I have a distinct memory of a time when my grandparents came to stay with my sister and I while our parents were on a trip. I remember watching my grandfather hang up his wool socks to air dry and thinking, “Ewww, weird!” But today, I realize my grandfather and I are cut from the same cloth: Adult me would totally air-dry my wool socks. In fact, I air-dry all my darks, delicates, blouses, dress shirts, jeans — and yes, wool socks.
Air drying is just one of many laundry practices that I have very strong opinions about. I sort, I pre-treat, I dose my detergent with precision, I look upon fabric softener with scorn, I wash cold (or scorchingly hot, when it’s called for), and I even own more than one book with laundry tips. I’ll admit that when I visit a friend whose towels have gotten gray because they didn’t separate them from the darks, I have to bite my tongue not to give out laundry tips.
Some people might think my interest in laundry borders on obsessive. I have plenty of friends who throw up their hands and just shove everything into the washer without much thought. (I’m sure they figure they have better things to do with their time.) But really, I just want my family’s clothes and sheets and towels to last — both on general principle and part of my commitment to living a low-waste lifestyle — and I’ve dedicated a fair amount of time figuring out the best ways to ensure that.
Our grandparents spent the time taking care of everything because they needed things to last. Things cost more in the first place. Today, you can pick up a set of sheets for $40 at Target, so there’s less pressure to keep the ones you already own looking their best. But I believe that our grandparents’ inclination towards thriftiness and avoiding wastefulness are worth reviving.
I also believe caring for my things saves me time: The couple of minutes it takes to spot treat an item before it goes in the wash is nothing compared to a round-trip journey to the store to buy a replacement. Even if you shop online, it ends up taking hours to buy most things because there are so many options that it’s hard to decide. Not to mention the research that goes into picking something that won’t fall apart immediately.
For me, there’s also real satisfaction in the work. When greasy pizza stains didn’t come out of my favorite napkins recently, I patiently brushed each spot with stain treatment, let it sit, then soaked the napkins, and finally resorted to spot-treating the last of the stains with chlorine bleach. It took a little time, but I got them back to looking like new and it gave me the feeling of a job well done.
Learning how to do your laundry properly makes your clothes and home items look so much better too. I can wear a favorite shirt for more seasons if I wash it cold and air dry it. I don’t feel the itch to buy new towels because mine still look fresh. I feel more confident and proud of my home because of the care that went into wash day.
If this makes you think twice about your lackadaisical laundry routine, I’d encourage you to take a little extra time with your washing and drying. I can guarantee it would make Grandpa proud.
Laura Fenton is the author of The Little Book of Living Small and a small space and sustainable living expert. She lives with her husband and their son in Jackson Heights, Queens, in New York City. You can find her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton.