Laundry Hostage Situation – What Happens When Your Front Loader Locks

March 6, 2017
Laundry Mat

As I have mentioned before, we live in 720 square feet of worn-down, tiny paradise. Today, I am going to call on your imagination: how do you think it works in the aforementioned space if your one-year old washer breaks, after making a sound like it is washing rocks?

Washing rocks is entirely plausible of course, as we are avid collectors and have a substantial rock collection that has grown quite a bit over the last year.  We do not discriminate in our collecting and even include unique concrete chunks and special gravel.

Rock Collecting - laundry

But what then happens when you try to get the door open to get the clothes out of the modern convenience that has gone rogue and now has a vice-like on your threads?  The door does not open.

When you call the manufacturer they tell you to open the door because that is where the serial number is and they need that in order to schedule a repair.  In response, you lament you cannot open the door and that the manuals – well, the manuals are not to be found.  You mutter something about moving two times in three months and a little house where you reside and then your words fade through the phone.

You shimmy by the dog bed and IKEA coat rack, squeezing your frame behind the stacked laundry machines hoping to capture an image of a some other number with your smart phone camera, all the while praying to the good Lord you do not drop your phone because it may never been seen again, devoured by the lint balls who you are fairly certain just gnashed their lint teeth at you.

You share all of this with your partner in life, who is traveling somewhere for his job.  He doesn’t think to tell you he is privy to where the manuals currently reside, which is in the scary dark closet in your kids’ room that also houses the miniature hot water heater and the vacuum cleaner.

And imagine further that these conversations with your spouse and the people at the end of the 1-800 number occur multiple times as you seek to resolve this first-world problem.  Several days soon pass as your hamper is groaning about the weight of the laundry and an odor starts to leak from the washing machine.  Your youngest by a minute looks listlessly through the porthole wondering when his gingerbread man pajamas with the candy cane striped legs will be freed.

Washer - Laundry

How does all of that work in the winter in 720 square feet?

It’s all stinky.  And, for some reason the odor wafts and lingers in the ‘master’ bedroom.

You think positively – at least it’s not happening in the kids’ room.  Yet.

At about day three my ‘partner in life’ finally thinks to tell me about the manuals slumbering in the scary closet.  I retrieve the serial number, call the manufacturer back and schedule the repair, only to find out that they won’t be able to come until what will be laundry hostage day 8.  I then call the repair place at least two more times drawling out as best I can a polite desperation to advance my position in the repair waiting list.  I fail.

This means I tote all of our delicates and other things to the laundry mat where I encounter Kim who runs the joint and is in quite a tangle about the woman who said her laundry mat stinks. I realize I have forgotten the laundry soap.

Laundry mat

Her laundry mat does not stink, but I cannot help but wonder what was washed in my chosen machines before I came in and where the murder weapon is.

Aside from my wandering imagination, which is admittedly a drawback at the laundry mat, there is one great and amazing thing about a laundry mat:  six loads of laundry done.  45 minutes.  Stat. And, since I am just cheap enough I refuse to pay for the dryer, so I then tote all the wet loads home to process them through the one dryer perched on top of the dysfunctional stinky washer.  Then, when the dryer isn’t drying the towels as it does normally my husband haughtily claims I have over-burdened the machine with the amount of wet things I shoved in its cavity.

I am glad my husband helps with the laundry when he can.  As I was out and about foraging for food at Target, he soon figured out his haughty claims were unwarranted and the outside dryer vent was clogged.  Over-aggressive loading – BAH!

Then, somewhere in the middle of the washer saga of 2017, my son drops his beloved ‘Teddy’ into the toilet.  Do you know how many times I have asked the little ones to not take stuffies into the bathroom?  Guess who was subsequently violently cleansed at Kim’s laundry mat?

Teddy swinging - laundry

So, on day 8 I was elated.  The repairman is coming!  The repairman is coming!  I anxiously awaited the call from my husband to alert me to the fact that tiny house laundry service was in business again!

That call did not happen.  While the repairman was able to free our clothes, he did not have the necessary part.  It would have to be ordered.  He would return six days later.

The silver lining – he freed our clothes.  Wrapped in Ebola attire, my dear one, carried the clothes out into the yard retching.  I hate to admit it, but they laid there for a few days before I donned gloves and two-finger clutched them into a trash bag.  If it was not for the gingerbread man, they would have met their end.  Kim’s laundry mat was a life-saver!

Even though the clothes were freed, the door relocked itself and the odor continued to fester.

In case you are wondering, I do have friends and several of them did offer to let me use their washers and they sincerely meant it, but could you tote your underwear and your husband’s boxers and put them in someone else’s machine besides your mom’s?

Anyway, I like a good challenge and at this point, I was growing fond of the laundry mat.  I would roll up in there, load my stuff and then sit, undisturbed for a solid 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes of peacefulness.  Not to mention the drive to and fro. Except when Kim was in a tizzy.

But alas my dreamy rendezvous to the laundry mat came to an end with the arrival of the machine part and the installation of said part by the repairman.  So, eyes glistening I said goodbye to cheerful Kim and her mat de laundry.

I feel fortunate to have the things we have that make our lives easier.  I feel fortunate to have learned through this process what bacteria like to eat and why front-end loaders (even those who don’t take clothes hostage for weeks) tend to stink. And, because I am just curious enough, I decided to take it upon myself to learn a little bit about soap and discover more about the concept surface tension.

leaf and water drops - Laundry

In our world today everyone tells us we are trailing in the education of our children.  Fingers point at one another.  But friends, it does all start at home where we can create inquiry and feed curiosities.  So, read this little ditty about soap and surface tension and then seek to share it with your offspring.  I am confident it will not hurt and it might provide such an interest that baths and showers are no longer battles and little people line up like laundry fairies to do their own laundry.  I am hopeful for you and me on both fronts.


First of all.  The repairman, who I assume would know a bit about what he does for a living, shared with my husband that it isn’t the mold you smell in your front-loader.  No.  It is the little bacteria who like to munch on the soap!  Apparently, if you switch to a powder detergent it can alleviate most of this problem.  I have not tried.  If you do – let me know if it works.

The Ancient Babylonians invented soap around 2800 B.C.  Their recipe of animal fats, wood ash and water hasn’t really changed in thousands of years.  Ancient Greeks and Romans as well as the Egyptians also developed recipes for soaps.

Soap - Laundry

Soap is made by combining fats (from animal sources) and oils (typically from plants – such as olive oil or coconut oil) with an alkali (wood ash).  Today the latter is sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide.

When these ingredients are mixed it causes saponification: the alkali causes fats or oils to split into fatty acids and glycerin and makes soap!

How Does Soap Work?

Simply put: soap lessens the surface tension of water so it more-readily wets what needs to be cleaned rather than just balling up on the surface.

Soap molecules are made of long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms.  At one end of the chain is a group of atoms which are water-loving (hydrophilic) and on the other end the atoms dislike water (hydrophobic).  As a result when oil is mixed with soap the soap can act as an emulsifier.

One end of the soap compound is drawn to the water and the other end repels it, thus dispersing one liquid into another immiscible (won’t mix with another) liquid.  The soap molecules arrange themselves into tiny clusters called micelles where the water-loving parts make up the outer surface and the oil-loving parts group together on the inside where they don’t come in contact with the water.  The micelles then trap the fats/oils in the center.  In short, soap suspends the oil in such a way it can be removed and washed away

What is surface tension?

Liquid molecules are strongly attracted to each other, so in the place where it meets air it will shrink to the smallest possible area. The molecules on top have neighbors only on one side and cling to them forming kind of a skin.  On a waterproof surface, water such as rain will run in droplets, with all of the outside molecules drawn inward.

surface tension - Laundry

In the case of soap, the hydrophobic ends of the soap do not want to be in water at all and squeeze between the surface water molecules, which separates the water molecules from each other.  Tension forces become smaller because the water molecules have a greater distance between one another due to the soap molecules decreasing the surface tension.  Thus, the soap intervenes with its micelles and attaches to the grime so it can be washed away.  So simple, but also so complex!

Take it on. You know you wash dishes. You know you wash kids. You definitely wash clothes. Let your little humans in on the intrigue of soap and how it helps us and our things be clean!

Journey on!

xo, the mamabrain at mamabrains

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