Monday, September 23, 2013

Newfangled - Monday Musings

Newfangled (sometimes used with contraption) was a word my father used occasionally when some new, non-essential invention came along.  I knew what the word meant because of the way he used it but decided to see how the dictionary defines it.   From Webster's 1913 Dictionary:
newfangled, adj.
1. newmade; formed with the affectation of novelty
2. disposed to change; inclined to novelties; given to new theories or fashions
I don't suppose a new, modern washer can be classified as newfangled but it feels newfangled to me.  Our old washer with a center post died a few weeks ago and we found ourselves shopping for a new one.  I did some research online and we chose our new model based on the recommendations of several organizations and individuals.

Our new washer is bright, shiny -- and newfangled.  It doesn't work like our old one.  Our old washer worked like this:  I pushed a knob, turned it, then pulled it back out and the water started running into the washer.  If I changed my mind about water temperature or length of wash, I just turned the knob and the water temperature changed.  With the lid open and the water running, I added the laundry soap and after a few more minutes, the clothes, then closed the lid and went about my other chores.  I returned about 30 minutes later and removed the clothes, clean and fresh.

With our new washer, I push a button to turn it on, turn a knob, push 3 more buttons, close the lid, push one last button and the water -- doesn't run into the washer.  The washer whirrs about 6 times, then is silent.  A minute or so later the water drizzles into the machine and it whirrs some more.  After a few more minutes the water begins running into the washer.  During the time that the water is running into the washer, I must push a button to be able to open the lid, wait for the lid to release, add the laundry soap and clothes, close the lid, and push a button again.  Should I happen to change my mind about water temperature or length of wash or any other variable, I have to turn the washer off and start the process all over again.  Newfangled is an adjustment.  We hope our water bill does not increase because of our new washer.

There's one other aspect of this washer that's a little frustrating:  I'm not convinced it's getting our clothes and linens clean.  It's a high-efficiency washer but thinking back, none of the recommendations and evaluations I read online commented on the cleanliness of the clothes.  (Did you hear my little sigh?)  There's no way to see what the washer's doing when it's running.  Without a center post, how is it getting the clothes clean, I wonder.  (I wonder this a lot.)

As I consider my situation with this new washer I'm imagining my foremothers and the newfangled methods of doing laundry they maneuvered through from their earliest years until their deaths.  Perhaps not all of my foremothers dealt with laundry changes but certainly my mother and grandmother did.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
In her youngest days it's possible that my grandmother boiled water in a kettle on a wood stove to heat water for laundry.  I know she used a washboard and washed clothes by hand when her daughters were young.  My mom may have helped with that method of laundry, too.  And the wash was always hung out on a clothes line to dry -- except in winter when it was hung in the basement.

Library of Congress image
By the time I was a child, both Mom and Gramma had electric washing machines with electric wringers.  They lightened the workload by doing the swishing and churning to clean the clothes, but after washing someone fed the clothes through the electric wringer by hand.  They fell into the rinse water, were swished again, then put through the wringer once more.  They were carried outside in a basket where they were hung to dry.

When these new electric washing machines were first introduced did my grandmother wonder about their efficiency?  Did she wonder if her clothes were really getting clean without the hands-on work of the old method?  She may have but in the end she embraced the new, labor-saving methods.

Later Mom had an electric washer that was completely hands-off (except for putting the clothes into the washer and removing them when the rinse cycle was finished).  It was much like our washer that died, one that was easy to use and old-fashioned (as opposed to newfangled -- though when she first brought it into her home, it was newfangled to her).  In fact, I'm wondering if, when she first used her new hands-off washing machine she, too, wondered whether it was actually getting the clothes clean.  (Can  you tell that clean clothes are a theme running through the work of the women in my family?)

I would not wish to go back to heating water on a stove, to washboards, or to electric wringers into which clothes were fed by hand, but I'm not yet embracing my newfangled, high efficiency washer.  I might like it a little more if the water bill is lower....  And I would definitely like it more if I were convinced it was cleaning our clothes.  Maybe I'm just old-fashioned. 

How about you?  Do you embrace newfangled?



  1. My dad was a mechanical engineer until he retired. He worked in the test lab for washing machines at Whirpool. He retired a few years ago, but was in on testing for the new type washer. I still have an "old style" washer with an agitator, but a year ago I switched to using my own homemade detergent. He asked me how it worked and I said it was getting the clothes clean. He replied by saying that "in the trade" wet equalled clean. In other words, people assume that if the clothes are wet, they must have gotten clean.

    On another note, are you supposed to put the clothes and detergent in the washer in the beginning? I only say that because my washing has a setting that uses the detergent to put in a small amount of water (now soapy) and it agitates it for a short time as a sort of "power prewash." After a few minutes, the rest of the water is added and it continues like normal. Hearing you describe how your new washer begins made me think of that process, but in yours, it could be something totally different.

    Did you see the Genealogy Roadshow on PBS Monday night? It was interesting.

    1. Hi, JoAnne --
      The instructions for this new washer say to put the soap in and anything else you use (such as borax), the clothes, close the lid, and start the washer. For years I've put the soap in, added water, let it agitate, then added the clothes. I like the idea of knowing that the soap has dissolved before adding the clothes.

      If there's water in this washer (from our dehumidifier) before I start a load, after the whirring stops the water is gone. And if I add the soap before the whirring, when the whirring stops, the soap is gone, too. It's just all very strange to me.

      I did watch Genealogy Roadshow. I thought it was interesting, too, but always with the genealogy shows on TV I wonder if they lead beginners to believe it's a quick, easy process.

      Thanks for sharing your info about the washer, JoAnne.

  2. I have a newfangled high efficiency washer too, but mine doesn't have as many steps as yours. I love the absence of that agitator. After looking back on the history of doing laundry, we've got it pretty good. Our great-grandmothers probably didn't do laundry as frequently as we do. I know my family's clothes never got REALLY dirty -- not like they had been tilling fields all day. The worst I dealt with was clay from the ballfields and bits of grass stain from mowing the lawn.

    1. Oh, you're so right, Wendy, that we have it easy compared to our grandmothers. Whew, then laundry was an all-day task whereas today, I toss a load in and go do some other things. In fact, for me, laundry is almost a background chore (except in summer when I hang the clothes out and need dry weather) done midday or evening or whenever necessary.

      Your comment about doing laundry less often and the hard work of the times made me think of body odors and how conscious we are of them these days.

      And yes, I like not having the center agitator, too, but I always thought that played a role in getting the clothes clean.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wendy.

  3. This made me chuckle! I enjoyed this post.

  4. I was wondering about the agitator as well. It seemed strange to have a washer without it. Hopefully it saves you money in water!

  5. Good luck with your new washing machine, Nancy! A few weeks ago, I talked with my mother-in-law about how her mother did laundry--and, like you, found myself contemplating the evolution of washing clothes through the generations. Your post has given me incentive to try to pull those thoughts together. Personally, I'm glad my old top-load washer is still working!

    1. I'm sure your post will be fun to read, Shelley. I barely touched on the process, really. I wish my old top-load were still working! If I'd known more about this machine before we bought it, I probably would have left it at the store and bought another top-load machine.


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