When you think of historical facts, laundry probably is one of the last things that you would consider, but there is some history behind today’s laundry habits. I thought that you might find some of these tidbits interesting.
In the medieval times women beat cloth with a stick in the river, or lake. You’ve probably seen pictures of this in books and movies. This habit continued in some areas through the 19th century. The idea is that beating clothes with a stick or paddle would get the dirt out.
The use of soaps in laundering clothing did not make an appearance until later. Soap simply was not available to the general public until the 18th century. Until then it was considered a rich man’s item. Very expensive and hard to get. Until soap became readily available, the use of lye made from ashes and urine (yes, urine) was the cleaner of choice for many. Lye soap was a staple that would bleach out clothing in hot or cold water. An upgrade of the first lye soaps used for laundry, was a lye soap made from ash lye and animal fat. This lye soap was softer but still harsh.
So, how did we get the detergents that we use today? Well, our laundry detergent is not actually a true soap. It is really a chemical compound that is designed to clean clothes in our washing machines. The lye soaps of previous centuries is way too hard, and can damage our machines. Remember, our machines are designed to keep dirt in a state of suspension so that it washes out with the water.
Old style soaps are also not environmentally friendly. They do not break down easily and can cause water pollution and be harmful to animals. They are also harder on today’s fabrics.
We’ve talked about washing clothes, now, how about drying clothes. Did you know that people used to lay their clothes on the ground to dry? Communal drying areas were sometimes used in early settlements. The use of clothes lines did not happen until much later, and of course, today’s dryers were not even a possibility until the 20th century.
The biggest changes in how we do our laundry began after World War II. This is when people began to get “modern” washing machines to replace scrub boards. The laundry business continually improves and changes every decade. It should be interesting to see how we will do laundry in 20 years