Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Q. I am helping my parents move into a smaller place. I came across a bottle of bluing in their laundry room. What is bluing?

A. The following information comes from online resources provided by Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing.

Basically, bluing is made of a very fine blue iron powder suspended in water. A nontoxic amount of a pH balancer and a biocide is added to prevent the buildup of algae and bacteria.

Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing is a simple, concentrated blue liquid that optically whitens white fabric. It does not remove stains, does not “clean”, but adds a microscopic blue particle to white fabric which has been giving fabric that “just bought” whiteness for 120 years.

It is said that color experts can distinguish about 300 shades of white. The white which is the brightest of whites is one which has a slight blue hue.

To prove this point, place a brand new white shirt or blouse next to one which has been laundered for several years. They will both look white until placed next to each other. Then the blue hue will be evident in the new shirt.

When two pieces of fabric are placed under a spectrograph, the one with blue added will reflect more light, making the fabric appear its whitest.

In their original state, white fabrics are far from white. Unbleached cotton fabrics, known to the trade as “greige goods”, are gray or yellow-tinged. Raw wool is, too – even from the whitest fleece. Most synthetic fibers are not white, but tend to be a grayish off-white color.

These all have to be bleached, usually by some chemical treatment which removes most of the yellow or grey color. Then to make white goods acceptable to their customers, manufacturers put their fabrics through a bluing process.

After the fabric goes into use, the effects of the bleaches wear off, soil and stain mar the color, and the material goes to the wash to be cleaned. Detergent and water lift out the dirt and stains, and successive rinses remove the soapy mixture. Sometimes a mild bleach is used to help remove the stains.

If all this is thoroughly done, the fabric is clean, but it is not “snowwhite”. To counteract the rest of the yellow, blue must be added. A little diluted bluing in the washing process or in the last rinse water adds the necessary tint that makes the fabric really snowwhite. Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing allows the consumer to re-blue their items at home.

In the early and middle 1900s, bluing was used by everyone who wanted to have a white wash and could be found in virtually all laundries. When washing was done by hand or in wringer washers, the second rinse tub was always the bluing rinse.

Here are a few tips on how to use bluing. Don’t use bluing with bleach or fabric softener.

Always dilute bluing in a container of clear, cold water before pouring into the machine. Avoid pouring bluing directly from the bottle into the machine when clothes are present, as any fiber can absorb an excess of undiluted bluing, causing spotting.

An easy way to use bluing is to measure the bluing into an old empty 2 quart or gallon pitcher or container and fill with cold water. Then it can be poured into the machine with clothes present, in either the wash or rinse cycle.

When using Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing in the wash water, use approximately 1/4 teaspoonful. When adding to the rinse water, use less than 1/8 teaspoon.

San Marcos Daily Record

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