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Penkava: Laundry 101: Failure is the only option

Published: Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 11:47 p.m. CST

Most of us men recognize the essentiality of clean clothes. We understand there is a never-ending cycle that moves our underwear from the purity of the Fruit of the Loom to the boxer rebellion and back again. And we regretfully accept the fact that there is no such thing as “Spontaneous Garmental Laundribustion.”

But, as difficult as it is to believe, even though we men have mastered such inherently complicated tasks as replacing the line on a Weed Wacker and microwaving a bag of popcorn, we are still a bit overwhelmed with the whole laundry concept.

I think the problem starts with our idea of when it is time to wash something. For example, to the average man, a pair of jeans can go weeks without a wash. This has actually been proven scientifically. A study showed jeans will not accumulate any more bacteria after 300 wears than after 13.

So all we have to do is reach that magic number and we’re home free for almost a year. Sure, you might spill spaghetti sauce on them in the meantime, but I think that’s why they invented a stain remover called Dawn dish soap.

We men also do not like to read directions, like what the labels of our clothes say about how to wash them. To us, some of those labels read like the Great American Novel:

“Call me Ishmael. Machine wash cold. Wash with colors. Somewhere in la Mancha. Nonchlorine bleach only. Tumble-dry low. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Iron as needed.”  See what I mean?

Then there is the complicated sorting process. We men are easily confused with choices. Give us a menu at Chili’s and our heads are spinning with just the appetizers. Toss in the choice of fajitas or quesadillas and we’re as perplexed as a piņa in search of a colada.

But that’s nothing compared to the divvying up of whites, lights, darks, mediums, colors, pastels, prints and colorfasts, not to mention delicates, as in, “Honey, do I put my delicates in with my Walter Payton jersey?”

But even if we get things sorted out, we still have to confront the washer, which to us may as well be the control panel of the space shuttle. To us a “Cycle” has two wheels and goes really fast. “Temperature” determines whether we play golf or not. And I’m not going to get into our interpretation of “Load Size.”

Then you have to figure out what type of detergent to use. My wife has powder stuff, liquid stuff, tablet stuff, pod stuff and spray stuff. She has regular bleach, nonchlorine bleach, oxidizing bleach and non-oxidizing bleach. Geesh, it’s like I’m married to Marie Curie.

To us men, the dryer is simply a washer with a window. The folding process leaves us baffled as our laundry often takes on the form of origami sculptures. I swear I once folded a bath towel into the shape of a crane.

So, ladies, before you hang us out to dry, maybe you just should accept the fact that when it comes to Laundry 101, failure is the only option for us men. We can be trained to set the table. You can teach us to vacuum. But put a laundry basket in our hands and you’re just asking for a pink-tinged, static-clung, origami-folded shrunken wardrobe.

For just as the ocean meets the shore, there are limits to the male laundry skill set. Just be thankful we don’t want to do the grocery shopping.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. His wife has officially declared him “Laundry-impaired” and he is well on his way to becoming “Dishwashing-defective.” He can be reached at

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