Today we illuminate the mysterious subject of where clean clothes come from. Just like consumers who think food comes from the grocery store, most farmers have only a dim understanding that clean clothes do not come from their chest of drawers. Well into my middle age, I imagined this to be the case—the delightful handiwork of a collective of elves, like the ones who made shoes for the cobbler in the bedtime story. It didn't seem worth my time to investigate a system that was working so splendidly without my comprehension.
The shocking truth is that clean clothing is the product of a rather complicated process that occurs invisibly around farmers almost daily. There is no hope of mastering the skills necessary to duplicate the routine, but it is possible to learn some rudimentary motions that will allow you to appear in public without fear of being shunned due to unkempt or even biologically hazardous apparel.
The first thing you will notice after your laundry person has been gone for a few days is that the levels of clothing on the floor and in your drawers seem to be reversing. The surprising truth reveals itself: Not only are there no laundry elves but, more alarmingly, laundry hampers do not suck up clothing strewn about the room when you are not there!
One can only conjecture that someone has been picking it up. Who knew? The first step is to rake the redolent garments into the laundry room or wherever the implements of laundering are located. Heap the garments into one pile downwind from you, and sort by separating the sheepy-smelling from the merely goatish.
This task often baffles the neophyte due to unnecessary complication. For basic purposes, there are only two types of laundry: whites (includes previously white) and everything else. The other categories (delicates, cold only, synthetics) are fictitious labels that add expensive features to the machinery, similar to the 857 never-used features on your cell phone.
You are now ready to learn the secret of laundry that will enable you to master the craft as expertly as you did welding. Simply put: moderation.
- Load. Fill the machine. Then empty half. It hurts, I know, but think of your washer as you would a semi hauling past a known temporary weigh-station location. For front-loaders, if you have to stuff the clothes in and slam the door, it's too full. Remember: not full; not empty; somewhere in between.
- Add detergent. Select the largest box or bottle of likely substances in the laundry room. Check the washer for obvious locations to add detergent, such as slides or openings labeled "Put Detergent Here.” If there is a receptacle, fill it no more than half. If not, pour into your hand an amount equal to the proper amount of graphite for one planter box. If it's liquid detergent, one jigger is plenty. While purists will scream that this is insufficient for true cleanliness, we're not shooting for the whitest whites—we're just trying to avoid mopping up a disaster.
- Don't fool around with additives, such as bleach. Surely you've learned this lesson from your tank mixes.
- Choose normal, medium or automatic settings. The machine knows what it's doing. The new models will even tattle when your wife gets back.
- Only do your own clothes. Unfortunate outcomes won't be noticeable in your wardrobe.
- When the wash cycle is complete, move the clothes into the dryer as soon as you can, or at least the same week. When the clothes are dry, put on as many as possible to save folding time. Carefully drape the rest over chair backs or lay flat on unused surfaces, such as the dining room table. We both know you can't fold a handkerchief.
- Conserve effort by not washing towels—just dry them. Hey, I use soap in the shower.
Final tip: You will be surprised how cheap men's underwear is at your local megamart. I found a 12-pack (an entire month's worth) for under $10. Wasteful? Maybe, but after calculating the value of my time and the possible health hazards involved in handling my dirty skivvies, the math seems clear to me.
John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report.” Visit www.agweb.com for station listings. To view past columns, visit www.farmjournal.com or www.johnwphipps.com.