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View Full Version : Does boiling your whites (laundry) really work?


levdrakon
05-21-2003, 04:48 PM
Someone recently posted about not being able to find Bleach in Europe because they generally boil their whites rather than bleaching. Does that really work? As well as bleach? Doesn't boiling destroy the fabric? What if you boil with bleach? How does boiling get your laundry white? Where do the stains go?

Why don't Americans use European style washing machines? Why don't they use ours?

sailor
05-21-2003, 05:34 PM
>> Someone recently posted about not being able to find Bleach in Europe because they generally boil their whites rather than bleaching.

am quite sure that is not true and bleach can be found in Europe quite easily. I have never heard of anywhere where people boild clothes because they do not have bleach.

Regarding washing machines, there are several reasons but European front loaders tend to be smaller.

levdrakon
05-21-2003, 06:25 PM
Originally posted by sailor
am quite sure that is not true and bleach can be found in Europe quite easily. I have never heard of anywhere where people boild clothes because they do not have bleach.

Regarding washing machines, there are several reasons but European front loaders tend to be smaller.

I didn't mean they boiled because they didn't have bleach. I know they do have bleach. They just don't use bleach for whitening their laundry, so it isn't as available in stores. No?

kunoichi
05-21-2003, 09:25 PM
More likely, they boil the clothing to destroy germs, which bleach does, but it probably wouldn't do much to whiten whites. I remember seeing bleach at the store when I was in the UK...

j.c.
05-21-2003, 10:09 PM
Super hot water does a better job of washing clothes than bleach. You can by bleach all over Europe, as far as I know. Maybe when I walk in the stores, they say, "oops, yank - put out some bleach boys!" and restock the stores just for me!

Front-loading machines come in all sizes, and can be found in the US of A and often times are blue-star energy magic machines good for discounts on your utility bills. Whee.

Here's an easy way to look at the diff between front-loaders and conventional US machines. Using a conventional US machine is like swishing the laundry around in a tub. Using a front-loader is like washing something by running water through it - the clothes never sit in dirty water. Additionally, many front-loaders heat their own water, and so can wash with super-duper hot hot water for those whiter than white whitest whites without using any bleach.

missamelia
05-21-2003, 10:35 PM
I've never heard of boiling whites.

However, from my days as a laundromat owner - one or two capfuls of amonia and a couple of tennis balls in the washer do wonders on getting clothes clean. The amonia loosens the dirt between the fibers and the tennis balls beat it out!

Hot water does tend to wear the fabric fibers down as does bleach. Probably, tennis balls and amonia do as well. But then again, so does ground in dirt, accumulated dirt and soap residue.

Speaking of which, most soap/detergent manufacturers recommend using much more than necessary to do the job. Folks tend to think the more suds, the more cleaning action which is - Poppycock. Half a capful works just as well as a whole capful, it cheaper, and better for your clothing.

Thus ends the laundry lesson!

Cheers, Miss Amelia

antechinus
05-21-2003, 10:45 PM
So, what would you want to put bleach in with your clothes for anyway? To get clothes clean dont you just use detergent?

I thought bleach was just used to wash the bathroom floor or sterilise things.

SmackFu
05-21-2003, 10:48 PM
The other thread: Bleach in Germany? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=184314)

levdrakon
05-21-2003, 11:09 PM
Originally posted by j.c.
Super hot water does a better job of washing clothes than bleach.

Additionally, many front-loaders heat their own water, and so can wash with super-duper hot hot water for those whiter than white whitest whites without using any bleach.

Ok, so why does hot water do a better job than bleach?

BTW, I just tested it. Soaked/simmered some not so white socks in very, very hot but not quite boiling water for a couple hours a la the supposed European way. They don't look that much whiter than hot water & bleach a la the 'Mericun way. In fact, may be a bit less white than the bleach would have gotten them.

antechinus, yes that's what detergent is for. But bleach you know, bleaches things.

kirk280980
05-21-2003, 11:43 PM
levdrakon, European washers don't just use very high temperatures, they also have very long cycles. The two combined, plus a good detergent, is what gets whites white without chlorine bleach. Soaking whites on the stove won't give the same results, because there's no agitation. You need constant agitation in order to flex the fibres of the fabric and loosen dirt.

There are quite a few European machines available in the US (see www.miele.com and www.askousa.com for some examples). Likewise, there are some American models available here in the UK too. However, our penchant for installing washers under a counter limits their popularity here, hence why we tend to stick to front loaders with front-mounted controls.

levdrakon
05-22-2003, 01:00 AM
We have front loading washers here in the US, mainly in laundrymats. I always use them when I get the chance. I'm one of those poor people who actually do enjoy watching the clothes go 'round. But they don't heat the water. Where is the heating element in a front loading Yurpean washer?

Seems to me, even if using less water, heating it & agitating it for so long would use more energy.

Using ammonia in the laundry. Heard of it, never tried it. Anyone else here tried it?

I do use tennis balls in the laundry, mainly with blankets & pillows. Keeps things fluffy.

j.c.
05-22-2003, 01:25 AM
See what the EPA has to say!

http://www.energystar.gov/

http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=clotheswash.pr_clothes_washers

j.c.
05-22-2003, 01:27 AM
See what the EPA has to say!

http://www.energystar.gov/

http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=clotheswash.pr_clothes_washers


or find some greenie sites with more detailed information.

flodnak
05-22-2003, 02:06 AM
Although Norwegian washing machines can heat water to 95 degrees C (which people call "boiling" even though it isn't), I don't know anyone who routinely washes all white clothing at that temperature. 60 for cottons and 40 for synthetics, or 40 for everything, are much more common. Those who use the super-hot water usually do so for dirty rags, the sheets the kid threw up on, and so on - things that are very dirty and presumably very germy.

Whites get white just fine at 60 or even 40 degrees, without bleach - provided you rinse all the detergent out. Top-loading washing machines, unfortunately, do not rinse thoroughly, particularly in the short cycles of American machines.

Charlie Tan
05-22-2003, 04:58 AM
So white equals clean? Oohhh-kay.

Floater
05-22-2003, 05:51 AM
A really interesting concept. People dyeing their laundry instead of washing it. ;)

Paranoid Randroid
05-22-2003, 08:05 AM
A really interesting concept. People dyeing their laundry instead of washing it.

Well, bleach is some really harsh, caustic stuff - I daresay it'd kill more germs than normal soap detergent.

bernse
05-22-2003, 08:26 AM
As a part of this question, don't the super high temps that some of the machines with heaters can reach damage/shrink the cottons and other fabrics?

kirk280980
05-22-2003, 09:16 AM
Nope, because you only use those temperatures on items which can withstand such treatment, typically towels, sheets and the like. As flodnak mentioned, lower temps are available for "general" laundry, which doesn't need such intensive washing.

levdrakon, the heater is situated in the sump area of the outer tub, underneath the inner drum. Regarding energy usage, check the EnergyStar website and compare the numbers for yourself. It might seem counter-intuitive, but heated front loaders are generally more energy efficient than UNheated top loaders which fill from your hot water supply. In short, it all comes down to the fact that you're using less water to begin with, and also because the machine only heats the water it uses instead of a whole tankful.

Having said that, if a top loader with an occasional shot of bleach works well for you, by all means stick with it! Whichever method you're most comfortable with is the right way to go, because there can be quite a learning curve when switching from one to the other.

levdrakon
05-22-2003, 01:27 PM
Originally posted by Floater
A really interesting concept. People dyeing their laundry instead of washing it. ;)

I knew a girl who did just that. Only way she could get her whites white enough. I think she had bad, rusty water or something. She didn't do it thinking they came out cleaner or anything, but they looked better.

j.c., ok, ok. If I'm ever in the position to buy a new washer 'O my choice, it'll be a greenie tree-hugging front loader! :)

MaryEFoo
05-22-2003, 02:55 PM
I agree, the manufacturers do recommend using too much detergent. If you finish a washerful and then reset the dial to add another last rinse, you will see the rinse water all soapy and sudsy.

I've worked down the amount of soap added, increasing the number of "wash" minutes you set at the start of the wash. Clothes are as clean or cleaner (same amount of dirt removed, less soap added).

guy_from_wpa
05-22-2003, 09:03 PM
I think boiling the clothes is a generational thing. My paternal grandmother (born in 1909) always boiled the whites on the stove, and when us kids would stay a week or so, she would boil our clothes. Drove my mother insane--Grandma boiled the clothes so long, the elastic in the underwear would melt.

Aparently in her early days, there were no hot water heaters like today, so she was taught to get the whites white, you boiled them. Plus I would imagine in those days before indoor plumbing, you may have only taken a bath once a week, worn your whites longer, and therefore they needed boiled.

Ellen Cherry
05-22-2003, 10:44 PM
Loads (ha!) of info on this very subject from Cecil Himself: Do laundry balls really work? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_007b.html)

levdrakon
05-22-2003, 11:17 PM
Update:

Today I'm comparing some socks I boiled with a little detergent and some socks I washed at normal temperatures with detergent & bleach. Have to admit it, the boiled ones do seem whiter. That is, the white parts seem whiter. Boiling didn't get the stains out from the foot pad portion of the socks. At least no better than detergent w/a little bleach added does. I wonder if boiling just gets rid of more residual soap?

Question now is, does boiling or bleaching weaken the cloth fibers quicker? Does boiling/bleaching depend on the cloth, i.e. cotton/poly?

According to guy_from_wpa boiling can melt synthetics(elastic waistbands), so maybe boiling is only for cottons/natural fibers?

Would boiling with bleach be like, the bomb?

I remember Consumer Reports saying years ago that with modern laundry detergents, wash temperature no longer matters. I'm thinking they just might have been wrong.

kirk280980
05-23-2003, 09:45 AM
lev,

As you've already guessed, boiling synthetics would cause them the fibres to shrink or distort. For this reason, the 95 degree temperature setting on a European washer is ONLY available on the cottons cycle, and can not be selected for any other fabric. If I select the synthetics cycle on my washer and then attempt to set the temperature to anything above 60 degrees (centigrade), it just beeps and prompts me to make a different selection.

I don't know which wears fabrics quicker, boiling or bleaching. Bleach, I understand, can eat holes in clothes if it isn't diluted or added to the washer correctly. Used carefully, and only when absolutely necessary - that is, to shift stains or give dingy whites a boost - it should be OK.

Elastic will degrade if boiled too frequently. Again, as with bleach, it's best to use the 95 degree setting only when it's really necessary. By doing this I've never had a problem with my boxer shorts falling around my ankles, in fact all my undies and socks still look like new.

And Consumer Reports were most definitely wrong, IMHO. Speak to any detergent manufacturer, and they will tell you that water temperature certainly DOES matter. Washer manufacturers will all tell you exactly the same thing too.