Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going Without: Update Reprise

Ai yai. I am taking forever to get around to these things. Just to mix it up a bit, I will post again tomorrow with pictures! I finally found the USB cable and got the battery charging thing sorted, so we are up and running.

So, first, a very enlightening response from Barbara, a German expat living in San Jose and good friend of ours. With her permission, this is her explanation of German washing machines and why they work the way they do. And also, for the record, I am getting used to the new washer and finding that we just work around the long wash cycles.


I have some response to the German washing procedure. People in Germany who don't know about American washers might not be able to answer as well.

Doing laundry requires three things: water, detergent and time. With German washers (top and front loaders) the time factor is in a higher ratio to water than in the US. You will also find "Einweichen" with those many buttons and dials. If you use the factor Einweichen, that means basically more time - without necessarily spending more water because it uses the same sud, unless you have really dirty laundry and want to remove the saturated water first so the dirt particles don't get distributed back into the fibers. And you can decrease the amount of detergent. Time (Einweichen) was very important in the old days, when you did laundry once a week (or month) and/or had really soiled garments (not just worn) and spots (Flecken). An unbeatable combination : Einweichen and Kochwäsche, and that is: Time.

In the US, saving time was always more important, almost always at cost of resources (energy, water). Look at the concept of time saving in drying the laundry: every household has a dryer, nobody wants (or is permitted!) to hang up the laundry onto a line anymore. So here we are, in dry and sunny California, spending energy and a lot of hot produced air and electricity to run a dryer! Dryers run at least for 45 minutes. - Because we want to shorten the washing process, we fill in a lot more water in the old fashioned washers with an agitator, in a state, where we will have a serious drought in 2009 - we are in a desert, for heavens sake!

Now to your complaint about the elastics in the socks that go away to soon: That really happens because of the hotter water. You will find out though, that the rest of the sock is fine and can last forever. Of course, rubber in the elastic is not made to withstand high temperature. That works fine in an American washer, since the sock material is gone a lot earlier than the rubber. And for that you can blame the agitator: If you have towels, t-shirts and underwear of plain cotton you can wash them in a German washer for decades. The material will get thinner (loosing the fibers) and breaks (holes) after a few years. The drum movement while washing is gentle, like a soft beating from one wet item against the other. Compared an agitated American washer: The towel is fine, but all the sides start to get loose after a short while, seams open up on T-shirts and other garmets, because the agitator is such a harsh puller and tearer and reminds me of the times when we beat the garments against stones in the river ...

Kochwäsche only works if you heat up the load gradually and slowly to remove the (presoaked and loosened) dirt and spots. If you throw a garment into boiling water with detergent, it would probably fix (cook) the dirt into the fiber but not clean the fabric effectively. The German washers are still equiped to do Kochwäsche and will heat up the load slowly. Perhaps you know that American washers use hot water provided by a water heater. German washers have the heating coils built inside and heat the water inside the machine. Since in the old days that was the way to do laundry (boiling), you don't eliminate this setting on a modern "machine", but you add it as an option. I don't know any household among my friends though, who does still Kochwäsche, because you really need only warm water (30 and 40 Celsius) to get the modern not-dirty clothes clean.

I feel very competent in this matter, because I washed in both countries, including in the old days, where my mother still had a Waschküche, with a big caldron to boil the laundry (yes, wood burning heated the water!). And most competent also, because two years ago we had to replace our American toploader-agitator washer and chose a front loader - they are finally very affordable. In fact, for years they have been promoted with an extra rebate of 50 $ or more from the cities because of their energy efficiency. If you ever get a chance to watch and wash with one of these when you visit-- it's amazing, how much water you save. And you cannot use a lot of detergent either, because it would not dissolve. No wonder the washer industry here was never keen on promoting the modern machines because you cannot make money being a chemical company if consumers use less. Now another interesting thing: A regular (normal) cycle in a new energy-efficient American frontloader washer takes at least 68 minutes. With an extra (recommended) 2nd rinse 84 minutes ...

As for your concern about the energy used to heat up the water in a washer, don't compare it with the energy you would use in an American washer. You are better off and more energy concsious if you use regular cycle, with less water, high spin, longer time (that is not only low watt of electricity used, but the mechanic movement of the drum) and 30 or 40 Celsius.

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