It’s Monday in South Louisiana and red beans and rice are on the menu of many area restaurants. Why? Because it’s tradition, the day when women usually did the wash while red beans and Sunday’s leftover ham simmered on the stove all day.
Thanks to today’s pressure cookers and high efficiency (HE) washing machines, both of those chores are a lot less time consuming. While our red beans and rice staple hasn’t changed much over the years, our washing machines have become something we’re still getting used to. In fact, now we have to read — wait for it — the instructions.
“Most people don’t read the instructions, but I do,” said Tim Mullins, a handyman from Prairieville who likes to repair his own appliances. “Yes, 99% of people are like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this’ and just set the instructions aside.”
High efficiency washing machines hit the market in the 1990s when the federal government mandated energy saving measures in the appliance industry, according to healthyhouseinstitute.com. The new HE machines used less water, less detergent and new spin mechanisms to get laundry dryer to reduce time spent in the dryer. And the detergent industry responded with products to do the dirty work more efficiently, too.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes over time just in terms of the types of detergents that we use in our laundering,” said Bruce Cameron, Ph.D., department head of textiles, apparel design and merchandising at the LSU College of Agriculture.
Cameron said that as early as the 1990s, most laundry detergents were powders.
"Now you walk down the detergent aisle and I would guarantee you that 80% or more are liquids," he said. "It’s all changed. There are reasons for those changes and for the most part, they have been for the betterment of the industry — clothing industry, laundry industry, for the consumer — all around.”
Low-water wash and rinse cycles mean HE detergents have to work differently than traditional detergents, according to the website cleaninginstitute.org. HE washers use 20% to 66% the amount of water used in traditional models. HE detergents are formulated to be low-sudsing and quick-dispersing to get the best performance in HE washers.
“There are a lot of complaints about machines smelling and that kind of stuff and that’s from using too much soap,” said Steve Sims, a technician with Stanton’s Appliance in Baton Rouge. “With our soft water here, it’s very easy to do."
High efficiency washers don’t need as much soap, according to Sims.
"So, it’s really easy to use too much soap," he said, adding that the primary complaint is that HE washers are smelly, explaining that "the soap builds up in the tub and all your soaps are biodegradable now. They start breaking down and so it does get kind of smelly."
Sims recommends using the smallest amount of detergent recommended, usually.
"Most people are using the whole cup and you just need a little bit, really,” Sims said.
Another issue can be overloading the washer, according to Cameron, who advised never filling the drum more than three-quarters full in order to make sure there is enough water to do the job.
Cameron also advises everyone to read clothing care labels carefully.
“It’s an implied warranty, and there are instructions on the label," Cameron said. "I mean that ‘wash separately’ or ‘wash with like colors’ is telling you that that product is going to lose color.”