Doing the Laundry

From A Treatise on Domestic Economy, by Catherine Esther Beecher, 1845

To do laundry you needed plenty of water. If your water was hard, you'd add lye or soda to it, but not too much, or you'd injure your hands and the clothes. You'd also need an assortment of tubs, a large wooden dipper (metal ones were apt to rust), 2 or 3 pails, a wash board, a clothes line, a wash stick to move clothes around in the tub while boiling, and a wooden fork to take them out.
Soap dishes, made to hook on the tubs saved soap and time.
You'd need a clothes bag, in which you boiled clothes, an indigo bag made of double flannel, a linen starch strainer, starch (which you made yourself), clothespins (described as cleft sticks), a bottle of dissolved gum Arabic,
two clothes baskets, and a brass or copper kettle, for boiling clothes, as iron tended to rust.
Catherine Beecher suggested a laundry storage closet, six feet high, three feet deep, and four feet wide, with a lock and key, in which to keep all your paraphernalia. To quote her, If the mistress of the family requests the washerwoman to notify her, when she is through, and then ascertains if all these articles are put in their places, it (the lock and key) will prove useful.

Victorians never trusted the help, everything was kept under lock and key.

She also noted that: Tubs, pails, and all hooped wooden ware, should be kept out of the sun, and in a cool place, or they will fall to pieces.

To start:
Assort the clothes, and put them in soak, the night before. Never pour
hot water on them, as it sets the dirt. In assorting clothes, put the
flannels in one lot, the colored clothes in another, the coarse white
ones in a third, and the fine clothes in a fourth lot. Wash the fine
clothes in one tub of suds; and throw them, when wrung, into another.
Then wash them, in the second suds, turning them wrong side out. Put
them in the boiling-bag, and boil them in strong suds, for half an hour,
and not much more. Move them, while boiling, with the clothes-stick.
Take them out of the boiling-bag, and put them into a tub of water, and
rub the dirtiest places, again, if need be. Throw them into the rinsing-water, and then wring them out, and put them into the blueing-water.

Put the articles to be stiffened, into a clothes-basket, by themselves, and, just before hanging out, dip them in starch, clapping it in, so as to have them equally stiff, in all parts.
Hang white clothes in the sun, and colored ones, (wrong side out,) in the
shade. Fasten them with clothes-pins.

Then wash the coarser white articles, in the same manner. Then wash the colored clothes. These must not be soaked, nor have lye or soda put in the water, and they ought not to lie wet long before hanging out, as it injures their colors.
Beef's-gall, (*prepared from the bile from a cow's gall bladder) one spoonful to two pailfuls of suds, improves calicoes.
Lastly, wash the flannels, in suds as hot as the hand can bear. Never
rub on soap, as this shrinks them in spots. Wring them out of the first
suds, and throw them into another tub of hot suds, turning them wrong
side out. Then throw them into hot blueing-water. Do not put blueing
into suds, as it makes specks in the flannel. Never leave flannels long
in water, nor put them in cold or lukewarm water. Before hanging them
out, shake and stretch them.
Some housekeepers have a close closet, made with slats across the top. On these slats, they put their flannels, when ready to hang out, and then burn brimstone under them, for ten minutes. It is but little trouble, and keeps the flannels as white as new.
Wash the colored flannels, and hose, after the white, adding more hot water.
Some persons dry woollen hose on stocking-boards, shaped like a foot and
leg, with strings to tie them on the line. This keeps them from shrinking, and makes them look better than if ironed. It is also less work, than to iron them properly.

Bedding should be washed in long days, and in hot weather. Pound
blankets in two different tubs or barrels of hot suds, first well mixing
the soap and water. Rinse in hot suds; and, after wringing, let two
persons shake them thoroughly, and then hang them out. If not dry, at
night, fold them, and hang them out the next morning. Bedquilts should
be pounded in warm suds; and, after rinsing, be wrung as dry as
possible. Bolsters and pillows can be pounded in hot suds, without
taking out the feathers, rinsing them in fair water. It is usually best,
however, for nice feathers, to take them out, wash them, and dry them on
a garret floor. Cotton comforters should have the cases taken off and
washed. Wash bedticks, after the feathers are removed, like other
things. Empty straw beds once a year.


To Cleanse Gentlemen's Broadcloths (Suits- before there were dry cleaners in every neighborhood)

The common mode, is, to shake, and brush the articles, and rip out linings and pockets; then to wash them in strong suds, adding a teacupful of lye, using white soap for light cloth; rolling and then pressing, instead of wringing, them; when dry, sprinkling them, and letting them lie all night; and ironing on the wrong side, or with a thin dark cloth over the article, until perfectly dry.
But a far better way, which the writer has repeatedly tried, with unfailing success, is the following: Take one beef's-gall, half a pound of salæratus (bicarbonate of soda), and four gallons of warm water. Lay the article on a table, and scour it thoroughly, in every part, with a clothes-brush, dipped in this mixture. The collar of a coat, and the grease-spots, (previously marked by stitches of white thread,) must be repeatedly brushed. Then, take the article, and rinse it up and down in the mixture. Then, rinse it up and down in a tub of soft cold water.
Then, without wringing or pressing, hang it to drain and dry. Fasten a
coat up by the collar. When perfectly dry, it is sometimes the case,
with coats, that nothing more is needed. In other cases, it is necessary
to dampen the parts, which look wrinkled, with a sponge, and either pull
them smooth, with the fingers, or press them with an iron, having a
piece of bombazine, or thin woollen cloth, between the iron and the
article.

Practical Housekeeping, by Estelle Woods Wilcox, published in 1887, (40 years later) gives pretty much the same instructions on doing laundry.

If you'd like to delve further into the Victorian laundering process, read Miss Beecher's book.

1 comment:

Me! said...

Great site, thanks so much!