The answer is that laundry is not just about washing clothes. It is a care process that also involves refreshing and storing clothing. Washing is a major part of this care and takes many forms including handwashing in an individual home, laundry in shared or communal spaces such as apartment buildings or student halls of residence, self-service laundry in launderettes or laundromats and laundering in professional settings such as hotels and restaurants.

The 2 Principles of Laundry

The main principles of laundry are thermal and mechanical energy, agitation, and detergent. The most important role of detergent is to find, surround and dissolve dirt, oils, odors, and other organic residues. The chemicals in the laundry wash and fold detergent work to do this by reducing surface tension in the water, encouraging it to meet clothing fibers and carry away dissolved residues.

These chemicals include surfactants, which reduce the surface tension between fabric and water; chelators, which remove metal ions from the clothing (e.g. copper); dispersants, which help the surfactants and chelators do their jobs; and foaming agents, which make the wash water bubbly to help disperse the surfactants.

The moral dimensions of laundry are also highly influential. It is not unusual for people to feel compelled to change their laundering practices when they are confronted with evidence that they may have an impact on the environment or health. However, these changes are often difficult to implement.

Some of the resistance may be due to the way that laundering is normatively constituted as coherent with other domestic activities and so it is not easy to break these linkages. Other reasons might include the fear of social disapproval or the belief that it is simply “not normal” to not change clothes regularly.

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