This topic was a natural one to follow on from last week's Bathrooms hangout! After all, sometimes laundry is done in the bathroom...
We started with close-to home context for bathing and laundry, talking laundry machines and where they might be located, typically in bathrooms or garages (at least in my neighborhood!). Of course, there are also contexts where such machines are not in the home at all, and people go to special laundry rooms or laundromats. We reminisced about collecting quarters to use in laundry machines! These days, apparently, some laundromats use cards instead (which sounds like a good idea).
The technology of a washing machine is also interesting. The latest development is to improve their efficiency in using water and electricity, but the machines themselves were groundbreaking, and life-changing, for many. Doing laundry used to take days, and suddenly it could be reduced to a couple of hours of simply setting it up and looking in on it.
Though Cliff couldn't attend this week, he suggested we speak about the Dhobi, who are a group of people in India whose vocation is doing laundry for others. Wikipedia refers to them as a caste. Traditionally they would pick up people's laundry and clean it by beating it on rocks in the river; the process would take 6 days. This job is a necessary one, but considered lowly because of having to deal with other people's dirt. It has also become more difficult for these people to retain their livelihood because of the introduction of washing machines in India.
Brian noted that the idea of dirty laundry is very powerful. You are not supposed to expose your dirty clothes. Morgan said that even in a laundromat you don't show your laundry to others, or leave it around. I spoke about my experience with a Japanese host family where my hostess informed me that I was supposed to wash my own underwear.
There is a whole range of products designed to clean clothes, and to get stains out of them.
In fiction, I mentioned Ancillary Sword, which includes the observation that someone's personal attendant is attempting to wash paint out of her gloves. I also mentioned that there's a scene in my own book where someone is using a steam press to press napkins. Generally, though, it seems that laundry is not extremely common in fiction.
Having dirt or stains on your clothes is stigmatized. We often make a run for the bathroom as soon as we drop something on our clothes so as to stop it from becoming a permanent stain.
I brought up the relationship between bathing and laundry as regards personal cleanliness. Recently I read an article that talked about how people in the Middle Ages might not have bathed, but that they would have used linen to scrub their bodies down regularly. The person writing the article had done a month-long experiment where they did not bathe, but laundered their linen underclothes regularly, and then reversed the process. Apparently, omitting the laundry was a lot worse! It suggested that people - at least people who were able to afford linen underwear and laundry - did not smell as bad as we might imagine.
I had a strange thought about what laundry would be like for the Imbati caste in my book, because so many of them wear black. You'd definitely have to watch out so you wouldn't accidentally dye things that weren't supposed to be black!
I mentioned the bath scene in the movie My Neighbor Totoro, which is one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies. In Japan, you soak yourself in the bath but you don't get clean there; you get clean in a shower area before you get into the tub. There is less embarrassment associated with being naked in the bath, and more with the actual process of getting undressed. Some people bring washcloths or towels to cover themselves while in the bath, but some do not. We talked about hot spring baths, or Onsen. I told a funny story about how I once took a bath in a tub that literally had a fire under it! (Moral: don't mix up the words for "hot water"= oyu and "cold water"= omizu.)
Che said she'd read that mucus bathing would be more effective than bathing with water. We all shuddered!
We also mentioned architecture and bathing. You have Roman baths, and our baths with showers, baths without showers, showers without baths... Generally there's something to contain the water. You also have the question of whether the water falls straight down or hits you at an angle.
Science fictionally, we have the idea of a "sonic shower" from Star Trek. Author Linda Nagata employed the idea of cleaning the body with nanites.
Controlling the water is one of the main goals of bath architecture. Really you want to have a fully controlled pipeline with a few well-contained openings in it. We mentioned how water pressure was generally created using gravity. You have to watch out to make sure the weight of a full bathtub won't break through the floor!
We briefly mentioned how bathing has increased longevity, and how washing improved health outcomes in hospitals. The question of getting clean if you can't move your body without help also came up, as did the hygiene hypothesis for the rise in allergies.
It was a pretty interesting discussion! Thanks to everyone who attended. This week's hangout will meet tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8th at 10am Pacific. We'll be discussing Rewards and Motivation. I hope you can join us!