I’m over here in Mexico and treating my white laundry before washing. I used a cheap product called Pre-Lavador. I spray and start to rub it on my shirt cuffs and collar. Then, a real shock came. As I rubbed, the stains actually faded and then disappeared. It was like some kind of magic show. I’ve never seen this happen before.
What the heck? This never happens in the United States from any pre-wash treatment, and I’ve used them all. I didn’t even know it was possible.
Then, of course, it struck me. I don’t know what it is or why, but this follows the path of every single other U.S. product: DayQuil and NyQuil, light bulbs, gas cans, dishwashers, garbage disposals, gasoline, beef and chicken, bread, ketchup, and, the top of today’s article, every product and technology associated with washing and drying our clothes. (I could have mentioned vaccines, but that’s for another time.)
You don’t believe me? You are wrong. You have forgotten what white clothes look like. Come to Mexico. Go to any BnB or hotel. Look at your sheets. Do you recall seeing anything that white in the U.S. in decades? No, and this is for a reason—not just one reason but many.
The state of pre-wash treatment is only my latest discovery. I’ve not been able to find the answer, but maybe a laundry scientist can figure it out. Pre-Lavador is, of course, not available in the United States. Neither is the great iron I used in Australia five years ago, the one that made clothing swing from a hanger with a blast of steam from two inches away. No iron in the U.S. does anything close to this, at least nothing available for the domestic consumer.
As for laundry, I’ve given up on every product, every machine, every convention. Somebody, somewhere in the highest reaches of the U.S. government, is absolutely determined that we all wear dingy, dirty, oily, dreadful clothing all the time and that it lasts less than a year so that we have to throw it away and buy more.
Where to begin with my soliloquy? Let’s say we get past the pre-wash stage and move straight to the “washing machine.” I’m told there are still some halfway decent ones out there (Speed Queen, they say) but you will have to look hard and pay high. They won't have an energy-efficient tag on them, I can tell you that.
The normie washing machine today uses a fraction of the water necessary to clean your clothing. The most elite and highly recommended ones now are front-loading and a complete joke. They seem to use less water than is required to cook a cup of rice. Sorry, but super-fast spinning in a splash of water isn't going to get your clothing clean. It’s a joke.
And let’s talk about water temperature. Nothing gets clean in tepid water, which is where “hot” water heaters are set these days. You need 140 degrees to make it work, and very few homes are set for that anymore. Instead, you are giving germs and bacteria a warm bath, and they thrive like yeast loves a warm day. Wash after wash, it builds up. You wonder why your socks never seem quite clean and then your shoes get stinky and the stink never goes away no matter how much you wash your feet? This is one reason.
Realizing this years ago, I started boiling water to supplement the loaded machine with a gallon or so. That truly did help but, sadly, that’s not the whole of it.
The next problem traces to the detergent itself, which since at least the Middle Ages or maybe since the ancient world included phosphates. Otherwise, there is no way for the soap to break down and be rinsed. Instead, it stays in the clothing, and the oil and dirt stay with it. In the 1980s and 1990s, all phosphates were removed from U.S. detergents, by law.
Why did they do this? Because they found that lakes and rivers were getting too crowded with green growth and the fish didn’t like it. Wow, was this the fault of our laundry? Nope. It's the fault of fertilizers used by agribusiness that was dumping refuse in rivers and lakes. To enable them to continue to do that while pretending to fix the problem, the government made phosphate in our detergents illegal!
Today, I will tell you this. Unless you are adding trisodium phosphate (TSP) into your wash, you aren't getting your clothing clean in the United States. This is just true. No question about it. You can find it, though it is increasingly hard, in the paint section of your hardware store, so long as the store isn't "woke." This is for now. Who knows what will happen next year?
OK, let’s say you have a rare machine with a huge tub, not much laundry to stuff it up, roiling hot water, plus you use detergent with TSP. Are you done? Not just yet, because you have to dry them. Drying is an ordeal in itself. You know the lint you pick up from the basket at the end? Do you know what it really is?
IT'S YOUR CLOTHES!
This is another reason you keep having to buy new T-shirts and boxers every six months or so. There is something about the heating elements in new dryers that are designed to save energy by minimizing air flow, and therefore, they bake your clothes to a crisp, and then your clothes fall apart.
So then, you go to the store and buy new ones. You are happy with them because they look clean, but wash by wash, dry by dry, they get worse and worse. This is why the sheets on your bed somehow fall apart in a year, but you are kind of glad because they are dingy and ugly anyway. Actually, this is all of the cottons in your home: napkins, towels, tea towels, everything.
Did you ever wonder how it is that your mother’s mother kept her mother’s sheets whereas you keep buying new ones every year or two? This is why.
My discovery today of the problem with prewash confirms for me a decision I made in 2023. I’m going to reveal this, but promise me not to make fun of or think I’m ridiculous because this is very serious.
So fed up am I with the degraded life and dirty everything that I finally decided to give up on the entire racket. I now hand wash all clothing, sheets, towels, and everything in the bathtub.
"Ha ha," you say. But seriously, it’s pretty much the only way remaining for people in the United States. I fill the tub up with the hottest possible water with detergent and TSP and let it soak for 30 minutes until the water is cool enough to the touch to scrub it myself.
After this, I let it sit a bit more. Then, I drain the tub and fill it up again with cold water. That's the rinse cycle. Pull the plug and start the wringing-out process, one item at a time. It’s hard work, and never more so than with the towels. I’ve figured out a technique I would love to pass on, but maybe you can figure it out.
I pile all the washed clothes in the sink and then carry them outdoors to a clothesline or a rack near a window. If there is any moisture or rain in the air, it doesn’t work, so you have to bring them inside. Otherwise, what you want is a sunny day (hot or cold outside) and a light breeze. The sun bleaches the whites and disinfects the rest.
If all goes well in this arduous process, I can produce laundry results approximating perhaps what my grandmother had growing up. That’s if I’m lucky, though I’m probably missing something. Yes, the whole thing takes time, but, hey, it’s exercise, you feel good about achieving something, and you get clean clothes.
I admit there is a limit to my ability to wring my clothes sufficiently to reduce time on the clothesline. I’m thinking of making a little machine with two rollers and a crank through which I can push the laundry to press out all of the water. That could be handy.
I’m heading home from Mexico and would love to smuggle back some of the Pre-Lavador, but I’m sure it would be found and thrown away by the Transportation Security Administration. Even if I got away with it, I wouldn’t sleep well at night knowing that the Department of Homeland Security could break down my door in a pre-dawn raid. After all, clean laundry is illegal in the United States.