the short list, and a science experiment

Before I move on to the science experiment, let me share a short list of things that have happened/are happening around here:

A laundry room in the midst of renovations
Old kitchen cabinets torn out
A little trip to the ER via ambulance (don't worry, everyone is fine!)
A goose that drowned in her own drinking water
A lot of cold temperatures resulting in a frozen outdoor hydrant, meaning I have to haul water for animals
Major decluttering, donating, and disposing

Need I say more to explain my absence?

Now for the fun science part. A few months ago my mom forwarded me an email from some group she belongs to:


Re: Laundry soap/food grease stains.

If you have hard water and a septic system do not use powdered detergent anymore. The minerals in the water do not allow the new style detergent to dissolve. Our septic backed up in Feb. And the Septic Pumper showed us a "rock" of undissolved detergent that was forming at the mouth of the outlet. He said it's becoming very common to see and it's messing up septic systems.

While this sounded fairly plausible to me, it also sounds like a load of hooey (fitting, coming from a plumber). I've washed enough loads of laundry over the last 15 years to know that if you have something in your wash that doesn't dissolve, it doesn't completely rinse away, especially when we're talking something with small particles like detergent. Have you ever washed a load of clothes or towels from the beach, only to open your dryer and have a bunch of sand fall out?

I set off the debunk this theory. I had regular Tide (not even the HE version, just regular, original, powdered Tide bought a couple of months before at Costco in a giant box, so it was fresh and new.) I got out some clear plastic cups, some measuring spoons and the distilled water. I have the hardest water on the planet, so I knew this experiment would be valid with my tap water against distilled water. I filled four cups; one with hot tap water, one with hot distilled water (heated in the microwave to approximately the same temp, I didn't use a thermometer because this is my experiment, I'll do it how I please), one with cold tap, and one with cold distilled water.

I used a measuring spoon to put the same amount of laundry detergent in each one, then stirred. I waited a few minutes, stirred some more, and compared how much detergent was undissolved. Then I added more detergent and did it again. Basically what I found was that it didn't matter what type of water or what its temperature was, but after 20 minutes, all the detergent dissolved in all the water. Naturally, the hot water dissolved the detergent faster than the cold water, but all dissolved. I did some rough math, estimating the amount of detergent that goes into a load of laundry, plus the gallons of water used per load, and I figured that the concentration of detergent in my experiment was much higher than the concentration used in a batch of laundry. All loads of laundry run longer than my experiment did, so there would be plenty of time for the detergent to dissolve.

Maybe this lady was using too much detergent. Maybe there's something else going on with her plumbing. I've seen inside the drain lines of my washer, so I'm confident I don't have a problem.

The short story? I'm not going to switch away from powdered detergents. The photographic evidence is here.