Friday, September 24, 2010

Still Life With Robin: It All Comes Out in the Wash

by Peggy Robin

Preface to this week's column: Last week I wrote about an odd mixup that occurred after receiving a text message from my older daughter that had been auto-corrected by her texting program's spellchecker. Lest my children worry that each week I will milk some little peccadillo of theirs for comic effect, I have decided this week to say only that I am writing about a younger family member who lives in my household. I will call her "Blair."

Each week I do Blair's laundry. It's not because she can't do her own laundry. She can -- and on alternate leap years when the moon is full, she does. It's just that there's some primitive reflex in the far reaches of my brain that responds to the sight of the full laundry hamper in her room with the irresistible urge just to get the stuff clean. And not nag about it. (I like to reserve nagging for the really important things, like safe driving reminders, although I must add that Blair is already an extremely conscientious driver, and I have every reason to believe my nagging is both unnecessary and deeply irritating. I keep it up, all the same.)

If Blair is forgetful about the need to do her own laundry, she's even more forgetful about what she throws in the hamper to be washed. Specifically, she forgets to empty the pockets of her pants and skirts. You'd think she'd learn after a few laundry mishaps not to skip this step. More to the point, you would think I'd learn after those same laundry mishaps to anticipate her omission of this essential step, and would always double-check the pockets myself. You'd think. It just goes to prove that certain tendencies are encoded in our DNA. It seems we both got the same flawed pocket-checking gene.

Now to the practical impact of this lapse on her part (and then on mine). Here's what happens when each of the following items ends up in the wash:

Item, Result, and Possible Remedies.

Used Kleenex.
Is transformed into tiny clots of tissue spewn over the fill holes in the washer basket and also all over the clothes. To remove, one must hand-pick each and every little clot out of the washer basket holes. Most bits can be removed from clothing by tossing everything in the dryer, where it will end up caught in the lint trap (if one is lucky).

Chapsticks. (Not to be confused with chopsticks -- see my previous column on this point.) Results vary, depending on the wash water temperature and the tightness of the chapstick cap. If it's a cold water wash and the chapstick has a tight cap, no harm done. If the top comes off during agitation and the water is warm enough to melt the chapstick, the clothes will be randomly spotted with a waxy goo. It may come off with a second washing in water hot enough to remelt the goo and rinse it away. And then again, it may not. But even if it does, this is not a good thing for any delicate items so washed.

Pens. Same variables as apply to the chapstick situation. Cap tightness is the chief factor in predicting extent of the damage. Cheap Bic pens spell disaster. Retractable ballpoints, on the other hand, tend to do fine. If ink does end up on clothing, give up. You can try every stain remover on the market, but you will still have blue spots (a bit faded, perhaps) to remind you of your mistake.

Money. Loose change will look brighter and shinier after a spin in the washer. Old paper bills may not fare so well. They'll still be spendable, though just not usable in a Metro farecard machine or any sensitive vending machine. Possibly remedy: Try light ironing.

Cellphone. Definitely not machine washable. Fortunately for us, we learned this lesson when this particular cellphone was already on its way out, due to be replaced by an upgraded model. Otherwise, this would have been an expensive lesson learned. We did try to remedy the situation by following the drying-out instructions that popped up in response to a Google search using the keywords "wet cell phone": We packed the cellphone in uncooked rice overnight. That did seem to draw out most of the moisture and we thought (at least for a moment, when we saw the device turn on) that it had worked to fix the phone. But apparently not well enough to make and receive calls.

Things that can be washed with confidence: Scraps of paper, candy wrappers, paper clips, broken bits of jewelry. In other words, things of no value. This leads me to the formulation of Robin's Law of Laundry, which states, "The probability that an object can survive a laundry cycle is inversely proportional to the monetary value of that object." Put into plainer English: All your worthless little things left in the pockets will come out clean and whole. If the earring in your pocket was broken, washing it won't make it any worse. But if the earring was valuable, it will fall apart in the spin cycle, if not sooner.

And finally, Robin's Law of Lost Earrings (a corollary of sorts to the Law of Laundry): Once you put an earring in your pocket, the next time you see it will be when you are taking your laundry out of the washer, and by that time it will be in three pieces.

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