Higher Education Can Help Fight Stubborn Stains

Here's my only piece of advice for Chelsea Clinton and all other students who are heading off to college for the first time: At some point during the next four years, you must learn how to do your own laundry, and I mean do it correctly, so that your garments come out clean and springtime fresh.

My own education in getting clothes clean started early. The washing machine at my house broke down when I was young, and my parents never bought another one. Each weekend, we stuffed the dirty clothes into pillow cases and carried the whole sorry load to a laundromat.

For starters, you can learn a lot about the finer points of laundering by watching other people do things the wrong way. Some mix colors with whites, some overlook critical water temperatures, some use too much detergent. Worst of all are the misguided zealots who try to cram everything into a single machine. They have no inkling about the importance of proper blade agitation (Don't laugh. This factor is crucial to the whole process of soil removal. In a class about getting clothes clean, this would definitely be on the final.)

My own formative experience gave me a jump on tackling an important chore that many kids don't confront until they have left home. On my first visit to the laundry room in the dorm, I was surprised to find that many of my freshman peers were clueless about basic concepts, such as when to add fabric softener or how to clean a lint trap.

Those coin-op years also led me to the conviction that owning a washing machine creates a powerful feeling of personal independence. Nothing is quite so demoralizing as having an accumulation of wall-to-wall dirty clothes and neither the time nor inclination to hit the laundromat. Possessing my own washer-dryer combo liberated me. Now even on my worst days, I am never confronted by an empty closet or a top drawer devoid of clean socks.

I also like being an expert in a field that is still dominated by American know-how. The automatic washer ranks high on the list of great 20th-century technological achievements, along with TV, cars, and space travel. Walk into any appliance showroom and you'll see names such as Maytag, Whirlpool, and Kenmore, companies that are not getting whipped by overseas competition. I swell with patriotic pride each time I slam the lid on another dirty load.

Perhaps someday I'll open my own laundromat, and I will have extra staff members trained to give special attention to young people. Mastering the various cycles of life can be tricky, but once you've got a handle on the wash cycle, the future will look bright.

* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of "It Came With the House," a collection of humorous essays which will be released next month by Catbird Press.

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