In our house, wash day is on a Monday. Oh, and Tuesday. Also Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. With a frequent Saturday and Sunday thrown in for good measure. Yes, wash day is EVERY day in our family of five. And sometimes twice a day.
Surely it wasn't like this in days gone by? My own mother didn't quite go down to the river and scrub our clothes with stones, but nor did she – as I do now - spend every waking moment surrounded by so many drying clothes that the place resembles a Turkish sauna.
And so, the other day, I snapped. Instead of piling my wife's worn-once shirts and my boys' barely-grass-stained jeans straight into the washing machine, I gave them a sniff.
And then I folded up the now non-offending articles...and put them back in drawers from whence they came. And do you know what? Nobody noticed. Especially not my children, but not even my hyper-aroma-sensitive wife.
This, I concluded, was one way to cure my Wash Day Blues. A way to prevent being a Laundry Loser.
Of course, this strategy isn't for everyone, I appreciate. Other more, er, hygienic types may prefer a less olfactory-friendly way of taking some of the stress out of the relentlessness of clothes washing. You know, with some advice from an expert rather than a shirker.
So I've been in touch with Mary Marlowe Leverette, whose job is to write about laundry for the website About.com.
She told me she's been doing laundry since she was five years old, so she's knows a thing or two about sorting, stain removal and shortcuts.
"Sorting?" you say. "What on earth is sorting? Surely it should be re-named, 'Bung it all in and tell the team that off-white is the new black?'"
Apparently not. There's a science to sorting. Sort of!
First of all, you need to:
• Check the labels.
"They will tell you whether an item can be machine washed," says Mary. "Place all clothes that are labelled, 'wash separately' or 'hand wash' into separate piles. As a novice launderer, if it says 'dry clean only' believe the label and place in a bag to take to the dry cleaners."
Got that? Good.
• Now sort your laundry by colour.
"Whites, pastels, light grey and white background prints will go in one pile. Deep colored clothes – black, red, navy, brown, dark grey – go in another pile," says Mary.
• Next, sort each pile one more time by type of fabric.
"For instance, in the whites pile separate towels and sheets from apparel. In the dark colours, separate T-shirts and jeans from lighter weight items like blouses and dress shirts. Washing by fabric type allows you to use different water temperatures and keeps drying cycles simple."
Phew! Now if, like me, you would rather stick rusty pins in your eyes than go to the effort of all that sorting, think of the benefits: your clothes will last longer, and longer-lasting clothes means more money in your pocket...to save up for a washing machine that can do all of the above for you (though, sadly, it hasn't been invented).
In the meantime, Mary has some tips to make laundry day (aka, as we have established, twice-a-day-everyday) less stressful and get better results:
1) Select the Right Water Temperature.
Cold water is for fine fabrics, items that might shrink and sensitive dark colors. Warm water is appropriate for moderately soiled clothing and man-made fabrics. Hot water should be used for bedding and towels, cotton whites and really dirty work clothes.
2) Why Whites Lose Their Bright.
When whites start going grey or yellow, it could be because you are using water temperatures that might be too low. Another reason is that your are overloading your washer and piling in really dirty clothes that cause dirt to resettle on mildly soiled clothes making them dull.
3) Reduce Fading.
By turning dark-coloured clothes inside out before washing you can avoid abrasion and wear to fabric surfaced that cause dull appearances.
4) Avoid Shrinking.
The best way to avoid shrinking in clothing is to use a cold water setting and avoid the dryer. Hand the item to dry or dry beither hanging the item to dry or turning the dryer down to its lowest setting.
5) Avoid Bleeding Colours.
Keep whites separate so dark dyes don't ruin them. To find out if something is colorfast, drop a little water on an inside corner or seam and see if the dye runs. If it does, hand wash separately.
6) Handle Delicates with Care.
Wash delicate undergarments by hand in a sink filled with cool water. Or, toss bras in a mesh lingerie bag and use the delicate cycle.
7) Use Less Detergent.
Using too much detergent can create so many suds that they trap soil, redepositing it on clothes. Try using one-half less than the recommended amount and see if you are pleased with the results. Your clothes will look better and you'll save money!
8) Select the Right Detergent.
Liquid detergents which usually contain enzymes are good for pretreating stains and removing food.
9) Catch Stains Quickly.
Act now! Rinse or soak the garment in cold water, apply a stain remover and get it to the washer. Stain still there? Never put the garment in the dryer. Use a stain remover and rewash.
10) Reduce Wrinkles.
Use a fabric softener or dryer sheet to help reduce fabric wrinkles and select the lowest dryer temperature setting possible that will still get the job done. Always remove clothing from dryer as quickly as possible when dry and fold or hang.
Well, that's the advice from a bona fide expert. But what do Joanne and Joe Public have to offer to wash away those wash day blues? I asked my friends on my social networks and pretty much the most sensible answer I got was: "Get your partner to do it."
So I turned to my wife (not to do the washing, but to ask her friends, colleagues and followers).
Here's what they had to say: (some gems here):
Michaela Lewis: "Have a separate basket for lights and darks.... also hang on hangers to dry so no or little ironing required!"
Emma Bromfield: "Once a month, set an empty wash for 60C or more and use a detergent that contains oxygen bleach. Your machine will smell all clean and fresh again."
Stephen Picton: "I told my wife when she matches up her knickers and bras why doesn't she fold up knickers and place in cup of bra , then when she wants clean underwear she's got a matching set simply by picking up the bra. Not bad for a man eh!"
Sue Manning: "I always use the condensed water from the tumble dryer in my iron. Does the same job as deionised water (ironing water) and stops the iron from scaling up. Not dirty water as comes from clean clothes."
Pamela Hewson: "I also use a tumble dryer sheet to put on my radiator. When it gets warm it makes the room smell nice."
Andy Rogers: "Give the washing an extra spin at the end so it dries faster."
Emma Jaques: "Put bras and jumpers in a net laundry bag. Stops boning coming out, hooks catching on other items and jumpers from altering shape."
Sue Sidebottom: "If you have a bad stain, rub in washing up liquid prior to washing."
Amanda Claire Rudland: "Once a week, completely clean the inside of the drum and around the rim to get rid of all the built up scum and undissolved washing powder/liquid capsules. It makes the washing smell nice and prevents the back wash of smell."
Colleen Brunton: "Wash clothes at a low temperature - 30C - and a short wash if they are not too dirty. Saves money and saves wear and tear on clothes. ."
But surely the best tip of all for beating Washday Blues is this one from Sonia Metcalfe: "Challenge your kids to take part in the Laundry Olympics. Whoever loads, washes and folds to the highest standard wins a prize!"
So what are you: a Laundry Loser or a Wash Day Winner?