5 Things We Can Learn from the French about Laundry

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One of the great benefits of traveling and living in other places in the world is the perspective we gain. Just ask Danielle Postel-Vinay. She currently lives in New York City, but as a teen, she met her first mentor in the French way of life, Jacqueline Manon, an antique shop owner, who took her under her wing and invited her into her home. After spending time in France, Postel-Vinay married a Parisian man, and her new French family and mother-in-law continued her education in the French way of keeping a home. Now, the writer’s sharing all of the secrets she’s gleaned from her French family and friends in her new book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home.

Among the many tips and tricks of the French way of life, she shares five things the French know about doing laundry, that Americans don’t seem to know, or practice anyway. I’ll give you three, but you can get ALL FIVE RIGHT HERE.

1. Use Different Stain Fighters for Different Stains. Stain fighting is NOT a “one size fits all proposition”. Different stains require different chemicals. When Postel-Vinay lived in the South of France, she discovered that the French grocery store stocked small bottles of specialized formulas for treating every type of stain imaginable, and from a chemistry standpoint, it made so much sense. She says “Grass stains are not the same problem as ballpoint pen ink, and olive oil is utterly different on a silk blouse than coffee. How could one expect to remove all these different stains with the same chemical? Postel-Vinay bought a complete set of Stain Devils from Carbona ($32; carbona.com).

2. Air Dry (Don’t Machine-Dry) Delicate Clothing. In general, Americans machine-dry their clothing much more often than Europeans. From watching her mother-in-law’s method of washing clothes, Postel-Vinay learned that dryers are to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. Instead, in an apartment, her mother-in-law would hoist clothes on a drying rack up to the ceiling, or in nice weather, on a clothesline outside. Not only is the dryer a waste of electricity and money, but it wreaks havoc on clothing. She says, “An electric dryer will fade, shrink, and deteriorate whatever you put inside it.” Want to try the French method? Set up a clothesline outside this summer or invest in a drying rack ($30; containerstore.com)—your clothes will thank you.

3. Iron Everything. You may roll your eyes on this one, but Postel-Vinay says her mother-in-law ironed everything (cloth napkins and bed sheets, included).  This may seem too time-consuming for most American households, especially if you have children and daunting piles of clothing. As a compromise, opt for a small handheld steamer that you can pull out to prep your work outfit in the morning. You’ll still look polished, but won’t devote your weekends to ironing every single piece.

Good luck implementing some of these tips, and please DO let me know how it goes for you. Vive La France!

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