Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Saturday, 10 February 2007

The smell of clothes brought in from the washing line

Sometime last week the breakfast show on Radio Norfolk indulged in a bit of reflection on what are the nicest smells and the ones that make you say "ah" when someone reminds you. Listeners were invited to phone in. A number of "ah" smells were mentioned, including (some I remember) the smell of lighting a match, the smell of rain on hot tarmac, the smell of newly mown grass, and the smell of pigs. I forget what the excuse was, though it might have been the fact that the scientists at UEA have decided that they've worked out what causes the smell of the seaside.

One smell that was mentioned, which I also agree is very special, was the smell of washing when it is brought in from hanging in the garden. I mention this here, because it is a smell that can't be achieved any other way, and it's not obvious that it would strike you as a lovely smell if you hadn't learnt to associate it with a particular set of positive experiences. I also mention it because it bears no resemblance whatever to the acrid and pungent scents that those who market washing powders and fabric conditioners describe as "laundry fresh" or "sunfresh". In fact it is a rather mellow and blunt kind of smell, with no sharp edges.

It's not clear to me whether you'd get this wonderful pure smell of fresh air and clean cotton in your laundry if you'd washed it in the detergents and conditioners that have those powerful pungent artificial scents in, the ones that cling to the laundry both wet and dry. Indeed the conditioners seem designed precisely to do that: they are made deliberately not to wash out at all.

Sometimes if I buy second hand clothes it takes several washes to get rid of the terrible smells of other people's washing powders. even blowing in the garden is of no use at all. You can't wear a garment until that smell has gone. It drives you mad.

I'm not sure how some people live with the terrible smell of the clothes and sheets and pillow cases and towels and all that, if they wash them with those pungent products. I used occasionally to stand next to someone in the choir who must have washed her clothes in that kind of stuff. Fortunately she's left now, but even the incense was not enough to smother the acrid pong. I presume that if one lives with that smell in the house and one's bed and one's wardrobe all the time, the brain shuts it out and no longer finds it offensive.

But does it inhibit sexual attraction? More on this anon.


Anonymous said...

So what do you wash your clothes in then, if not detergents? And how do they end up not coming in from the garden other than board-dry and smelling of pollen?

And, further, surely shampoo, conditioner, deodorants and perfumes (most particularly the latter) are just as, if not more, offensive?

OTOH, with regard to your final point, there are a few scents that definitely enhance rather than inhibit sexual attraction (at least for me. It's a very personal thing). But who cares about sexual attraction if the males of the species are slowly being neutered anyway, as per your previous post?

Catherine Rowett said...

A response to question number 2 of the above questions:
The main danger I find is not that they will come in dry as a board but rather that they will stay out as wet as they went out if not wetter...
My washing didn't go out at all yesterday, but had to be hung on the indoor lines in the utility room (which work very well but don't impart quite the same fresh air smell).
But in the summer the secret is to bring in the thin cotton ones about five or ten minutes after you put them out. You can keep going round in a kind of perpetual motion, if it takes you about ten minutes to hang up a complete line of washing.

Catherine Rowett said...

A response to question 1 in anonymous's comment:
It's not that I don't use detergents (though it's true that there are some products on the market that are supposed to work without you needing any soap). Just that I don't use ones with horrid smells.
Current favourite is Ecover laundry liquid. It's perfumed with natural lavender (well actually I don't know if that's what it means or whether it thinks it has created lavender scent from two other plant based sources, but anyway it smells slightly of lavender... also I thought it was supposed to smell of rosemary but perhaps that was another brand).
Assuming you are one of the anonymice whom I know you can tell me whether my clothes smell disgustingly of lavender.
Ecover liquid has the advantage (a) that it doesn't contain bleach, so the clothes don't look washed out, and (b) you can refill the bottle (at Daily Bread in Cambridge and at the Green Grocer in Norwich).

Catherine Rowett said...

Disaster today: I tried to sit outside in the garden for a pleasant lunch while reading a paper I'm peer-refereeing for some journal. But despite the fact that the wind was blowing from the NW, the pungent smell from the laundry hung out in the garden just to the South east of us was overwhelming, so strong that it drowned out all the lovely flower scents from the shrubs and wallflowers in our garden.
So my lunch was a great deal less pleasant than it should have been. Indeed I've now come in to get away from it.