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Meet the Masters of a New Universe : Trends: Men, it seems, are not immune from the pleasures of laundry. They, too, have discovered the spiritual benefits of sorting, washing and folding.

November 18, 1994|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a world of cheap pleasures, it is among the cheapest. Certainly, it is the cleanest.

From the fluttery anticipation of the pre-wash to the peaceful smoothing of soft, warm wrinkles, the rituals of laundry can be enormously satisfying.

What other task in life offers such immediate and gratifying results? Dingy is made bright. Sour is made sweet. Chaos is ordered--or at least sorted out by color.

Forget missing socks and sweaters that shrink. If taken seriously, laundry need not be drudgery. It can be spiritual, indulgent, even personally empowering--in a '90s unisex dual-career sort of way.

Is it any wonder then that more men are doing it--and loving it?

Although women still do the bulk of the nation's wash--20 million women do laundry every day of the year compared to only 8 million men--the 1994 Wisk Cleaning Census shows men are beginning to close the gap.

But it is the attitude men bring to the laundry room that most distinguishes washermen from washerwomen.

The survey found that men were more likely to relax while doing laundry by taking breaks "to nap or cuddle up with someone you love." Women were more likely to pass the time cooking, cleaning or ironing.

In a day when domesticity has never been less fashionable for women, the survey suggests that it may just be coming into vogue for men.

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Ask Bernie Roswig about why he does the household laundry and the Los Angeles public relations executive swells with pride. "I just have a feeling I do it better than anybody I know."

(Although he rarely speaks of it publicly, Roswig, 52, also derives special pleasure from pulling the lint off the dryer filter. "I always hope there's a lot of lint there so I can peel it off all in one big piece. If there's any one part of the laundry process I look forward to, it would definitely be that.")

As a child, the New York-born Roswig looked forward to helping his mother bring the laundry in off the clothesline. "We lived in the snow belt but we always had clean clothes and they really were clean--outdoors clean, sunshine fresh."

Roswig takes his laundry seriously and, like 32% of the men and 27% of the women in Lever Brothers' survey, he blames himself if something goes wrong.

"I'm not obsessive," Roswig says, "but I do get aggrieved when I cannot remove all the stains. So far, I've been fortunate in that I've never had anything really ugly happen."

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That men can care deeply about laundry comes as no surprise to behavior experts. Several years ago, a landmark study by French social scientist Jean-Claude Kaufmann found that while men may dislike discussing the topic, they have very strong feelings about clean clothes--and missing socks.

One couple interviewed by Kaufmann disagreed violently over the temperature that should be used for washing the family's clothes. He believed in hot, she in tepid.

"He let her do the wash, fold, and iron. Then he would sort his clothes out and put them straight back into the machine at high temperature," according to a British report on the Kaufmann study. The couple's future together, the scientist reported, was "distinctly uncertain."

Such soap operas are unknown in the suburban Chicago home of Pat and Dennis Arkis.

When the hulking amateur weightlifter, former Navy SEAL and retired police officer proposed to Pat, it was with one caveat: "I told her no way could she ever touch the wash. The laundry is my domain."

That strict division of labor has made for a very happy marriage, say the Arkises, even when Dennis was doing the entire wash for the family of six.

"Women's work? No way," he says. "So far as my masculinity is concerned, I've heard some talk but this is something I take pride in. No way am I going to apologize to anybody for doing the laundry."

Arkis, 50, spends his "down time" in the basement laundry room working out. "I have a mini-gym there by the washer and dryer. I'll throw my laundry in, then go and push weights till it's done."

Arkis' routine washes with recent findings that men experience the laundry process differently--and in some ways, more positively--that women do.

And, according to Lever Brothers pollsters, men seem to be doing more laundry than ever. Of 1,035 adults surveyed, 38% of men report spending four or more hours a week laundering, compared to 57% of women.

And while commercials rarely show men doing the laundry, nearly one-fifth of American males are washing at least seven loads a week, according to the survey.

"The image of men as laundry-impaired is losing its viability," says Lever Brothers spokesman Kenneth Hooper. "In some cases, our study found, men were far more savvy than women about getting out stains. Twenty-seven percent of men surveyed, for example, know clothes with perspiration stains are best washed in hot water. Only 19% of women knew that."

Victor Gomez knew that. "With sports and all, I'm used to cleaning a lot of sweaty stuff," says the 23-year-old Cerritos College student.

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