Laundry Tips from Truckers

Cochrane, Alberta

I regarded the Willie Nelson-like trucker in the Jubitz laundry room in Portland, Oregon, salt-and-pepper beard, faded jeans and plaid shirt, as a typical driver. Until he thrust his white socks under my nose.

“They look a little dingy,” he said. It must be the breasts that make men think women are not only interested in everything they have to say, but also experts at everything that can be done barefoot, like laundry and dishes.

“What do you suggest?” he asked earnestly.

Laundry Tips from Truckers

Black Beauty getting a good scrubbing at Danny’s in Avondale, Arizona in the Phoenix area. We wash her regularly at the Blue Beacon, which some call the Streakin’ Beacon. But the ideal wash is at Little Sisters in California.

Black Beauty getting a good scrubbing at Danny’s in Avondale, Arizona in the Phoenix area. We wash her regularly at the Blue Beacon, which some call the Streakin’ Beacon. But the ideal wash is at Little Sisters in California.Startled, I blurted out: “Me.”

“I don’t know,” I told him. “I wash everything together. Colors and whites and replace everything every year or so.”

He turned away, lips turned down, disgust barely hidden by the tobacco-tinged beard.

Contrary to popular myth, all truckers are NOT dirty. Some are fastidious — one driver arrived in the shower room at the Ontario TA last week carrying freshly pressed khaki cargo shorts on a hanger, the front crease sharp enough to cut meat and a cotton and silk blend cobalt blue shirt — many are domesticated and prefer their laundry techniques over their wives.

I am a lousy laundry person. My two domestic skills are making dinner when you think you have nothing in the cupboard and squeezing 12 cents from a dime. My mother can squeeze 14 cents. MacGyver gives good laundry. But he takes forever — he is also a good cook, but make sure you eat before you arrive, you’ll be waiting a few hours — part of his consistently maddening everything-can-and-should-be-done-well approach. I prefer stuffing all the laundry into the wash tub and getting on with the day. If I ruin something, and I have ruined many of my favorite clothes, I replace it. It’s a good way to get something new when I can wear the same t-shirt for ten years and it still won’t wear out.

Here is what I have learned about laundry from truck drivers in the past five years on the road.

A 20-something driver in the Schneider Operating Center in Indianapolis, Indiana showed me how to fold a fitted sheet. The “way my mamma taught me,”, he said. He folds the sheet in half, so that one side of the fitted part tucks into the other and the underside is on the outside. This allows the sheet to be laid on the bed and tucked over the top of the bed and pulled back to fit over the opposite end. Once the sheet is folded in half, it can be shaped into a square and folded neatly for storage.

A fellow driver trainee at Schneider Carlyle told us about Dawn dish detergent. Because I had no experience of working around trucks, greasy trucks or really working at anything dirty, although I have snaked a toilet — before trucking my work clothes fell under a designer label — I was covered head-to-toe at the end of every class day in grease. My trucker-designer jacket, a Carhartt, was grease-dotted. Rub the grease spots with Dawn, Scotty said, let it sit overnight and wash as usual. Amazing. Grease gone. Dawn is a truck staple today.

The jury is still out on the tip from the flatbed driver at the TA in Ontario, California because I doubt I will ever try it. He sprayed Formula 409, the household cleaner with toxic fumes, on his rust-stained jeans. He swore by it. Another flatbed driver recommended Engine Starter Fluid for removing grease spots. So far MacGyver manages to keep himself relatively clean while loading. I am thinking we might follow Truckin Ed’s lead and get him loading coveralls.

The best trucker-launderer was at TEC Volvo in Portland, Oregon. Mid-50s, shoulder length gray hair, wearing black jean shorts, t-shirt, quilted vest and the crunchy-granola sets’ favorite Merrell suede moccasins, he was using the free washer and dryer — we did as well AND had a shower, all provided in the driver’s lounge — we traded laundry tips.

Bleach is his favorite sanitizing agent. Remember, he said, hot water destroys the enzymes. Bleach with COLD water. I didn’t know that. I am grateful that Tide invented Pods, the all-in-one cleaning agent.

“I definitely love bleach,” he said. “You can use it on a little chicken when it starts to smell a bit, it cleans it right up.”

Married for 26 years with grown children, he said he domesticated his wife because he was better at cooking and cleaning. His mamma had him washing dishes when he was toddler.

A warning, he said, bleach and Dawn do not go together. Trucker guy says a gas is created when the phosphates in the Dawn react with the bleach.

“Not good,” he told me. “I learned by trial and error.”

Now if I can just stop losing my socks.

6 thoughts on “Laundry Tips from Truckers

  1. This is a GREAT post. Laundry is one of my least favorite things to do and because I wait so long, I wind up having 17 loads to do at one time. Thankfully, most places have those huge industrial machines and I can do everything at once. I don't sort my stuff either, I do it all in the same machine – colors, whites, etc. I only take care with the items I can't replace. Everything else, like you, can be bought new and is often a good excuse TO get something new. I do the bleach in cold water too – my friend Vicki actually washes everything in cold water. I often use hot, especially for sheets and towels.I have been known to spray anything I have available on a stain – Windex, 409, hairspray – sometimes it works, sometimes not. Ed does use the coveralls, which is a help, but on occassion he will get a drop of diesel on something and I have yet to find the way to successfully get that smell out. I've had to throw away clothes with diesel on them. None of the suggestions I've found online seem to work.As for the toxic fumes thing – I learned that when I was in a place with no bathroom (pre-trucking) and had to pee in a bucket. The bucket had bleach water in it and almost immediately, the fumes became so strong I couldn't breathe. It was all I could do to get my pants up and get away from it. That was a pretty harsh way to learn about that little toxic cocktail. I won't be doing that again.As for the sheets – I've eliminated the folding conundrum by not using fitted, we only use flat sheets. And the very best laundry technique of MacGyver's, is his magical way of folding shirts. I still can't get the "twist and snap" technique down.


  2. I'm seeing a trend here. I'm also a female driver and do not sort the laundry. My husband and sons are much more meticulous about laundry than me. I agree with you ladies, if I ruin something, buy a replacement.Maybe that's why the guys are more careful. They want to keep what they have to avoid having to shop.


  3. Great post, I am thinking a 'Good Housekeeping' type special issue for the magazine that also talks about health, beauty, hygiene. Would you be interested in contributing? And would you be wiling to write up a book review of Deadly Spin? I would love to put it in the magazine. Who Stole the American Dream is on my short list. Luisa


  4. Julie, I hate to generalize, but I will anyway. I feel women do so many chores — even in this so-called enlightened era, which is still not very enlightened when it comes to household chores — that they don't have the luxury of time or the inclination to bother with the fussiness. Just wash the stuff already, is the preferred course. Men don't do that many chores, and I think when they do it, they can take more time.


  5. Luisa, Here's all I know about hygiene-on-the-road. One, purchase 50 gallons of fuel to get a free shower. The major truck stop chains all have clean shower rooms. We prefer TA/Petro. The towels are soft and thirsty. I think prisoners might have softer towels than the ones provided at Love's but I always find the shower clean. And truckers tip for the showers.Two, buy Huggies baby wipes in bulk. Since I've been driving five years, here's one more tip. Open a Roth IRA at Vanguard and invest in 100 shares of Vanguard's High Dividend Yield Fund VYM, which holds shares of Kimberly-Clark Corp., the makers of Huggies. The fund has an expense ratio of .10% and a dividend yield of 3.13 %. And every time you're in the sleeper wiping yourself down with 20 Huggies wipes and cursing, you'll know at least you're making money!


  6. “I definitely love bleach,” he said. “You can use it on a little chicken when it starts to smell a bit, it cleans it right up.”Bleaching the chicken? Is that a live one that's getting a little mussy out in the yard or a boneless breast?Me wonders if this dude worked at Food Lion in between trucking stints.PS: I sort, but not maniacally. Putting in a plug for Dark Colors Woolite (or similar brand). Also for hanging up lingerie and as much as I can — saves wear and tear; keeps the shape and doesn't kill the elastic and trim. Could be impractical on a truck.I like that so many products smell good these days. Better living through chemistry, alas.


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