Laundry History

How it was done throughout laundry history

When I was a kid, growing up in a remote island, laundry care was a whole day chore. I had to wake up early in the morning and start getting ready for a whole day event. Washing the laundry with my mother in the stream was exciting for me. Why not?  I would be able to play and swim with my friends in the stream, and get away from other chores around the house like ironing, cleaning, and cooking.

After segregating the clothes, my mother would soak the white garments in a metal tub under the sun while washing the colored clothing first. Using a bar of soap, she would scrub the clothes into a corrugated washboard, then she would give it to me for "batting". Using a bat with a flat surface, I would place the clothes on a large flat stone and bat them out 'till the dirt and stains were gone. I would then rinse it out and spread it flat on top of large stones or tall bushes to dry.

I thought that's how laundry was done everywhere. After moving to the city, it made me realize that there are newfangled ways of doing laundry. It made me wonder if we were  the only one's doing laundry in the streams, and so I did my own research. Here's a little bit of history about how they done the laundry in the olden days.

Washing in the river

What went on before? How did people wash clothes without the factory made equipment and cleaning products in the 19th century?

Unlike the method used today, washing clothes in the river was a normal way of doing laundry back in the 19th century. Even though washing dirty clothes and linen in the rivers and streams are not completely uncommon in today's world, especially in the less-developed parts of the world, but the techniques used in the old days were very different.

washing-in-the-river

Wash-bat and board

Wash-bat or also known as "beetle" in the early days was a common tool used to beat stains out of the garments. It was also used for smoothing dry clothes. Before beetles, women used two other techniques for shifting dirt; slapping the clothes or trampling with bare feet. Later on, came the "trailblazing" kind of washboard with ridged metal in a wooden frame. As more people attained access to water, they did not have to take a trip to the river anymore.

Bucking

What is bucking? Bucking is a process of soaking materials in lye,as  it aimed to whiten and cleanse and is important in tackling white and off-white garments and linen. Ashes and urine, "Wait! What? Urine!!? Eww...!!!!!!" Yes, you read that right. Ashes and urine were the two main important substances in mixing a good lye. Ammonia in urine helped to keep the fabric white and help remove stain, and lye acted as a good de-greaser.

Soap made from ash lye and animal fat were used by laundresses to wash the garments of their affluent employer. Soap was rarely used by impecunious people in medieval times as they reserved it for a rough stain and for their finer clothing.

Bleaching and drying history

The Great Grand Wash, "they who wash on Monday have all week to dry". Irregular spring cleaning of laundry were housekeeping routines set in stone with the idea that Monday should be wash-day, so that everything could be dried, pressed, aired and folded well before Sunday, the day of rest and clean clothes.

Bleaching clothes is similar process to bucking. Aside from urine, lemon juice and sunshine were the most effective methods used for bleaching fabrics. After bucking, beetling and wringing garments and linen, laundresses would put it on the pastures under the sun to bleach.

Textile waivers, as well as mansions and towns, had an area of mown grass called "drying green" as their bleaching area. Every now and then, clothes were sprinkled with water and lye mixture to extend the length of the time for bleaching in the sun.

Throughout laundry history, on numerous occasions, both washing and drying were group activities and in some parts of European villages. Especially the warmer parts, cities provide communal laundry spaces with water supply.

Ancient people also dried their laundry by spreading them on the bushes. At times, larger houses had an indoor clothesline and a wooden drying structures to dry clothes in poor weather. Clothesline and bigger wooden structures outdoor only seen around 16th century, and clothespin are rare before the 18th century.

History of Washing Machine

In the 18th century wealthy families owned a box mangle which wound the wet items around the rollers. Then heavy box rolled over the garments to strain the water out.This made it easier to dry their laundry.

The first washing machine consisted of a cage with wooden rods and a handle for turning was designed by H. Sidgier of Great Britain in 1782. From this design, different companies started producing hand operated machines that used paddles and dollies. Then James King came with revolving drum in 1851. He was soon followed by Hamilton Smith in 1858, a revolving drum with reversing action. These washing machines imitated the motion of the human hand on the washboard.

The first electric washers, in which the motor rotated the tub, were introduced in America about 1900. The motor was not protected beneath the machine and water often dripped into it causing short-circuits and jolting shocks. By 1911 domestic washing machine with sheet metal tubs mounted on angle iron frames with perforated metal or wooden slat cylinders inside were offered in the market.

The agitator machines with copper tub were first produced by Beatty Brothers of Fergus and were adopted by Maytag. Starting in 1920's copper tub was replaced with enamel sheet metal. Washing machine with built-in gas or electric water-heater was also offered in the market. Fitting of a clock timing device which allowed the machine to be set to operate for a predetermined wash cycle was the next development of the washing machine. The operator no longer needed to constantly monitor its action.

In the early 1950's, many American manufacturers were supplying machines with a spin-dry features to replace the wringer. G.E introduced a washing machine equipped with 5 push buttons to control wash temperature, rinse temperature, agitation speed, and spin speed.

Today's Laundry

In today's world, as new technology and developments arise more and more washing machines and dryers are available in the market.

Not bad for evolving washing, don’t you think? Now you can do your laundry at the comfort of your own home. Nowadays, laundry shops are everywhere, you can either do your laundry in the self service laundry shops or use an exceptional service of your trusted laundry shop like Soak N Relax Laundry. Imagine, from going to rivers, or stream to just drop your laundry to us. Spend your quality time with your loved ones, because at Soak N Relax, it's how laundry is done.

Did you like this laundry history? Feel free to like it and eave us comment below.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the interesting article. Loved the pictures and I hadn’t heard of “Bucking” before. Thanks!

    1. Hi Sandra, I’m glad that you found this article useful. Thanks for stopping by.

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