Monday, June 2, 2014

Rage Against the (Washing) Machine

The subject matter today is trivial: my washing machine. But the underlying principles are probably worth considering.

We got our first washing machine a few weeks after our middle son, Economic Sphere, was born, when we moved into our first home, which we rented (for considerably more than we pay for our house payment now, since this was in California). We bought the washing machine and the dryer as a set. Somewhere along the way, maybe after 16 years or so, we needed to replace the dryer, because the heating element gave out. But the washer kept going.
It did a good job. For both boys I did cloth diapers, and all the other grime that goes with growing boys. I don’t mean to minimize the work, but it was doable to put dirty diapers in a pail of water with bleach, and then do wash two days a week. I used a pre-treater, and a detergent with a low amount of allergens. When we didn’t have a water conditioner, I added that, plus a fabric softener.
I had good luck with stains coming out, especially if I caught them before they went through a dryer. Really, I thought I had the laundry task relatively well in hand, all things considered.
Then, a few years ago, the machine gave out. Wouldn’t drain anymore. Wouldn’t agitate. It was pretty much dead. And, after 23 years of service it seemed like time to say farewell.
By this time, the machines on the market were all “high-efficiency.” This word does not mean what you think it means—it does not make doing laundry more efficient for the homemaker. It is supposedly more efficient in use of electricity per load and water per load.
Many of these new washers are front load, but when I listed my essentials for a new machine, I didn’t want a front load. The thing is, almost every week I start a load, turn around and find a sock on the floor or remember a towel or something that needs to get added. If I don’t get it in that load, that item has to sit in the hamper for another week until I get to the next load of that type (whites, light colors, dark colors, reds, and maybe some special load for sheets, blankets, etc.) So I wanted to be able to turn around and add an item in those first few minutes of the cycle—therefore, top load.
We got one. It’s high efficiency, a reliable brand, good ratings in the studies, etc. But while it’s a top load, it still thwarts me. The lid locks. If I find that late sock, I have to press an escape button, hard, hold for several seconds—and hope the machine gets my message. If I’m lucky, it will stop the cycle and unlock. This ends the cycle. I have to start the load over; it doesn’t pick up from where it was.
This is not an improvement.
I used to be able to do a load in the washer in about 40-45 minutes, ahead of the dryer batch, which takes about an hour, maybe 70 minutes for heavy loads. I used to be able to listen for the dryer to end; it signals. Then I would haul the next load upstairs to the laundry. But this new “high-efficiency” machine takes on average 90 minutes for a wash load. So I have to wait, and hope I remember to get upstairs when it’s done. Sometimes I’m still too early, and I’ve made a trip upstairs for nothing.
I don’t know how a machine can function for 90 minutes and use less electricity than the old one did for 45 minutes. I am doubtful that it does. But if there is an electricity savings, I doubt that it’s sufficient to cost me double the time to do laundry for every load the rest of my life. Is my time not worth a few watts of electricity which we pay for?
Then there’s the water problem. Until recently we have been going through what is considered a drought here in Houston—in the range of 42 annual inches of rainfall, rather than 52. We used to live where there was a mere 6 inches of annual precipitation. Under Houston conditions, it’s hard to be overly concerned about using enough water to rinse my clothes. Here’s the thing: the new washer doesn’t believe in using enough water to wash out the detergent.
That white stuff is detergent left after double rinse.
I kid you not, the operation manual says not to be concerned about parts of clothing that seem dry coming out of the machine; they’re still getting clean, it says. Um, no. If no water has soaked into an item of clothing, it is not being “cleaned” just by virtue of being near fabric parts that are getting wet. Not only that, fabric that comes in contact with detergent, conditioner, or fabric softener, but doesn’t get rinsed thoroughly comes out with chemicals on it. See the photo proof.
These particular jeans are a detergent magnet. Maybe because denim is a heavier fabric, I don’t know, but practically every time I wash these pants, they come out with detergent smeared all over, rather than rinsed out. I then have to put them in for another cycle—without adding more detergent. A full cycle, all by themselves, or with a couple of other affected items of similar color.
The machine offers options for smaller size loads. And I can optimize the “high-efficiency” by using less water. But I’ve found that every load must be given the full load treatment, or there is no chance it will get fully wet. Also, there are options for “heavy” load and “extra rinse,” which are essential—every time, without exception. The result on these pants in the photo, smeared with detergent, is after the heavy load, extra rinse option. True also when I find parts of shirts that are still completely dry.
So, not only do I have every load take twice as long as with my old reliable machine, I always use the maximum allowed amount of water. And then I frequently have to double electricity and water yet again by having to re-wash items that didn’t get cleaned. My guess is that, whoever decided I had to buy this kind of machine for the sake of the environment is wrong about both the energy and water usage. My old machine was more efficient. And it was a lot more efficient for me personally.
I complained about this the other night while folding laundry. Mr. Spherical Model kind of rolled his eyes and said I should just always plan on doing a second wash on those pants. Ignore any efforts for efficiency, and just adjust to what is.
That is the practical way. The less practical and more quixotic way, which I am prone to, is to work toward less government interference. Get rid of the regulators. Organize for laundry freedom. And toilet size freedom. And lightbulb freedom. Get government out of my house!
Mr. Spherical Model is sensible in that, if a person is going to make a living, serve in the community, and spend time with family, there’s not a lot of energy left over for raging against the manifold outrages of an overreaching government. Still, to say nothing seems like consent.
I don’t know what the right balance is. For today, I’m giving evidence here, in writing, that government regulators simply do not know as much about the most efficient way for me to do laundry as a woman who has been involved in the ongoing process for several decades. And the Constitution should not be construed to assume I have given my consent.

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