When I first heard about the existence of dust mites that live in our beds, blankets, clothes, carpets and upholstered furniture, I was suitably freaked out.   Just looking at a picture of one of these things makes me itchy. Then to be told that we’re living with zillions of them AND their poop AND that they can cause allergies or asthma or who-knows-what else — well…

So, I bought the mattress covers and washed everything constantly, got rid of carpets, upholstery, heavy drapes, cushions; was very cautious not to touch anything in hotel rooms, etc., etc.

Then after a while, I thought,” what the hell am I doing?” and I stopped. Dust mites have been around forever, right? We can’t escape them. I’ll keep things reasonably clean, but I’m not vacuuming my mattress every week. And, in the interests of economy and being green, I don’t really need to wash my whites in hot water, right?  Phew! The essential me felt so much more relaxed and comfortable once I came to terms with this.

Until Sunday.

In Sunday’s Ottawa Citizen there was this letter from Rene Caron. Rene warns about the dangers of washing clothes in cold water because cold water apparently doesn’t kill all the nasty stuff in our clothing. Rene says we must wash in hot water with bleach.  Nevermind our bedding, Rene is most concerned about our panties:

Each undergarment can have up to a gram of feces in it. Cold-washing undergarments only spreads E. coli and other bad bacteria to all the other clothing in the washing machine.

Is it time to freak out again?

I did some online research and there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer out there. Some say only boiling water is hot enough to kill bacteria; some say soap will kill bacteria regardless of the water temperature; some say the dryer is hot enough to kill any bacteria left over from washing; some say hanging clothes in the sun to dry is enough to kill bacteria; some agree with Rene that bedding and underpants have to be washed in hot water with bleach.

I don’t know what kind of underpants these people are wearing, but I can’t see mine surviving more than a couple of hot water and bleach washings. I want no part of these industrial-strength foundation garments that end up smelling like a swimming pool and swaddle my nether regions in chlorine.

So, I’m going to resign myself to spending my life wrapped in my own poop as well as dust mite poop.


28 responses to “UNDERaWEARness

  1. Thanks for that last sentence. You cracked me up!

    Yeh, I don’t know about a gram of feces. Sounds like somebody needs a refresher course in proper ass wiping.

    The mites…nasty thought. Let’s just not think about them.

  2. SOmehow we all lived even before the discovery of all these germs. In my case literally before the discovery. Our bodies are equipped to handle all the infiltrations of all these little buggers and there is no possible way of getting rid of them anyway. Think of the boy in the bubble scenario. That is what is needed to get away from the critters.
    I once read that in every breath you take some 50 molecules of air were previously breathed by Julius Ceasar. I don’t know why he was breathing my air but i think the point was there is no such thing as pure air water etc.
    Relax and as the great philosopher said
    “live long and prosper”

  3. OTC – I’m not going to think about this stuff anymore either — except proper skidmark avoidance techniques — they’re important.

    Bandobras – Eewww, Julius Ceasar breath – that explains the Clamato aftertaste I experience when running.

  4. In another century, I used to work in a nursing home and one of my jobs was laundry. Underpants and bedding in huge cauldrens of boiling, bleach filled water. Egad, it is with me still. Haven’t heard of anyone becoming ill with e-coli from dirty clothes.

    Clamato aftertaste, hahaha, very good, and so early in the day! That gives me an idea…

  5. I saw that letter on the Citizen website yesterday and it gave me pause too. I looked for Mr. Caron’s credentials, and didn’t see any. I wondered why he’s obsessing about everybody else’s underwear to the point of writing letters to the editor about it. Not only that, but he recommended that you turn up your hot water heater the night before you plan to do underwear laundering.

    I think he’s just a freak. He’s probably related to that other freak who years ago wrote letters to editors demanding that all new homes be equipped with bidets because wiping wasn’t sufficient and most people wouldn’t bother to shower after using the toilet.

  6. OCT – I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

    Violetsky – Cauldrons of boiling laundry? What was this – the Charles Dickens Great Expirations old folks home?? Weren’t washing machines invented when you were young? Not even the ones with the 2 rollers and the turny thingy?

    Zoom – Yes, some people have some odd fixations. Those 5 grams of feces really give you pause for thought, though. Showering after pooping seems extreme, but before toilet paper, lots of cultures washed themselves. Ancient Romans used sponges on the ends of sticks, kept in jugs filled with salty water (communal sponges, btw).

  7. No way am I washing my delicate unmentionables in hot water and bleach. In that case I might as well just wear my undies once and then throw them away. I figure since my underwear hasn’t managed to kill me yet, I’m probably okay.

    And you win “Grossest Picture I’ve Seen In A Post All Day!” Bleccch!

  8. I have difficulty believing my underpants have a gram of poop in them when I change them every day. I mean, short of not wiping, how do you manage that? People are just too damned sanitized these days.

    By the way, I just finished a highly entertaining book called The Dirt on Clean (by Katherine Ashenburg) which looks at the history of cleanliness from Antiquity to the 21st century.

    An eye opener to say the least. I highly recommend it.

  9. What I want to know is, did we all picture a gram of hash when we read that, just to get a sense of how big a gram of poop would be?

  10. Something tells me that Rene avoids public parks, public swimming pools and grocery stores…and most, if not all, toddlers. 🙂

    I tend to lean toward the camp that we are antibacterializing ourselves into the creation of a super-bug. Playing in the dirt builds immunities. Eating dirt is a rite of childhood passage, and is rarely fatal. The goal is to learn to wipe so that there isn’t much poop in your underwear. Right?

    If it’s not one thing it’s another. Life is too short to get your panties in a bunch about everything. (Pun intended.) 😉

  11. Damon – Oh hi – thanks for dropping in with your pithy bit of wisdom. The beauty of falling poop, by Damon.

    Lesley – Exactly my point about the industrial foundation garments. I can’t think of anything I own that could withstand hot water and bleach washing regularly. Also, I didn’t actually take that dust mite picture, but it does give me the willies.

    Jazz – FIVE grams, man, FIVE!!! That seems like a lot of poop to me, too. They make “personal” wipes for grown-ups now – like baby wipes but at 3 times the cost if you really want to be sure to get every last dingelberry.

    Zoom – No, I didn’t picture hash. Sheesh! All I could think of when Rene mentioned 5 grams of feces, was Kevin Bacon for some reason.

    CP – Poor Rene. I wonder if he/she will get wind of this discussion. Las time I mentioned a newspaper letter on this blog the author got in touch. Of course, that post was complimentary. I think Rene is worried that all this “greening” we’re doing is going to create new problems. But I agree with you, we are antibacterializing ourselves into unchartered territory. Curses on the dude who discovered bacteria. A little knowledge can, indeed, be a dangerous thing.

  12. Hi, just checking in to see what my friends in Ottawa are talking about while I ride amongst camel poop in the middle east. I think I’ll continue with my research and let you figure this one out for yourselves!

  13. I think that since we are working with averages here, we’re fairly safe and that the homeless, hikers, hippies and all others with compromised access to running water are bumping up our numbers. Stay away from their drawers, and we should remain fecal-free.

  14. Wow, now I’m freaked out too. but only momentarily, I think. I went through the same thought process as you as I was reading, and all other options suck equally.

  15. This does make one wonder about poor Rene Caron’s diet.
    And I second Jazz’s recommendation for Katherine Ashenberg’s book.

    As for the cauldrons – I could be mistaken a little. It was a big drum like thing though. And a wooden paddle for stirring. And a wringer for, well wringing. This was only for the bleaching and blueing. Hard to believe this was in 1978 Holland!

  16. Skylark – As you can see, we have BIG issues on the broiler here. You might want to stay in the middle east where it’s safe. We might be banning all travel in and out of the country until we can solve this problem.

    Zoom – Yes, you’re right, only one. Phew. I must learn to read.

    Deb – I want to know who actually conducted the investigation that came up with this one gram of feces theory. And how the investigation was conducted.

    Noha – We could stop wearing undergarments altogether. That would solve the problem!!

    Violetsky – I’ve actually been meaning to read that book anyway. I love stuff like that. And, OH — Holland!! That explains everything.

  17. Wait till you lived with bed bugs, then you’ll wash everything in hot water! Just make sure you don’t do like me, put a pair of red socks in it. All my white underwear are now a lovely shade of lavender. Doesn’t matter really cause well, not many people see it… lol

  18. A gram?! Does this person not own toilet paper? That seems like an awful lot.

    That said, the sanitary cycle on my washer is a beautiful thing, even if I only reserve it for child-related bio accidents and bouts of illness.

  19. UA – What do you mean “wait until”? I don’t want bedbugs — ever. I’ve been so full of sympathy for your bedbug plight. Hopefully, it’s all over now — forever! Lavendar is a lovely shade for undies.

    Kimberly – Yes, one would think that one would be able to SEE a whole gram of poop in one’s undergarments and wash accordingly.

    Heidilou – Oh you and Kimberly and your high-tech home appliances! Silver ions indeed. The rest of us are still beating our unmentionables on rocks in the Ottawa river.

  20. From the Samsung site:
    “Here’s how it works: A grapefruit-sized device alongside the tub uses electrical currents to nano-shave two silver plates the size of large chewing gum sticks. The resulting positively charged silver atoms – Silver ions (Ag+) — are injected into the tub during the wash cycle. According to tests, this process removed or killed 99.9% of odor-causing bacteria.”

    Sounds like snake oil to me. In fact, I just listened to someone on CBC talking about snake oil! You have to boil one to get the fat out of it (kind of hard on the snake). And for the oil to be beneficial at all, it should be from a cold water snake. Like those omega oils in salmon.

  21. Julia – I never knew how snake-oil was extracted. What exactly was it used for? I’ve heard that silver has anti-biotic/bacterial properties. There’s collodial silver that people used to use on infections and drink for viruses and stuff. You can still buy it. The expression “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” came from the practice wealthy people would do of giving their children silver spoons to suck on to ward off colds, infections and other diseases. It seemed to work. The things we learn from each other, eh?

  22. I think the silver thing is more than just snake oil. (Of course I do! I’d feel pretty stupid about buying that expensive washer if I didn’t believe in it.)

    Anyway, a random google search turned up this:


    Also, I have first-hand knowledge of something that I can’t talk about because I could get fired. But … yeah, I know of a product under development that is going to be regulated by the FDA, which is going to use silver to fight bacterial infections.

  23. Heidilou, very interesting. A credible friend of mine posted this at a listserve ( http://www.curenaturalicancro.com/ ) so I suppose if they can kill cancer fungus with sodium bicarbonate, they can kill germs with silver. I stand corrected. Still, it was interesting about the origins of snake oil! The things you learn while listening to CBC radio while sewing.