Isolation diary: Doing the ironing

A few weeks ago I was standing at the ironing board thinking “Why?”

Yes, why do we iron things? According to this history of ironing, the Chinese were doing it over 2000 years ago, using pans filled with hot water. Proper irons – made of the metal – were first use in the 17th century. The electric iron was invented in the 1880s and the steam iron in the 1920s. According to Wikipedia:

In the case of cotton fibres, which are derivatives of cellulose, the hydroxyl groups that crosslink the cellulose polymer chains are reformed at high temperatures, and become somewhat “locked in place” upon cooling the item.

So that is when and how, but it still doesn’t explain why.

I do remember once calling in on a neighbour and finding her busy ironing underpants and J-cloths. My little quirk is to iron pillowcases. I don’t bother with sheets and duvet covers, but I rather like the sensation of lying down on a newly washed and ironed pillowcase. I also iron some of my smarter tops and trousers. Maybe between us we have found the reasons. Ironing gives a sense of control over a chaotic world, it makes some items feel better against the skin, and it gives the impression that we care about our appearance. And that’s about it.

After that epiphany, I decided that I would do no more ironing while in isolation. Of course, I have been slobbing around for most of the time in casual things, most of which I don’t usually iron anyway.

However, the warmer weather offers some challenges, because I do like to wear linen clothes. They crease as soon as I put them on, and indeed the creasing is part of their charm, so ironing really does seem a bit unnecessary. From now on I am going to hang up all linen items up as soon as they come out of the washing machine or dryer and go with the flow.

There is always extreme ironing to fall back on if I suffer withdrawal symptoms.




Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Anyone who could invent a machine that irons automatically would make a fortune.

  • When I was a PPC I was asked by a national daily what would be the first thing I would do if elected, expecting no doubt that I would come up with some worthy response.

    I said ” Pay someone to do my ironing”. Cue phone calls from ladies in my ward offering to take it on.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd May '20 - 10:55pm

    The quality of my life dramatically improved when I gave up ironing some years ago. I think that my experience was tainted by the fact that I had to do all the ironing for a family of 4 from the age of 12 and it put me off.

    But these days the fabrics we use make it easier to get away with it. I can’t imagine my school shirts would have looked great unironed. My son’s were fine, though.

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