Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I Am My Own Dhobi

When I told the visiting theatre faculty (one day on the veranda, with a cup of chai) that I was planning to wash my own clothes while in Hyderabad, they looked at me like I was out of my mind.

“Get a dhobi,” they said.

“Would that be the woman I saw yesterday rinsing out a stack of men’s dress shirts in the lake?” I retorted. “I’m going to use Woolite and my five-gallon bucket.”

So yesterday I did a big load of clothing, mostly unmentionables and such, agitating them in the bucket and then rinsing them out at the tap. They drip-dried from the clothesline strung across my room (making my room look a bit like the chawl from Guru, minus, of course, Abhishek Bachchan), and came out smelling fresh as roses.

The three pairs of blue jeans I brought with me, however, were another matter. We’ve been having monsoons off and on, and all three pairs were muddy and stinking. I didn’t know if Woolite could handle this much dirt, so I thought I would pay a visit to the dhobi after all.

But upon arrival I found a few unexpected complications. First was that this poor woman was apparently dhobi for the entire university. She had piles and piles of clothes stacked around her, and the young girl hovering nearby told me that it would take three days before there would be room for mine. Second was that the dhobi didn’t speak English and I, of course, didn’t speak Telugu, and so I was a little unsure as to whether I could accurately communicate my name and address, and fearful that I might never get my pants back at all.

So I returned my stinking jeans to my little room and filled up the five-gallon bucket.

When I was finished, the water was so brown it was almost black. But those pants were clean.

Science types, please help me: how is it that by plunging a pair of dirty jeans into a bucket of soapy water and churning them around and around for five minutes, the dirt somehow magically separates from the jeans and sticks to the water? Just curious. ^__^

9 comments:

Ennis said...

Water is a polar molecule, one side is positive and the other is negative, and this helps it separate things that sit on top of other things, like dirt from clothing. Detergents are made from chemicals which increase the ability of water to do this pulling apart(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laundry_detergent#Contents) by decreasing the surface tension of the water, thus allowing the water to scrub better.

I would suggest a few things:
1. use hot water. especially for your underwear, it will feel much cleaner afterwards.
2. with things with dirt or grime on them, scrub them. Get some cheap local detergent (a bar of laundry soap if you are willing to kill your hands or a bag of omo powder if you are not), put that on the dirty parts, add water and scrub. The scrubbing using friction to loosen the dirt so the water can do its job easier. In that case though, you'll want a second bucket of clear water to rinse, because anything other than woolite stays on the clothes.

3. Don't put too many clothes in your bucket at the same time

4. Wash more often than you would at home because this doesn't clean as thoroughly as a washing machine unless you really really scrub.

Dhobis will damage anything that is delicate so be careful with them. You might soon find yourself needing to wear your salwars with your kameezes. Or you can buy yourself a few pairs of basic black pajama (bottoms you would say in the US), and after a little while start wearing those. They're easier to wash than jeans.

For fun:
http://www.mumbainet.com/travel/dhobighat.htm

Daniel said...

Ennis only told you half the story about soap.

Yes, water is polar, and that is able to solvate the polar bits of dirt away, off of your jeans (remember in high school chemistry when they told you about "like dissolves like?"--well, polar things dissolve polar things)

Detergents don't just decrease water's surface tension. Because detergents are molecules with a polar half and a nonpolar half, they also have the added benefit of being able to solvate (dissolve) the non-polar bits of dirt you've got on your pants. Like, let's say you spill some yummy olive oil on your pants. Water ain't gunna do nuttin to get rid of that stain. Water doesn't dissolve oil. On the other hand, if you have soap in your water, the long non-polar parts of the soap molecules will surround the oil molecules, and dissolve them. The neat thing about soap is that the other side of the soap molecule (the side that isn't dissolving the oil) is polar. So, if you have soap water, the oil gets solvated by the nonpolar part of the soap which is in turn solvated by the water. It forms little concentric spheres of stuff.

There's other stuff in detergents, though, that makes them better for cleaning clothing than regular body soap (which works in the same method, but is made for the body (yay moisturizers)) but that's for another discussion.

I would suggest, uh, buying new clothing every time you run out. That way, you never have to do laundry! :-p (JUST KIDDING!)

Blue said...

So water is like a drinkable magnet?

Science is totally sweet.

Thanks for the tips!

ctrlalteredmind said...

Soap is a surfactant - it forms water-soluble micelles that trap the otherwise insoluble dirt and oil particles.

To go deeper on what the others said, soap molecules are long chains with a polar, hydrophilic head and a non-polar, hydrophobic tail. As the name implies, the hydrophobic tail ensures the bad stuff (generally oil-based stains) stays away from the water. :)

Never Mind!! said...

Oh my god!! You were in Hyderabad? If you dont mind my asking, where? I grew up about a mile away from the Secunderabad Railway station. My parents still live there. Even after 5 years of moving out and meeting tons of people from Hyd, I still get super excited to meet people from there!!

Blue said...

I was at the university -- HCU. I did frequent the Secunderabad Railway Station. ^__^

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