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Rub-a-Dub Dud: Conditions Here Tough on Clothes

April 22, 2005

IT’LL all come out in the wash… or itwon’t. Or maybe your clothes, especiallywhites, will end up with spots and stainsthat weren’t there before you washedthem. Keeping one’s clothing in good conditionin Costa Rica apparently requiresmore than just filling the washingmachine, spinning the dial and walkingaway for 20 minutes.The basic complaints foreigners livingin Costa Rica have in this respect are thatwhite garments turn yellow, solid colorsfade rapidly, and pre-spray stain removersoften leave rings or discolored patches onclothing. In general, stain removal, especiallyof oily stains, is more difficult.The Tico Times consulted Brian Kerr,owner of Dry-Cleaning International, nextto Banco Nacional in the western suburbof Escazú Central, who responded generouslywith information about the sourcesof these problems and solutions for someof them.WATER is the basic tool for launderingyour clothes, and it needs to be of aconsistent quality to be effective. Thewater in Costa Rica has high levels ofminerals and a lot of sediment, and thechlorine content can vary from hour tohour. A common problem is rusty waterbecause of the corrosion of pipes or water storagetanks. Point-of-use water filtrationor purification systems can help a lot.According to Kerr, 90% of washinghere is done in cold water. For this reason,detergents contain inert substances such asground-up seashells. These detergentshave a sandpaper effect on fabrics and alsoaffect colors – staining whites and fadingcolors.People often wonder why the detergentthey used with excellent results backhome doesn’t work as well in Costa Rica.In the United States, for example, it iseasy to determine the hardness or softnessof the water supply in different geographicalareas of the country. Manufacturersalter the formula of their detergentaccordingly, and add optical brighteners towhite fabrics to give them that “sharpwhite” look.Even minute amounts of chlorine renderthese chemicals, added in the laststages of manufacture, completely ineffective.Your bright white skirt or shirt rapidlyreturns to whatever color it was before.You can buy detergents with opticalbrighteners and add a teaspoonful ofwhite vinegar to your wash water to neutralizethe effect of the chlorine.MANY people use two to three timesthe recommended amount of detergent,thinking that lots of suds mean cleanerclothing. This habit, combined withincomplete rinsing, is another reason whywhite fabrics turn yellow. Washing a loadof clothes with no detergent will tell youwhether this is your problem. Kerr saysany soap bubbles that appear should disappearwithin 15 seconds. He recommendsan organic liquid detergent for bestresults.Starched items are more prone to yellowingbecause the starch makes the fabricless porous. In time, the stale air thattends to accumulate around starcheditems, especially in plastic bags, causesthe starch to turn yellow. Polyethylenebags were at one time ideal for storingclothing. Recent changes in their manufacturefor environmental reasons, toallow them to degrade over time, meanthat this is no longer true. The off-gassingof chemicals that occurs as the plastic bagbreaks down damages fabrics. The old-fashionedcedar chest or closet is a muchbetter alternative.PROBLEMS with solid-coloredclothing are a little different. They fade orstreak. The fact is that many “solid” colorsare not. A black, for example, may have a red dye applied at the end toenhance the black color. This comes outin the first few washes and the black shirtis left with a grayish look. It’s a good ideato dry colored articles in the shade or, ifthe clothesline is in the sun, to turn garmentsinside out. Washing by hand canslow the streaking process because themechanical action of most machines is toostrong, and the dye is unevenly removedby centrifugal force.According to Kerr, dry-cleaning is thebest solution. However, if you prefer towash clothes at home, use a neutral liquiddetergent such as Woolite, and do it byhand.The impoverishment of solid colors isparticularly annoying with expensivelinen clothing or tablecloths and napkins.A home remedy that restores the color, atleast for a while, is to add a tablespoon ofJohnson’s Baby Oil to two liters of boilingwater. Simmer for five minutes andadd to the final rinse water. Stir with awooden spoon for five minutes.KERR regards pre-sprays as a wasteof time and money. Although they dowork when used correctly, they will discoloryour clothing if left on too long.You can obtain the same results by soakingstained items in water and detergentfor half an hour before putting them in thewashing machine. The secret to reallyclean clothes is to use just a small amountof Woolite with two tablespoons of allfabricbleach – no Clorox. Washing for 20minutes and rinsing well will remove 90%of all stains.Mold is more common than potholesin the humid areas of Costa Rica. Itleaves clothes smelling funky and canruin certain fabrics in a short time. Thesolution is to leave on a 15-watt bulb ortowel bar in the closet at all times. Forsafety’s sake, make sure nothing is incontact with the bulb or bar. An ultravioletair purifier also works well to preventmold growth.

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