Thursday, November 3, 2016

For the Love of Laundry

My mother washed clothes in the basement of our third floor Chicago apartment in a wringer washer shared with all the other tenants. She did not mind, having come from an southern Indiana home with no washing machine at all. I was the oldest and so, at age five, was allowed to run the clothes through the wringer. I only recall one day that the sleeve of my blouse got caught and threatened to pull me and my limb into the jaws of death, or at least major compression. You should have seen my mother sprint across the room to hit the emergency release level. Faster than Florence Griffith-Joyner I swear.  

It was 1965, there was no dryer, only a rope line for clothes to dry near the buildings coal fired furnace. My parents were big smokers anyway, what's a little coal dust on your school uniform? When the washer was on the fritz she sent my dad to the fancy laundromat on upper Ashland Ave. where he shoved two loads worth of a clothes into one washer. That way he could use the change to buy candy and maybe, if we were lucky, a cold pop from the vending machines. Or, in tougher times, candy for us and a pack of cigs for him.

We loved the laundromat with its heat spewing dryers and Jewish mama's who felt sorry for dad having to do his share of the housework, gifting him with advice, attention and looks of pity, while our mother frittered away at home caring for three babies under the age of 4.

For years my idea of success was the ability to purchase as many laundry products as I could squeeze into my over sized grocery cart; pre-soak solutions, stain remover sticks, bleach, detergent in a variety of synthetic scents indigenous to Illinois like "Hawaiian Tropic Breeze", plus matching fabric softeners, and finally, spray starch for ironing.  In our big farmhouse I had even worked myself upto TWO SETS of washer/dryers. One for our chore clothes which was housed in our basement, and one upstairs for our "good clothes" as opposed to our evil clothes I suppose. My obsession for laundry products grew as my salary did, and at its peak, my supply closet looked something like this:

Now, my laundry arsenal consists of one washing machine centered in our kitchen, an old coffee can full of homemade laundry detergent, a gallon of white vinegar and these high tech items:

I scored this lovely group of hefty clothespins, old fashioned wooden ones, some with heavy springs, at our local thrift shop Someone Else's Treasure for a mere $7 including the cloth hanging bag. These babies are super strong, able to grip towels and rugs alike. There were nearly 100 of them in all. They make me abundantly happy.

I can be simple that way. Well, now I am.

Image result for Clothespin sculpture
Clothespin sculpture by Claes Oldenburg
Central Square, Philadelphia
The clothespins are a real find as we abandoned our dryer(s) when we sold the old place, and now rely entirely on the good nature of Mother. I plan my day around laundry hangout feasibility times, it's all very complex. When it's warm and sunny, clothes go out. If not, they stay in. Even in winter  if it's above freezing, clothes go outside. Otherwise we dry them on a small metal rack that fits just behind our rocket mass stove. 

Here is my laundry soap recipe if you're interested.

1 Bar of homemade bar soap (or you can use Fels Naptha soap available in most grocery stores)
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
1 cup Baking soda

Grate the bar soap into small shreds, mix it in a large bowl with all the other ingredients. Use one small handful per load. You can add a few drops of essential oils for scent if you want. Orange and lavender is nice.

For fabric softener, just adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar in your rinse water, will do the trick. Your clothes will be soft coming off the line and will not smell like pickles, they will just smell clean. Depending on what you pay for the ingredients above, each load runs just pennies and the no suds, no phosphates, proves a good thing for your septic system. 

Got a homemade laundry soap recipe to share? Go ahead, spill it.


  1. I always smile when I see clothes flapping on a line in the breeze. Nothing says "country" more than that.
    I used to buy laundry detergent but they started adding in more and more fragrance. It got ridiculous---catching a buzz from the fumes. The homemade stuff works better too. It's a win-win

    1. Thanks Sue. it's rare though, at least in Central Illinois, to see laundry hanging out on the line. Fine, more breezes for my knickers.

  2. I did homemade for about a year and a half. Then one day months ago I was in a discount store and bought a jug of dye free unscented detergent for like $10... we're still using it and let me tell you it is SUCH a luxury to have it.

    1. Often homemade is not cheaper, only sometimes. I do believe it is often better but again not 100% of the time. We all do what we can do. I will scrimp on so many things yet I won't buy off brand coffee.I have limits. Great big mugs of great caffeine limits.

  3. I wish I still had an old fashioned clothesline to dry my clothes but I'm a basement dweller. Luckily I have a covered patio where my clothes rack can be located. But, when it rains for 28 days out of 31 like it did in October - we set a record apparently - I have to use my little dryer or it gets mildewed. But when it isn't raining, I hang everything outside 'cause it smells so good. Detergent?? Soap? I tried making my own & grating it but didn't like it. I now use liquid concentrate with no scent or color because that powder doesn't totally dissolve in cold H2O. But, I do rinse with vinegar.

  4. We have quite a small machine; it needed to fit into a a small space! I know how to use it, and do so often. The washing-up machine, however, is another beast. I have no idea how it works, and don't wish to know. I buy just one bottle of liquid for our clothes, it just says 'lessive', and does what it says.

  5. Niw that we are apt dwellers, laundry time is usually daytimes when others might be at work, avoiding weekends as much as possible. There are 3 each washers & dryers and within 2 doors of our apt. In the VA house the laundry room was on the first floor as there was no basement. Growing up, my mother had one of those Maytag wringer machines, but I never used it. And she hung clothes outside or in the basement most of her life, using those wooden clothes pins. As far as I know she never made her own laundry soap and neither have I. Does the vinegar do a good job of removing stains or orders or both?

  6. I miss hanging out clothes to dry. No place to do it now.


  7. Like Cottontail farm, I did home made laundry liquid for several years, until I couldn't ignore any more, that it wasn't actually getting the dirt out. Which was kind of a bummer. I persevered with the home made, until I found I could buy 1 litre of liquid concentrate for about $1.80 AUD. But I'm always on the lookout for a good home made recipe. I notice yours has baking soda, where the traditional ones I've come across, don't. Which would probably react to the vinegar rinse, and lift those stubborn stains. I might have to give your recipe a try.

    1. Or perhaps I could put the vinegar in the machine, so it can be reacting to the soda during the main cycle? I will have to experiment.

  8. I love line dried laundry, and even in Winter things go out on the line whenever possible. Sometimes if it's raining but very windy things can still get dryer than when they went out.

    And yes I'm another vinegar user for the final rinse, I've come to hate that over perfumed smell I can smell on peoples clothes when they've poured in a cupful of fabric conditioner.

  9. The post is very informative and plenty with practical advice. I totally love dried laundry. I appreciate and thank to provide this informative post with us.I read some reviews on it that really help for dry cleaners and I found this- HomeClean Guide


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