Ironing water

There are an awful lot of unnecessary products on the market. As you know, I’m a big fan of products which actually make your life easier (frozen mashed potato, grated cheese, etc) but I am certainly not keen on products which prey on our insecurities, and manufacturers who create anxieties in us by tendering products to solve a problem which does not exist.

Let’s talk about “Ironing Water” such as this Comfort example. £1.40/L to “make ironing more enjoyable! Bring fresh, outdoorsy fragrance to your ironing, while smoothing away creases and protecting your iron from lime scale.”

WHAT THE ACTUAL.

Steam irons are a fabulous invention which actually solved a problem – getting a garment just damp enough so that the steam generated by the hot iron would relax the cloth just enough for the weight of the iron itself to smooth it. But of course in hard water areas introducing any water to a heating element results in limescale build-up, so you can’t just pour tap water into the iron’s reservoir unless you’re happy to buy a new iron every year.

So it becomes desirable to find a source of softer or preferably even deionised/distilled water with which to fill one’s iron. One method is to move to Cheshire or Lancashire, but you may consider that an overreaction. An alternative is to use a dehumidifier (we have this one which at the time of writing is half price on Amazon) and use the resulting collected water.

BUT OH, you cry, THAT WATER DOESN’T SMELL OF ANYTHING PRETTY.

I refer you to my earlier remarks about “problems which do not exist” in the first instance, but if you insist … Rather than spend money and precious finite resources hoarding Comfort Vaporesse from the house of Unilever, there is a very simple solution to this problem which is almost certainly already in your house, or will be very soon.

When you buy a bottle of laundry detergent or fabric softener, there will be some blurb somewhere advising you under no circumstances to reuse the bottle, particularly for food/drink purposes. If you’ve ever drunk from an empty shampoo bottle (don’t judge me) you’ll recall the “taint” of the product on the plastic leaching into the water.

The taint is our friend today.

Next time you finish a bottle of laundry detergent or fabric softener, don’t throw it away. Don’t recycle it either, or even rinse it. Instead, throw the entire bottle and its lid (separately) into your next laundry load. In most cases the smears on the side of the bottle are enough for another load.

Remove the squeaky-clean bottle from your laundry before you move towards a tumble dryer or washing line, and fill it with water: tap in a soft area, or distilled from your dehumidifier, or poured out from a bottle of drinking water if you’re desperate (it seems that Aqua Pura at 24p/L is the softest available on the high street at around 27ppm). The water will take on the taint of the detergent/softener from the plastic bottle.

When you pour that water into your iron, the steam generated will smell vaguely of the detergent/softener you have already used to clean the clothes, refreshing the smell rather than adding another layer.

There’s an elephant in the room, which is of course that I have assumed ironing is a Thing Of Importance. Frankly, though, if you’re even considering buying Ironing Water with your weekly shop, you think so too. If you don’t iron, maybe you’ve read this blogpost with a kind of horrified fascination, and stroked your non-iron wardrobe with an affection bordering on obsession. Either way, you win.

Polish the porch

I mentioned in a previous post that I am not the world’s best housekeeper.

That was an understatement. I vastly resent adulthood for requiring me to have standards. And as I trundle through my thirties I realise I do have standards. A tidy room is nicer than an untidy one. It is easier to find things that have a place to live and do in fact live there. I do prefer the look of an ironed top to that of an unironed one.

But. But. But.

All of these standards require action, and that’s really hugely unfair. I should somehow be able to reap the benefits of responsibility and adulthood without the boring labour involved. Introducing into my personal space four male persons with less high standards <understatement> sometimes seems like a huge error.

Friends joke about a commune, to which we will one day escape, to drink wine, read books, and eat cheese, mostly. There will not be messy children or husbands in it. We might employ a dishy gardener, but not one who talks.

In the meantime, in my non-commune, and despite labour-saving devices a fifties housewife could barely have dreamed of, there is approximately fifty-eight megatons of housework to be done all the chuffing time. Laundry, cooking and washing-up are the main time-suckers, but floors come close too.

Anyway, I have reached a kind of equilibrium now, so that when people drop by unannounced I am not completely humiliated, and when I want it to be clean-clean it doesn’t take a hundred years.

However, sometimes someone gives me notice that they’re popping round and I want the house to appear to be clean-clean when in fact it’s only not-humiliating. The tips and hacks for that illusion can be summed up in the blogpost title: Polish the Porch.

Yes.

Take your most strong-smelling polish, and your cleanest microfibre cloth, and go to the porch/front door. Polish the walls around the door. When your guest arrives, they smell polish, and their brain is tricked into thinking the whole house has been dusted and polished.

<picks self off the floor after falling down laughing>

Other hacks in this category include floor wipes. But for the ultimate lazy floor solution, tune in next time.

Blood, sweat and tears – and grass stains

Children seem to attract muck – well, certainly my children do. The youngest has only to look at a muddy puddle before he might as well have rolled in it.

They play football too, and lots of it, so at least three times a week I have very muddy kit to deal with.

Some of it is white, including the shorts. WHITE. I ask you. No person who thinks white is a sensible colour for the kind of sports kit which is guaranteed to get grass-stained or muddy could possibly be the person in his/her household responsible for laundry.

Many years ago I used to be responsible for the laundry of Other People’s Children, including a whole team’s worth of cricket whites. It was in that job that I learned about Swarfega.

What you’re looking for is the Swarfega in a red tub with a green lid.

I found this image on Wilko’s website and you can often find it there and in other “cheap shops” such as Quality Save, B&M Bargains, Poundland and so on. I really begrudge paying full price for it in Halfords or the supermarket but you can usually find it there too.

It’s designed for de-greasing hands – mechanics love it. It shifts engine oil as though you were rinsing off icing sugar. Grass stains in particular are oily stains. Treating before you wash means you won’t cook the stain in.

So, to work. Here is a typical pair of shorts after a football session, then liberally plastered in Swarfega.

muddy shorts

swarfega shorts

It smells unpleasant and has a texture somewhere between shower gel and jam. Persevere! Once the stain is thoroughly covered, and you don’t need to scrub particularly, throw in its normal wash. In this instance I forgot and put it in a quick wash, but it still came out like this:

clean shorts

There’s a slight shadow of filth, yes, but by golly it’s better than when it went in. The remaining stain completely disappeared on the washing line.

Swarfega and sunshine remove just about every stain I have come across in my parenting career, including blood, grass, gravy, blackcurrant: the lot. Sunshine also zaps any bacteria lingering in your wash. I try to wash at 30 where possible, but when there are bugs whizzing round school it’s vaguely reassuring that at least they can’t cling to the clothes.

A last word before I go, relating to blood stains. I’m afraid they are pretty much inevitable with active children! Blood cooks – maybe you’ve tried black pudding! – which means that you cannot wash it out in a hot wash. Anything bloody needs to be thoroughly soaked in cold (not warm) water before treating, then washed at no more than 30 degrees. If the garment needs it you can then do a warmer wash later, but if you wash it above body temperature you risk cooking the bloodstain into the fabric and it will then never come out.

What’s in a name?

Children have a baffling habit of discarding their belongings willy-nilly. Mine shed clothing, in particular, so shoes, socks and even trousers can be found all over the house despite the strategic placement of shoe storage, washing baskets (yes, plural) and coat racks (again, plural).

And I’m not sure I can remember the last occasion on which the eldest emerged from school at pick-up with all the equipment and clothing one might hope for. “How about your coat? It’s snowing.”

Schools are particularly dangerous regions for clothing-shedders, because 90% of the clothing in any school is identical: two hundred identical jumpers only in various sizes and with varying quantities of gravy and yogurt dripped down the front. The Reception teacher says her class identify ownership by smell: the mind boggles.

In a previous life, before children, marriage or even university, I had a job on a pastoral team at an English prep school. One of my areas of responsibility involved laundry, and a lot of it. I learned to recognise whose shirts and socks were whose immediately (not by smell, mercifully, since they were washed together in the same detergent) but for some standard items such as jumpers or PE shorts you had to check the label.

Woven name tapes. I love them. Quite apart from the fact that they don’t fade, or detach in the wash, you can read them, and there’s no squinting at something that might say Jack F but equally could be Tom T.

Ten years later I was faced with naming clothing for my eldest as he started day nursery. I didn’t bother researching alternatives: I Googled Cash’s, and bought them by the dozen, in plain black capitals. I sewed them into coats, wellies (the lined type) and jumpers, and on to a blanket and a toy mouse he took with him every day, clutched in his little fat hand <sniffs>

That’s all very well, I hear you scoff, but you can get iron-on these days. Well, yes you can, but after a term’s washing they start to unpeel – unless you’re trying to remove them, in which case they suddenly weld to the fabric like chocolate biscuit to upholstery. The only thing that defeats an unwanted ironed label is Sharpie; a wanted ironed label slips away.

Ok, fine, but you can’t label everything with woven labels. No? I’ve labelled clothes, shoes, trainers, wellies, rucksacks, reading folders, water bottles, lunchboxes, microscooters, and even most recently a descant recorder.

The name tapes used to come on a long roll – you simply snipped off a name tape as you needed one. And when you needed two or three together (they make good hanging loops) you could cut off two or three.

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Now, “helpfully”, the tapes come precut. Now if you want six inches of tape you have to stitch them back together. Hmph. Cash’s take note.

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As an aside, I should point out that name tapes vary in length according to the child’s name. There is a big psychological difference between sewing on name tapes for *Rob Key and for *Alexander Raymond-Thorpe, I can tell you. I’m still not sure “Alex R-T” wouldn’t have sufficed. When choosing what to put on the tape, you might care to balance price per inch (they charge per tape, not per letter) against stitches per tape.

In August I always volunteer to do other people’s labelling, because I find it meditative. But nobody has yet taken me up on my offer. I wonder if labelling is a kind of devotional offering as the child is sent into the world.

*Real names changed, obviously, not least because the men in question are each the top hits for their real names on Google.

(there’s a page break here – you need to click on the scarcely discernable 2 down there somewhere…)