Laundry & Ironing

In France, everything is ironed. Every sweater, every t-shirt, every pair of pajamas. Every dishtowel, every sheet, every tablecloth. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit. Friends, this is a big change for me!

Not that I’m any stranger to ironing — it’s actually a task I enjoy. But in both New York and Colorado, ironing was done more selectively. A special skirt might get ironed, or a particularly wrinkly cotton pillowcase. But in general, t-shirts are not ironed, jeans are not ironed, dishtowels are not ironed.

I think the difference is because of line-drying. There are people with tumble dryers here, but they’re not used very often. Line-drying is the norm. Even in Paris, people keep a clothes horse to dry their laundry.

But line-drying leaves clothes and sheets quite stiff. Running everything under the iron gets out wrinkles and softens the fabric.

How does laundry work in your neck of the woods? Is ironing a part of your every day chores?

P.S. — Honestly, I’d be drowning in ironing without Sharon.

Sharon is English, but she’s lived here for the last 6 years. She’s is amazing! She plays with Baby June for a few hours each day so that I can get my work done. During June’s nap, she helps with laundry and ironing. Or bakes things like Tart Plum Crumble. But that’s not all! Sharon also keeps chickens and ducks and brings us gorgeous eggs, gives us gardening advice, and shares her stash of Interior Design magazines. She’s like Mary Poppins made especially for the Blair Family.

The stack of ironed laundry you see above? That’s all thanks to Sharon.

130 thoughts on “Laundry & Ironing”

  1. Okay, so this is one way that I have so not become French. I must be allergic to ironing because I just can’t. Period. I iron on Sunday mornings, just what we wear to church. My hubby irons his own clothes on a daily basis and the rest? Well, hopefully it makes it into the dryer and if it doesn’t, oh well! Carefully hung clothes usually dry somewhat smooth! But maybe I need to find someone like Sharon!

    1. I hear you, Maria. I think part of my urge to keep things ironed is that when we moved in, every piece of bedding and every kitchen linen was ironed and folded, neat as a pin. I certainly want to respect these well-taken care of belongings and treat them with the same care.

      If it were my own sheets, I might feel more slack about the ironing. : )

      1. Thread-count hardly matters, when you crawl into a bed with ironed sheets! Lovely, although & on a rare day (and I do mean rare), this is a luxury, I’ve picked up from France.

  2. Hi! I love your family!
    Once, when I was single, I love ironing!
    now, with 2 little boy and an husband…I like it less… much less…
    fortunately I’m italian! I love France, Paris, Cote Azur…but I live in Italy! ;)

    1. Hi Cinzia! I know that feeling. I preferred ironing in my single days as well.

      Hopefully, we’ll make it to Italy this summer. It’s not too far!

  3. This is what I was talking about the other day… Your clothes are so cheery and colorful!

    If I took a photo of my ironing, it would be 3/4th black and white.

    Your photo is much more appealing.

    amy @ glass confetti

  4. So France is apparently not the place for me! ;)

    The thought of adding one more step onto the already never-ending task of laundry seems… so… tiring! We iron only when necessary, but like you said, we have tumble dryers here in the states. :)

    1. If it makes you feel any better, it’s not uncommon to repeat outfits for several days in a row (changing underthings, of course). So in theory, there’s less laundry to do. : )

  5. Same thing here in Brazil. Everything is ironed – sheets, towels (they do get stiff when line-dried) and clothes. But the difference is that here maids are quite affordable, so they do this task.
    I do use my drying machine myself very often and usually get questions like ‘are you sure you don´t mind not getting your clothes all ironed?’ Honestly, no.

  6. Thanks so much for writing about Sharon. I think is is enormously important for all women, and especially those women who present the bounty and beauty of their lives to others on the internet, to acknowledge that they employ others to help them. Nicely done.

    1. You’re welcome, Erin. It’s true that I couldn’t do what I do without a lot of help. I think this has been the case for me ever since I had children. When I didn’t have the budget to hire assistance, I would do things like trade childcare with my friends.

      There’s no shame in asking for help!

  7. I rarely iron…A moistened towel and the dryer is my iron. In fact the sweater I am wearing today was “ironed” just like that : ) I do have fond memories of my mother standing at her ironing board with a water spritzer ironing our church clothes…

      1. I’m not sure, but I bet the popularity/wide availabilty of polyester of the 70’s had something to do with it’s downfall. Now there’s also usually some spandex or some other man-made material in the clothes so they don’t require it. As much as I love cotton and natural fabrics, I rarely (and I mean RARELY) buy anything that requires ironing or dry cleaning.

  8. I was just thinking yesterday that for me and I think most of my friends, clothing choice is now determined partly by what doesn’t have to be ironed. I have plenty of clothes I love even given this creiterion. There are too many other interesting things to do in life (and some boring ones that are less avoidable than ironing). I line dry everything, but my everyday clothes don’t need ironing anyway. It is, as you say, just the special skirt that gets an iron. And gets worn less often!

  9. We line dry when possible and have an old fashioned drying pulley in the utility room, and yes I iron most things, not undies socks or towels though. Partly due to the high cost of running driers people try to do without them.

  10. As a child, in the 70’s, I grew up here in the US with everything ironed as well. Things have changes here with modern times though. I do love ironing {because I did it so much as a young girl} but don’t do it much anymore. You are lucky to have great help.

  11. Bri (like the cheese)

    My mom has been on to me to hire a cleaning service so that I don’t have to do so much of that on top of working full-time. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Hiring someone to do all of my laundry so I don’t even have to think about it? Now that is something I would seriously consider!!

    1. “What Would You Hire Out First?” That would be a fun topic for a blog post, Bri!

      I think for me, it would be laundry/ironing first. Dinner prep second. General housekeeping third.

  12. It’s funny, I just started David Lebovitz’ wonderful book, The Sweet Life in Paris, last night and he talks about this same thing. How everything is ironed. EVERYTHING. I don’t even own an iron anymore, gave it up when I had my first and starting staying home. All my husband’s clothes are dry cleaned. But, I’ve been thinking about getting a new iron and ironing board. I really love crisp, beautifully ironed sheets.

  13. Although I have two lovely Aunt Sharons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, I could really use another Sharon, like yours, as well! I love to do laundry, though, and wouldn’t mind the ironing so I would nicely ask her to do things like wash my windows and deep clean my house.

    Hey, maybe your Sharon would like to do an exchange week…you can send her here and I will send you my 17 year-old daughter (but only for a week because I would miss her too much)!

    Love from Lori C.

  14. Well, I don’t think I could move to France anymore. ;) I have a stack of clothes that I haven’t worn in 6 months to a year because they need ironing! It’s so silly because ironing isn’t that bad, it’s just something I don’t get around to much. I’ve decided just face it and only buy clothes that don’t require ironing.

    That said, I don’t think anyone in Colorado would notice if you ironed your clothes. As I’m sure you noticed, we are pretty laid back here! How I love Colorado and un-ironed clothes! :)

  15. Jenn de Jonge

    It’s the same here in Holland. Everything goes under the iron, because so many clothes are dried on the line. I prefer line drying actually, because it cuts down on the energy bill and when the weather is nice, it goes much faster than my tumble dryer. But I can completely agree with it taking up a lot of time; and, unfortunately, I don’t have a Sharon to help me. I’m glad you do though. :)

  16. I hate ironing and I basically told my husband that if he wanted something ironed he really should do it himself. Although, on occasion I do it for something when I want to be dressed really nice (like a job interview or a fancy night out).

    Oh, and on a really weird note…I had a dream last night that I had run into your family and I was so excited to meet the design mom family, so your husband was like, “we will give you a tour of the house.” However, it was a modern house that you were all living in. I find this to be so strange since I don’t even know you…I guess subconsciously I really want to take a trip to France or something?

  17. i live in or close to dusseldorf, germany. i am from houston, texas, and i have been here almost 4 years. we also line dry, you can buy a dryer, but its so tiny here, we have our washer in our kitchen (the norm). so you line dry, but i don’t iron…i think it was more custom in the past here to iron everything. i use softener, but i miss my dryer in the States…our towels are always stiff…i think they also the Europeans think it saves on energy…

  18. Yes, it’s actually really because Europeans know that energy isn’t an endless fountain..not how we get it until now. So we try to use as little of it as possible (smaller cars, line dry, energy saving machines etc.) In some countries electricity is expensive to train people to use it more thoughtful.
    I used to iron a lot when my first child was small. Now with 3 of them I’m the “bad” lady from the neighborhood, that puts lots of he clothes into the dryer (energy saving product though). The neighbors don’t mind. We don’t use fabric softener, a little vinegar and some lovely scent from lavender oil or bergamot does the job as well and is better for the water. I only iron stuff that really needs ironing like men’s shirts, some skirts and I rarely wear blouses. I never line dry towels..they get so stiff.. ugh. With some training it’s possible to fold laundry so it flattens enough by that.
    I love the way you tell us about it and also that you have Sharon takes so much pressure off me as a reader.. (how does she blog so often and take care of it all???) ..even though I actually don’t ever compare or put myself under pressure really by comparison.

  19. I grew up ironing everything before putting it in the wardrobe. My mother started us out ironing handkerchiefs. Now, I rarely iron anything, but this post has made me long for crisp stacked wrinkle-free linen. Oh, I am so enjoying your adventures abroad.

  20. I love laundry horses! I demanded that Mr. Survival pack my two as he followed us home several months later. He thought I was kidding. I considered crying and only ended up pouting for a day.

    I need ‘help’ too.

    “Soon my pretty.” I say to my tired hands. “The laundry is tricksy. But we will win in the end.”

  21. The only French trait I haven’t adopted :) I have my French husband for that! Although I must say, I’ve had to stop him from ironing his underwear because I feel that’s taking it a step too far….

  22. I served my mission in the Philippines and a member would come and do our laundry (by hand) a couple of times a week. They also line dried and ironed EVERYTHING. It bothered me that she even ironed my socks, so I would take them off the line and fold them up and put them away before she got there.

  23. I’m in California, dry my clothes in the dryer, lay them flat when I remember but still iron my little boys t-shirts (mine too) every morning. Not because I love ironing, but because I don’t like wrinkles.

    But I do have to say that when my family lived in the Netherlands for 6 years, my mom always used & would mail us French scented water for ironing. It was part of her Dutch laundry routine and I’ve loved inheriting that tradition! It makes the job so much more pleasant. I hope your Sharon knows that trick.

    http://www.durance.fr/les-produits-durance/les-produits-soin-du-linge.html

  24. Yes here in the U.K. we line dry and iron. I was horrified the first time I stayed with family in the U.S. that they didn’t iron anything ! Love your blog,have been reading for a few weeks now and you are my daily design fix.

  25. Sandra Gonzales

    You seem like a busy woman with projects and family outings/gatherings and despite all of that I get the feeling that you take household responsibilities in stride. How do you do that?
    I feel like I’m constantly overwhelmed.

  26. I only iron natural-fiber shirts or dresses that need it–never t-shirts or jeans or sheets. My husband and teenage son iron their own dress shirts. But I guess I just buy or sew a lot of woven cotton, linen, or silk clothes, and I have a lot of kids, so I still spend far more time ironing than any other western U.S. woman I know. (I did find out one of my cousins irons jeans, which made me feel less alone. Must be genetic.) I think the French just haven’t shifted from how things were done everywhere in the earlier part of the 20th century. But I think in the old days a lot of people did have help. I was just at my step-mom’s mom’s funeral and they talked about how she used to trade voice lessons for ironing.

  27. I hate, hate, hate ironing. I come from a family of crazy ironers (I don’t think that’s a real word).I have lived far from home since I graduated high school and my parents would get so upset when they visited me and I was wearing wrinkly clothes. When I got married and my mom would come to visit she would iron every single item of clothing in my husband’s closet. I finally stopped all the madness and hired someone to come in every two weeks to iron sheets, and other stuff that can’t be worn without ironing. I know it is such a luxury, but it has become a necessity with my 2 girls and son who wear uniforms to school. I am sure that I will have to teach my children to iron someday, but for now I am enjoying an iron free world.

  28. I guess I would fit in well in France! I do iron everything, even with two teenage boys! There is nothing like nicely pressed clothes, and I just can’t put them away without ironing. I love pressed sheets and pillow cases… I would prefer to have someone do it for me, but it is by no means my least favorite chore. My friends tease me about ironing pyjamas, I don’t care – I am proud to wear pressed pyjamas. Downside, I do go through a lot of irons – I love the steam and we have hard water.

    1. Carol,

      I have hard water too and I use distilled water in all my appliances that require water (steam mop, clothes steamer and the iron). The distilled water is free of minerals and costs between .50-$1.00 at the grocery store. I have a gallon on hand in my laundry room and it lasts a while and saves me lots of money in the long run!

  29. I grew up in a quirky household without a dryer, so we ironed gym clothes, sweaters, EVERYTHING. We looked quite eccentric to everyone else, but it is now one of those charming memories of my mom and my childhood.

  30. As I take clothes out of the dryer, I make my ironing pile. I try to iron once a week. I have found that it is much easier to get my family out of the door and be on time if everything has been previously ironed. I hate being late. It stresses me out and make me short tempered. My friends think it is neurotic, but I think it’s one of those things that makes our family run smoother. I say whatever works for you.

  31. There is a cottage industry of ironers in Paris. My friends, who both have creative jobs and a limited budget, have both a cleaner *and* a separate person to come do the ironing. And I will say that my friend always looks perfectly pressed. My other friend is Scottish and married to a frenchman and she was shocked to learn after their marriage that he expected to have ironed sheets.

    Personally, I love the look of ironed clothes, but do not own that many that require it as I am still not back to my pre-partum (is that a phrase?) size; actually, if you have any tips on that topic, please post them!

    All best,

    Jennifer

  32. Oh how a wish I had a Sharon!! Your Sharon to be specific! ;D
    I loathe ironing. I iron when sewing (pressing seams) otherwise only when necessary. My husband wears long sleeved button down shirts every single day. He always looks pristine in his pressed shirts that … I take to the laudry dirty and pick up all clean and pressed! I can’t believe I’m admitting that I pay to have his shirts laundered. Now me … I wear mine straight out of the dryer! LOL

  33. Two of my daughters were exchange students. One in Belgium and the other in France. They both remarked that their families ironed socks! My husband irons all of his shirts every month or so. He is retired so he does’t have dress shirts anymore.

  34. You surely know how to make ironing look like a thing of beauty! Love the picture. I must admit that I’m not really into ironing. Thankfully, my husband — who is in the military — has had a lot of practice ironing his uniforms. So, I pass on special items that need ironing to him. :)

  35. We iron everything we wear (on the outside-not undies,etc). Each morning, it is part of our dressing routine. My husband and I pick out our outfit for the day and then take turns at the ironing board, each doing our own items. If one is in a particular hurry, we help each other out. Jeans, t-shirts, sweaters – nothing is left out. But we don’t iron sheets (but, Gosh I would love to sleep on ironed sheets-what a wonderful idea). And my toddler son’s clothes are only ironed when there is a particularly stubborn collar or hem. I don’t think of ironing as chore, but more as a dressing routine, such as drying my hair, putting on shoes,etc

  36. Aha! So you do have help! ;) I always wonder how you get so much done with so many children! (I’m not sure how my mom did it either…)
    I think it’s really neat that everyone in France line-dries. Imagine if everyone did that…wow. I’m pretty commited to line-drying myself. In the winter I have a clothesline hung in my son’s room and now that spring is officially here I get to use the clothesline outside again. Yay!

  37. I should live in France! (But I live in Lexington, Kentucky, where most people only iron the things they wear to work, church, or out to a social event. ) I iron my jeans, my t-shirts, my pajamas…mostly all my clothes. If I don’t iron it (i.e. my husband’s boxer shorts), I take it directly from a hot dryer, smooth the wrinkles and fold/hang it promptly. I hate wrinkles. Also, I do not have children, so the only ironing I do is for me and my husband. And…my husband takes all of his work shirts and suits to the dry cleaners, so that cuts out a lot of clothes. I cannot imagine ironing for 6 more people. I’d probably give up or ask my housekeeper to help.

    I also iron my sheets and pillowcases, but not dishtowels, unless of course it might be one that is decorative and hanging on my stove. A friend once staying at my house pulled back the comforter and laughed! “You iron your sheets?? I can’t believe you iron the sheets.” I know it is silly to most people, but I love climbing into bed on crisp sheets and for guests it seems like such a nice thing to do for them. I like making them feel like they are staying in a really comfortable, clean environment when they come to stay.

    Also, when I got married, I used a gift card we received to buy a really nice, heavy iron and it makes all the difference.

  38. I hate ironing but I love cotton clothing, so it’s a must. You can’t beat that clean, crisp feeling when you put on nicely ironed clothes. I try to get it all done in one shot, to avoid having to iron daily.

  39. oh the ironing! my husband is irish and his whole family lives over there, and the ironing is the same (and for the same line-drying reasons). we always laugh at my (very sweet) mother in law ironing each little baby sock and onesie and everything!! she just can’t NOT iron it. i make the choice easy- i don’t own an iron! luckily my husband has live in america long enough to get used to not climbing into a bed with freshly ironed sheets.

  40. I iron as little as I can. I use my steam dryer a lot. My Mother is from Germany and she ironed everything when I was little before she got a dryer. She even ironed my father’s boxers, ha. She stills takes things out of the dryer a bit damp and irons them.

  41. I have to tell you a funny story…
    I pulled out the iron a few weeks ago to iron a knee patch on a pair of play jeans. My 8 year old son asked, “what’s that mom?” I kid you not. I selectively purchase clothing that does not need dry cleaning or ironing. Luckily, my husband does not need dress clothes for his job, and I’m currently at home with the kids. Since we have allergies, the allergist recommended we use the dryer instead of the line outside. (Lots of pollen settling in a river valley area.) I do miss the smell of clean sheets fresh off the line…

  42. This is a great post…I am French and I have never used a dryer. It’s been line drying forever and I can’t stand ironing, unlike my mother, lol! I do have some help in my home and she does one hour of ironing per week (mainly hus and kids shirts and dresses and sheets). I do love the feel of ironed sheets though…

  43. I love ironing when I find time to do it!!! But I do have a great solution for your ‘stiff’ line dried washing!!! Here in New Zealand we dry our clothes on the line outside too!!! To soften the clothes I put in half a cup of vinegar and a few drops of my favourite essential oil (usually lavender). This is a great more natural alternative to store bought fabric softener and it really does work!!!

    I lived in England for many years and had to have all my washing draped around our apartment to dry. I wouldn’t go back to that for anything – there is nothing better than the smell of clean fresh washing off the line!!!

    I love reading about your adventure in France – an overseas experience will change you for the rest of your life and in such an amazing way!!

  44. Bummer! I don’t iron either. I steam clothes or put them back in the dryer. I guess I’ll have no choice but to adapt to the French way of doing things…two and a half weeks until we leave. Can hardly wait!

  45. I have more questions about your clothes in France. I wouldn’t mind ironing everything if my piles weren’t so monster like. I’m staring to question whether my kids have too many clothes. So many of my friends from other countries have fewer clothes (but nicer quality) and wear them more frequently. With 7 little ones under 11 & under I’m considering a super simple summer of 5 outfits a piece in addition to 2 church options. Any thoughts?

  46. I try to line dry when the weather cooperates. A few years ago I gave up on socks and undies – it just takes too much time and space on the line to hang all that up, as I’m melting in the heat. So I’m greatly lessening the amount I use my dryer. I rarely iron – but I luck out some with the line drying because we have quite a bit of wind, which helps soften things up. Unless it goes wild – and then you’re running around trying to catch your clothes!
    If I was in France I think the ironing tradition is one I might just pass up. Do you think anyone would notice if you just didn’t iron?

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