The thermostat in our house is set to a constant 50 degrees in the winter. As I type this I am wearing the new Carhartt hooded jacket that my brother game me, which is surprisingly warm considering how free it was. And why am I doing this? Because it costs me $525 to fill my oil tank but it doesn’t cost a dime to put on freakin’ sweater. And gloves. Hat. Goddammit is the coffee hot yet?!?
I don’t know about you, but this family, during the week anyway, spends very little time at home and awake. For the kids: 5 hours, for Sara and I: 6 to 7, give or take. Most of the day we’re all at work or school and I’ve yet to hear a good argument for keeping the house any warmer during those hours than is necessary to keep the pipes from freezing. And when we’re sleeping, it’s the same deal. No really, why are you paying to heat an entire house while you sleep? Is a warm toilet seat at 2AM really worth that much? Instead, we pay to heat our beds. Last year we bought electric blankets for both of the girls. Our electric blanket… that’s another story.
Our electric blanket was a gift from one of Sara’s friends. It had been in storage in an attic or barn loft or something since the last OPEC oil embargo. I don’t normally take issue with electric blankets that have been stored in barns, but this one was stored with mothballs. Mothballs, the 50’s era’s repugnant odor of choice. Nine out of ten housewives at the time preferred it. Supposedly, ten out of ten moths did not. And by the way… what’s all this nonsense about moths being public enemy number one of stored clothing and linen? How about mold? Mice? Fashion trends? Admit it, if you’re planning on storing something for so long that you’re preparing them for burial like a dead Egyptian body, you won’t be caught dead wearing it by the time it’s un-tombed.
I still don’t believe that mothballs were wrapped up inside this blanket. No, this blanket was hermetically sealed inside a drum full of mothballs. When it was opened, every living thing in the immediate area and three miles downwind died, including the person who opened it. When it was re-discovered years later by the current property owners, the dessicated corpse was mistaken for a department store mannequin and was sold at a yard sale for $10. The electric blanket was mistaken for something that anyone would want and was offered to my wife. When she picked it up, the locals slowly walked out and stood by the sides of the road and watched as she drove off with it. Creeeeepy.
When I took the blanket out of the bag it was in, and after I’d spent 2 minutes at the emergency eye wash station that I’m so glad I installed in the living room, I started looking online for some home (or industrial) remedies that would remove the smell of mothballs from fabric. I found quite a bit. Unfortunately very little of it said anything about how to remove the smell and most of it was cries for help from those plagued by it, ranging from “I just can’t seem to get the smell out of my grandmother’s favorite doily” to “My husband poured mothballs all over in the attic to get rid of squirrels and… oh god! They’re coming out of the walls! THEY’RE COMING OUT OF THE GODDAMN WALLS!!!”
I did manage to find one post to a no-name forum somewhere that mentioned one and only one thing that has ever been successful in removing that smell from clothes: old fashioned laundry detergent. The stuff they used when washing machines still had wringers attached to them. When you didn’t pamper your clothes, you punished them for being dirty. Before product names like Woolite and Gain when we had BORAXO and Tide with DDT. Sadly, products that powerful also had a tendency to leave your clothes glowing slightly and cause a Geiger counter to tick when in the same room. And anyway, their use was banned by treaty 30 years ago.
I still made an attempt to wash the smell out of the blanket. Because I’m belligerent. Three consecutive runs through the washer with the most powerful thing I had on hand: bleach. The result: a wet blanket that smells like mothballs and bleach. No, apparently the only thing that will remove the naphthalene stench of mothballs is time. Time and lots of fresh air. But I’m an American, and if I can have a pizza delivered hot and ready to my door in 30 minutes or less then I can certainly have an electric blanket that smells like nothing in some… short… ish… amount of time.
In the end we solved the problem by taking advantage of the blanket’s evolutionary advantages: enough UL unapproved wiring and power draw to cook a 20 pound turkey in 4 hours. We put that blanket on the bed, plugged it in, cranked it to 11 and baked the mothball reek out of it. It only took 3 weeks. Coincidentally, that’s exactly the same amount of time it took for the cat to stop his flying around the house on that rocket surfboard with the 70’s style multicolored exhaust.