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My mother was a crack ironer. My mother-in-law could have a man's dress shirt pressed in four minutes. She ironed sheets, undershirts, even underwear, watching cooking shows as she pressed away. My friend Shawn, always neat and pressed herself, once told me, "My daughter has never left the house in something that hasn't been ironed. I love ironing. It's very relaxing."

Me, I always managed to get by with a little help from the dry cleaner or a skilled use of the "wrinkle release" setting on my dryer. But the dry-cleaning budget has been shrinking, and the dryer still leaves my wardrobe with a rumpled edge -- anyone can see I'm faking it. I decided it was high time I learned the womanly art of ironing.

Good old Bernice took pity on me and suggested I try scented ironing waters to give my efforts a dusting of "aromatherapy and time for myself." Off I went, stopping first at Lavish in Mission Hills (619-574-9000). Lavish, which is owned by sisters Carly and Jill Hansen, sells aromatic botanical products. "The whole line is based on botanical ingredients," explained Carly. "We don't use any synthetic perfumes to scent products; it's all pure essential oils. The oils help topically and internally," she claimed. "They enter your system and help kill viruses and bacteria."

When I asked about blissful ironing aromas, she guided me to the Room and Linen Freshener ($13.50 for 6 oz.). "This is a water-based freshener; you can spray it over your sheets and linens. After ironing, you can mist it on clothes; it's perfectly safe for fabrics. We carry Summer Fruit, a bright, uplifting scent; Alpine Fresh, which has pine and mint; and French Bouquet, which has lavender, frankincense, and orange. The lavender and frankincense have calming properties, so they're great for bed linens."

I bought some French Bouquet and strolled around the corner to California Fleurish (619-291-4755). President Josephine Kozul suggested I try her refresher oils: Lavender, Pacific Woods, Lemongrass, and Black Citrus ($14.50 for 1 oz.). "The lavender is all-purpose," she noted. "I use it for my entire house. For ironing, take a little spray bottle, add a few drops, and shake it. Let it sit for about an hour, so that the oil really infuses the water. You can spray it on whatever you're ironing, and that will infuse the scent. But make sure you only mix as much as you're going to use; when you mix oil and water and let it sit forever, things can start to grow."

Besides ironing, "you can put a few drops on a cleaning cloth or a paper towel and toss it in the dryer; everything comes out fresher. You can put a few drops in the vacuum cleaner filter -- even a HEPA filter. A drop in your kitchen drains will help absorb odors -- natural fragrances absorb odors instead of masking them. If you have odors in your carpets -- especially from dogs -- you can mix the oil with baking powder, spread it on the carpet, let it stand for 15 minutes, and vacuum it up. Another thing to do is put a couple of drops on some tissues and put one in every wastebasket in your house."

With the lavender oil tucked into my bag, I popped into two more shops: Maison en Provence (619-298-5318), just a block away, and Ye Olde Soap Shoppe (619-543-1300) in Old Town. Both carried ironing water; two were designed to go directly into the iron, and one was meant for spraying on while ironing. That night, I headed over to Shawn's to get the expert's appraisal.

"A dry iron is worthless," said Shawn as she poured the Eau de Linge (lavender water, $14.99 for 33.8 oz. at Maison de Provence) into the iron's reservoir. "Having steam is incredibly important. I've used $300 irons, $100 irons, and $20 irons, and if a $20 iron has water, it works just fine." As she set to work ridding a peach cotton dress of wrinkles, a light lavender smell wafted into the air. Our second in-iron water, Verbena Linen ($12.95 for 33.8 oz. at Ye Olde Soap Shoppe), didn't fare as well. "The smell is lovely," said Shawn. "It reminds me of my Nanna; she worked at an ironing factory during World War II. But the water is making the steam button stick, and the iron isn't steaming very well." As she kept at it, what seemed like a tinge of alcohol singed our nostrils, and we noticed a residue on the bottom of the iron. We were happier with the Thymes Mandarin Coriander Ironing Water ($12.95 for 15.6 oz. at Ye Olde Soap Shoppe). The smell was a bit heavy, and the spray bottle's trigger was a big sticky, but the finished dress was crisp.

Next we tried Lavish's French Bouquet. The scent, rich and complex, wasn't overpowering. Instead, it perked up our sniffers. "It's the best scent so far," said Shawn, "but it's really best for misting sheets on a bed. The mister won't get the sheets too damp, but it takes several pumps to get enough moisture for ironing. If I have a really persnickety fabric, it won't be enough."

We finished up with California Fleurish's all-purpose lavender oil. At evening's start, I'd put three drops in a $.99 squirt bottle from Target. Now, I shook and squirted. Shawn was thrilled. "The smell is divine; it really infuses the clothes. And the spray bottle puts out the perfect amount of liquid; it really makes the fabric lay down and behave. This is the best combination: regular tap water in the iron and lavender oil-infused water in the spray bottle." I couldn't help but notice that it was also the most economical -- at a few drops per use, Kozul estimated that one bottle might last six months

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