I’ve been separating whites from darks ever since the fifth grade, when my parents got divorced, my mom started working, and my mom said to me, my 13 year-old sister and my 9 year-old brother, “You’re doing your own laundry now.” (Well, we had to help my brother with his, but that’s a different, gender-dappled story.)

You’d think after 26 years of doing something, I’d be an expert. And while I do think I’ve got it nailed down for the most part, there’s just one tag that leaves my knees shaking–HAND WASH ONLY. I don’t really get it; I’ve never gotten it; and I do everything I can to avoid it—including lots of “experiments” to see what will happen if I ignore those instructions and just toss the item in the washing machine anyway. (Results decidedly mixed: anywhere from lace-torn-to-shreds to slightly-nubbier, yet-wearable sweaters)

Every few years, I decide I’m brave enough to try it again. I may be on the cusp of one of these times. But first I need you, dear enlightened reader, in order to get some questions answered.

First of all, can I use regular detergent? Or do I need special soap that comes in a pristine white bottle labeled “delicates”? I feel like I can already hear my bras snickering, saying, “Suuure, now we’re delicates??” (Also, why do I imagine my bras speak with a Jewish grandmother’s accent?)

Next question: Washing. How long do I spend here? And how exactly does the stuff get clean? Am I beating and scrubbing certain parts together a la Ma Ingalls in Little House in the Prairie? Or should I just swish it around a little and call it good?

Next comes the doozy: Rinsing. I feel like when I’ve attempted hand washing in the past, no matter how much I rinse, the water’s still a little soapy. Anyone else have this problem? Or a solution of some sort? Maybe I should assume those bubbles in the sink are the same ones that annoyingly, yet occasionally, appear in my clean water and I should just move on? (And why does my glass of clean water sometimes appear bubbly??)

Luckily, I feel like I’ve got the drying part down: Roll her in a towel to get most of the water out, then hang it up to dry. Unless it’s something that gets stiff as it dries, in which case it should probably go back into the dryer for a few minutes, which is a real pain when you don’t have your own dryer (apartment living!).

As a matter of fact, this whole thing really seems like a pain, so tell me again why I don’t just bag the whole thing and send it to the cleaners?

Next up in the Mystifying Me series: Flossing

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