Sunday, July 8, 2012

My wife has blue balls

The earliest clothes dryers were made in England and France in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Known as "ventilators," they were large metal drums with ventilation holes, powered by hand cranks, and used over open fires. Their invention can't be traced to any one person, but perhaps no one would have wanted the credit, since the clothes always smelled of smoke, were often covered with soot and sometimes caught fire.

An American inventor named George Sampsoncame up with a better idea late in the 19th century, and he was granted a patent for his improved version (which used heat from a stove instead of a fire) in June of 1892.

Since hanging clothes outside to dry in the middle of winter is about the LAST thing that any of us would want to do, it’s not surprising that a man in frigid North Dakota, J. Ross Moore, developed an electric clothes dryer, which first went on sale in 1938.

After WWII, clothes dryers started to become more popular, but even by the mid-1950’s, only 10% of American households owned one, in part due to their cost. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of a dryer in 1955 would be around $1600, which would make it a BIG luxury for a lot of people.

One of the problems associated with clothes dryers is a phenomenon known as “static cling”, which causes clothes to stick together.

An early solution to “static cling” were liquid fabric softeners.They were developed by the textile industry in the early 1900’s, and by the late 1950’s, had spread to home use.

One DISADVANTAGE to the use of liquid softeners is that the chemicals that they contain are not compatible with detergents, so they can’t be added to wash loads until all the detergent has been removed during the rinse cycle. As a result, it was often necessary to run up and down stairs to add the liquid softener at the proper time of the washing cycle.

In order to save his wife all those trips up and down stairs, a man named Conrad Gaiser invented a product that he called Tumble Puffs, which were actually the first known dryer sheets. In 1969, he received a patent for his invention, and shortly after that, he sold the rights to Proctor and Gamble, who started marketing the product as Bounce dryer sheets.

Despite the obvious advantages of dryer sheets over liquid softeners, the sales of liquid softeners are currently about $700,000,000 a year, considerably more than the $400,000,000 of dryer sheets.

When I lived in China, I discovered that clothes dryers (due to the amount of energy they use) are a rarity. Virtually every high rise that I saw “in country” had outside balconies, where lines of clothes could be seen flapping in the breeze.

The house where we live in Flagstaff has a fenced-in backyard AND a clothesline - which I use virtually every week for my sheets and towels. I still think that backyard clotheslines are a good idea, as do a number of people who have read the article posted below:

string ‘em up, Harry

Admittedly, it’s a bit tedious to hang up all my socks individually on the clothes line, so the second load of the week generally gets thrown in the dryer . To her credit, my wife is not a fan of the chemicals used in either liquid softeners or dryer sheets, and has discovered another way to prevent static cling.

They’re called dryer balls.

She has two of them, and they’re blue.

The original Dryer Balls were apparently invented by a man named Dean Kruger in 2006. If you’ve never seen them, they look like the picture below:

In addition to the website shown above, dryer balls are readily available to numerous locations., and they DO represent a more environmentally friendly solution than using liquid softeners or dryer sheets.

Because they are made of PVC plastic, they DO make more noise than the alternative solutions, and that ‘s OK. If saving the environment means that it sounds like you have a pair, it’s a small price to pay.

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