If it makes things white, why isn’t it called “whiting?”


At my last family gathering, I ended up engaging in a discussion about laundry with my two grown up sons. Now normally laundry would be the last thing we would ever talk about, but I think the presence of new grandson Zach, whose secondary job, when not engaged in keeping his parents awake at night, is producing dirty laundry, inspired the discussion. And so we reminisced about the good old days when the boys were in college and unabashedly threw light and dark clothes in the same washer load, because, hey they were young, and guys, and once in a while they just wanted something clean to wear that hadn’t been fished out from underneath a beer keg.   

Anyway, this led me to share about how I only put white clothes in with other white clothes, except if I had something light blue, I could throw that in with the white clothes too, because it would help the white clothes stay white. “Oh  mother, please tell us the story of how blue clothes can help white clothes stay white, oh please, please.” And so begins the tale of bluing.

Back in the olden days, days so bygone that it was even before I was born, people had very few options for getting clothes clean. There were no whiteners, brightners, or Tide Stain Sticks. They couldn’t just  “Shout it out.” Instead, people had only three things: a vat of hot water, lye soap, and a stick. People, or I should say women, because that’s who traditionally was stuck with the job of doing laundry for the whole family, would boil water to get it hot, dump the clothes in with some lye soap, stir them with a stick, fish them out and dump them into another vat with rinse water, then fish them out again and hang them on a clothesline to dry. This took so much time that the women had very little time left to look at their iPhones or update their Facebook status. If they did have time to update their status, it would have been something like “OMG – still doing the #$&*ing laundry.” Without the wonderful laundry additives that we have today, it was very difficult to get white clothes white. So one day someone, probably Mrs. Blue, in the kitchen, with the laundry tub, accidentally spilled a few drops of blue dye into the laundry vat. Why she had a bottle of blue dye sitting about, we’ll never know. Anyway, when she fished the white clothes out of the tub, to her surprise, they were sparkling white, so white that if sunglasses had been invented, Mrs. Blue would have had to put them on. Mrs. Blue didn’t understand by what process the blue dye had made her clothes white, as logically, it should have made them, well, blue. All she knew is that it worked. Women everywhere began adding blue dye to their white laundry loads, and voila’ the custom became known as bluing, although it really should have been called “whiting.” Anyway, eventually Mrs. Blue’s neighbor, Mrs. Stewart, decided to steal the idea from Mrs. Blue and market it on Google sponsored ads, and thus we now can purchase Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing wherever fine laundry products are sold.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Blue and Mrs. Stewart could not access Wikipedia, so they never knew the scientific reasoning behind the bluing, er whiting  process, but if you want the true scientific gibberish, click here.

I’ll stand back out of the way now, because no doubt everyone reading this will rush past me to run out and buy a bottle of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. The best part is, besides being able to finally get your whites really white, you’ll also be able to engage in fun activities with your children such as growing your own salt crystal rock gardens. That is if you can get them away from their iPhones.

 © Huffygirl 2011

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23 thoughts on “If it makes things white, why isn’t it called “whiting?”

    • Thanks Aunty! Nappies are diapers right? A lot of people here in the states have decided to fill up our landfills with disposable diapers instead of washing cloth ones, but there does seem to be a group that is coming back to the cloth ones. I think the bluing would be perfect too.

  1. Love it! Reminded me of when my sons were small and they would put the clean laundry back into the hamper to avoid the hard work of putting it away! When looking at colleges, one place turned them off because there was too much laundry on the floor of the dorm room! I was surprised that bothered them. Now, both married, they do a lot of laundry. My daughter on the other hand took advantage of an enterprising student who started “Laundry Love” and picks up, washes, and delivers back to her dorm. What did I raise?

    • They put clean laundry back in the hamper? I’m not sure my kids would still be alive had they done that. 😉 Mine hated putting the clean clothes away too, so I gave them a big stand-up shopping bag for socks and another for underwear. I dumped the clean ones in the bag and it was up to them to sort through and find what they wanted. They loved it.

  2. Very timely post, Aunt Donna. You see, for some reason, most Catholic schools have decided that white polo shirts are the perfect uniform item for young boys, when anyone who has a young boy knows that they would probably be better dressed in either a suit of wipe-off plastic sheeting or at the very least, army fatigues that would camouflage dirt. So, left with already discolored polo shirts a mere few weeks into the school year, I had just about decided that I would do a quarterly bleach wash for the polos, commencing with Fall Break next week. However, I know that chlorine bleach can weaken fabric over time. I have heard of bluing before (mostly in historical novels), but have never known anyone who actually uses it (much less that it is even still sold). But you say it really does work? I eagerly await your further expansion on the glories of bluing!

    p.s. Thanks for your chocolate chip cookie recipe also. I confess that I often buy the ready-scoop tub of Nestle Toll House dough at Costco for convenience, but I have always liked your recipe, so I was thinking about getting it for the purpose of making butterscotch chip cookies, etc.

    • The wisdom of the Catholic schools has always escaped me, and, apparently, still does. Your school isn’t run by nuns is it? So far I tried one load of white clothes (underwear mostly) and cautiously added a few drops of bluing. It is dye after all. Everything seemed whiter, so I may go a little more aggressive next time. Caution though – the bottle of bluing can be messy, especially when it’s full. Make sure you open and mix it over a wash tub or basin – my new bottle dripped when I tried to squirt out a few drops. It also does not remove stains, just cancels the yellowing of the overall faabric, so you might want to try Oxy-Clean like Todd suggested for stains.

      Not sure I can allow you to use my chocolate chip recipe for butterscotch Judy 😉 If you do, you may want to use fewer butterscorch chips – they are sweeter than the chocolate, so I think 3 cups might be overwhelming.

  3. This is fascinating. I had no idea, but I’m going to try it. I wash my dress shirts with a scoop of Oxy-Clean, which is great, but my older shirts are still a little off-white. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Dave Barry (the other one) and David Sedaris would be proud. BTW, your son still throws in lights and darks together, despite his protests to the contrary. I think I may have to take over all laundry duty, and perhaps this has been his plan all along…

    • Why thank you Elizabeth, and thanks for stopping by.

      I for one am shocked, shocked that my son still does not do laundry correctly. But as you say, this may be part of his evil plan to lure you into laundry duty, although he’s smart enough to know that you’re smart enough to see through that ploy… Maybe next he will feign color-blindness 🙂

  5. I got the Clue reference immediately. Another great article. I had heard of bluing, but didn’t know it still existed. I may try it sometime.

    • Good for you on the Clue! Well I’m definitely going to keep trying it. I send my lab coats to the laundry because they get them more white than I can at home, and now I think they probably are just using bluing. I could have been washing them myself all this time.

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