Well, since this column is titled “Looking Back” I reckon it won’t hurt to look at how our grandmothers dealt with “Washing-Day,” as Helen Campbell called it in in her 1893 book, The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking. Mrs. Campbell was a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin from 1893-96, and professor of domestic science at Kansas State Agricultural College from 1896-97, and was considered an expert on “domestic sciences.” In a chapter titled, “Washing-Day,” she expounds upon the subject for the edification of all the housewives in her reading audience.
Why Monday should be fixed upon as washing-day, is often questioned; but, like many other apparently arbitrary arrangements, its foundation is in common sense. Tuesday has its advantages also, soon to be mentioned; but to any later period than Tuesday there are serious objections. All clothing is naturally changed on Sunday; and, if washed before dirt has had time to harden in the fiber of the cloth, the operation is much easier. The German custom, happily passing away, of washing only annually or semi-annually, is both disgusting, and destructive to health and clothes; the air of whatever room such accumulations are stored in being poisoned, while the clothes themselves are rubbed to pieces in the endeavor to get out the long-seated dirt.
A weekly wash being the necessity if perfect cleanliness exists, the simplest and best method of thoroughly accomplishing it comes up for question. While few women are obliged to use their own hands in such directions, plenty of needy and unskilled workwomen who can earn a living in no other way being ready to relieve us, it is yet quite as necessary to know every detail, in order that the best work may be required, and that where there is ignorance of methods in such work they may be taught.
The advantages of washing on Tuesday are, that it allows Monday for setting in order after the necessary rest of Sunday, gives opportunity to collect and put in soak all the soiled clothing, and so does away with the objection felt by many good people to performing this operation Sunday night.
To avoid such sin, bed-clothing is often changed on Saturday; but it seems only part of the freshness and sweetness which ought always to make Sunday the white-day of the week, that such change should be made on that morning, while the few minutes required for sorting the clothes, and putting them in water, are quite as legitimate as any needed operation.
If Monday be the day, then, Saturday night may be chosen for filling the tubs, supposing the kitchen to be unfurnished with stationary tubs. Sunday night enough hot water can be added to make the whole just warm – not hot. Now put in one tub all fine things – collars and cuffs, shirts and fine underwear. Bed-linen may be added, or soaked in a separate tub; but table-linen must of course be kept apart. Last, let the coarsest and most soiled articles have another. Do not add soap, as if there is any stain it is likely to set it. If the water is hard, a little borax may be added. And see that the clothes are pressed down, and well covered with water.
Monday morning, and the earlier the better (the morning sun drying and sweetening clothes better than the later), have the boiler full of clean warm suds. Soft soap may be used, or a bar of hard dissolved in hot water, and used like soft soap. All the water in which the clothes have soaked should be drained off, and the hot suds poured on. Begin with the cleanest articles, which when washed carefully are wrung out, and put in a tub of warm water. Rinse out from this; rub soap on all the parts which are most soiled, these parts being neck bands and sleeves, and put them in the boiler with cold water enough to cover them. To boil up once will be sufficient for fine clothes. Then take them out into a tub of clean cold water; rinse them in this, and then in a tub of water made very slightly blue with the indigo-bag or liquid indigo. From this water they must be wrung out very dry, and hung out, always out of doors if possible. A wringer is much better than wringing by hand, as the latter is more unequal, and also often twists off buttons.
The clothes lines must be perfectly clean. A galvanized-iron wire is best of all; as it never rusts, and needs only to be wiped off each week. If rope is used, never leave it exposed to weather, but bring it in after each washing.
If any fruit-stains are on napkins or table-cloths, lay the stained part over a bowl, and pour on boiling water till they disappear. Ink can be taken out if the spot is washed while fresh, in cold water, or milk and water; and a little salt will help in taking out wine-stains. Machine-oil must have a little lard or butter rubbed on the spot, which is then to be washed in warm suds. Never rub soap directly on any stain, as it sets it. For iron-rust, spread the garment in the sun, and cover the spot with salt; then squeeze on lemon-juice enough to wet it. This is much safer and quite as sure as the acids sold for this purpose. In bright sunshine the spot will disappear in a few hours.
Remember that long boiling does not improve clothes. If washed clean, simply scalding is all that is required.
Doesn’t all that make you thankful for your washer and dryer, Oxiclean, Clorox and dryer sheets?
– Sam Moore
This half of a stereopticon slide from 1901 would have thoroughly shocked Mrs. Campbell. It depicts “The New Woman,” dressed in knickers and smoking a cigarette getting ready to go off on a bicycle ride while her poor down-trodden husband does the laundry. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.