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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What Is Bluing?

My son is an inquisitive little boy.  We’ve had so many discussions about how people used to have to grow their own food, how grocery stores came into existence, how you used to have wait for your photos to be developed, and how when I was little there was no such thing as an iPhone.  Recently we got on the topic of laundry and how folks many, many years ago used to take their clothes to a local stream, beat them against rocks, dip them in the water a few times, and hand wring them to remove the excess water.  You should have seen the look on his face.  The questions started flying.

I found this article, and we sat down and read it together.  I showed him photos of washhouses and of a wringer washer similar to what my grandmother used.  As we talked, I ran across something I’d heard of but never used or even knew how to use – bluing.  We’ve talked before about how whites tend to yellow over time.  We shared suggestions on how you might combat that yellowing.  One option we didn’t discuss is ‘bluing’, an old-fashioned product that was once an essential item in all laundry rooms.  How does it work?  Well, remember that white is not a color.  White fabrics are bleached during manufacture and then treated with optical brightness.  Those treatments create the illusion of whiteness by enhancing the fabric’s absorption of light, but with repeated uses of white linens or fabrics, dirt and stains damage the color.  In the past, to offset the yellowing, bluing was added during the wash to increase the optical brightness, making the fabric look whiter and brighter.
Bluing has been around a long time.  According to oldandinteresting.com, before modern laundry detergent, launderers would stir a little blue bag into the final rinse water on washday.  From the mid-19th century on, a commercial version of bluing was manufactured.  While bluing can still be found today, according to Wikipedia, it was most popular until the mid-20th century in the United Kingdom and the United States but is still readily in use in India and Pakistan today.  The same article also reports that bluing has been replaced by bleach for its main purpose.   But in my many conversations with Mike Feudale, I know that chlorine bleach doesn’t make things whiter; in the long run it actually breaks down the optical brightener in white dye and turns things yellow or brown.

Curiosity has gotten the best of me.  According to my mom, my grandma used bluing.  I suspect that if we were to poll our grandparents, we’d find that they are quite familiar with the concept.  I’ve purchased a bottle of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing so that I can see this old-fashioned tool in action. 

If you’ve had any experiences with bluing that you’d like to share, just leave a message below or find us on Facebook, Twitter, or G+.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Home Laundry Detergent - Powder vs. Liquid

Powder or liquid?  Until I got my high efficiency (HE) front-load washing machine, I was a powder girl.  I’d put the detergent in the washing machine, fill it with water, and then place my clothes in.  A few years ago I got a front-load washing machine.  On the first load I put powder detergent in the dispenser, and when I went to start the second load I noticed that the powder had turned into a gloppy mess.  I tried putting the powder in with the clothes but it never completely dissolved; it left a funny residue on our clothes.  So now I am a liquid girl.

But which is better at cleaning?  I decided to do some research online and found a blog post on cleanorganizedfamily.com said:

• Liquid detergent is effective on food and greasy or oily stains
• Liquid detergent could double as a stain pre-treater
• Powder detergent is great for general wash loads
• Powder detergent is effective for lifting out every day stains and ground-in dirt

When I read that, I knew that some of it wasn’t correct.  Several months ago, I talked to Steve Plantone, Manager of our A Cleaner World in Hickory, about various types of stains.   Steve explained to me that oil-based stains are almost impossible to get out at home.  Grocery store pre-treaters and laundry detergents won’t break down oily stains; dry cleaning does break down oil-based stains lickity split.  I decided to call him again.  Steve said that I was correct, liquid home laundry detergents cannot break down oil-based stains, but it is good for breaking down tannin or water-based stains.  He wasn’t really lobbying for powder though.  Sometimes, he pointed out, some inexpensive powders have lots of fillers and don’t dissolve well, especially if you have a HE machine that uses little water.

Steve and I did some investigating.  We both called the Dry Cleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI).  They suggested I contact American Cleaning Institute.  In checking their Soaps and Detergent Book , American Cleaning Institute reports that “liquids work best on oily soils and for pretreating soils and stains. Powders are especially effective in lifting out clay and ground-in dirt.”  Steve, however, did get a bit more information from DLI than I did.  Jim Kirby, DLI’s Chief Analyst, told Steve that liquids and powders use the same basic chemistry to wet out fabric and suspend soils.  One is not really better than the other; they just use a little different parameters.

Steve had one more idea.  He suggested I talk to David Knight with Kreussler, Inc., a German Chemical Company that came to the US in the 1990’s bringing their technology to the US Dry Cleaning Industry.  David is an expert in both dry cleaning and professional wet cleaning processes.  “Both powder and liquid clean quite effectively,” David told me.  “There is really no measurable difference.”  I asked about the claim of liquid detergent being effective on food and greasy or oily stains.  He reaffirmed what I already knew --- that oil and grease readily dissolve in the dry cleaning process, not in water.

Having said all of that, I’d like to answer my question – which is better at cleaning?  It sounds like it’s a draw.  Just use what you like and what works best for you.  For more information about laundry detergent, check out our Helpful Hints section.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Home Dryer Maintenance

According to the National Fire Protection Association, washers and dryers were involved in 1 of every 22 home structure fires reported to US fire departments in 2006-2010.  They go on to report that of the estimated 16,800 reported US home structure fires involving washers or dryers, clothes dryers accounted for 92% of the fires.  Here’s the one we wanted to emphasize: the leading cause --- failure to clean.

Mike Taylor, Managing Partner of A Cleaner World – Roanoke, recently told me that around 10% of the fire restoration jobs he handles are related to home dryer fires.  “What usually happens is that the trapped lint will catch fire,” he explained. “With the ones we’ve dealt with recently, the fire has been contained to the laundry room area.  But it creates a smoldering sooty mess that floats throughout the house.  It settles on drapes, bedspreads, furniture, and sometimes gets into closets.”

Since getting into the fire restoration business some 10 years ago, Mike has been more diligent about simple home maintenance like properly cleaning his home dryer.  Here’s what he does at his home, and he recommends that everyone follow these tips:

• Clean the dryer lint screen after each load.
• Routinely clean the vent exhaust from your dryer.  Pull the dryer out, detach the hose and use a shop-vac to vacuum the lint out of the tube as well as from the back of your dryer.  Go outside and remove any built up lint from the exterior vent.  (A good way to make sure there isn’t a clog is to go outside to the exterior vent when the dryer is running to make sure there is plenty of air coming out.  If not, odds are there is a buildup of lint.)
• Never leave your dryer running while you are gone.
• Install a smoke detector in or near your laundry room.

“Cleaning the vent exhaust is one of those jobs that tends to get put off,” said Mike.  I admit that we don’t give it the attention it deserves.  But the nice thing about sharing this sort of information is that it is a good reminder to me.  I am going to clean my dryer vent right now.  For more information about caring for your home dryer, check out our Helpful Hints section.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making Your Bed - Properly

I am convinced that my mom was in the military in another life.  Here’s why I think that: she is so incredibly particular about how the bed is made.  All beds, not just the one she sleeps in.  I really want to try and draw you a mental picture of just how tight and precise they are.  Not only can you bounce a quarter off any bed in my parent’s house, but get under the covers and lay on your back – and your toes will curl down.

Here’s how she taught me to make a tidy bed:

• Knowing how particular she is about her bed, step one surprises me.  She actually uses a fitted sheet on the mattress.  But the corners must match perfectly, and there should be no wrinkles.
• Next goes the flat sheet. First, be sure the finished side is facedown so that it looks nice when you pull the sheets back.  Line the top of the sheet up with the top of the mattress and the middle fold with the center of the bed.  Then make it smooth all the way to the bottom, tucking the end between the mattress and box springs.  No bunching allowed – the sheet lays flat between the mattress and box springs.
• Next – hospital corners.  Go to one side of the end of the bed.  Take the sheet draping from the side about a foot from the end of the bed.  Lift it up almost creating a V and tuck the lower drape under the mattress.  Repeat on the other side.
• The blankets are done using the same method as the flat sheet.
• The comforter or duvet varies according to the type of bed and cover.  Her golden rule - it must look smooth and nice. 
• Sleeping pillows are put in the pillow cases and are aligned properly so that the corners match and there is no bunching.  Always place the hem side of the pillow case facing out.  Top with any decorative pillows.

I’m not sure how her method developed.  This is the process I’ve always known.  I follow it – mostly.  But I do have to admit that my beds aren’t so precise and tight.  According to Martha Stewart, my mom has it right, and she insists that this tight, tucked in method helps her get the perfect night’s sleep.  My husband, on the other hand, disagrees.  In fact, whenever he sleeps in a bed she’s made, the first thing he does before crawling into bed is pull the flat sheet and blankets out at the bottom.
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