly shut, you hear nothing. Apparently there is no sound to sensing.

Next comes of a bit of water, then silence, then soft “pulsing, humming and  whirring” – the latter coming across more like a gently hissing jungle cat. This rotation is repeated several times over.

So far, I’ve completed about a half dozen loads without any collateral damage. When I consider my washday ancestors, I happily learn all these new techniques in lieu of pounding the stone, boiling the pot and hand-wringing the clothes.

The new technology is truly a wonder.

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