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A Cleaner World Blog

History of Laundry

When I was a young girl, I vaguely remember helping my grandmother do laundry using a wringer washer. While I don’t remember the exact process, I remember a basin filled with water that my sister and I would hand-crank to agitate the clothes. At some point, my grandmother would rinse the clothes and would run them through a set of rollers to squeeze out as much water as possible. We would then hang them to dry either outside or in the basement, depending on the weather. Of course, we thought it was fascinating because my mother just threw our laundry into a washer and typically in warmer weather, she hung things out to dry; during colder months, she used the dryer. My grandparents didn’t own a dryer.

As I look back, I remember it being a lot of work, but compared to early civilizations where they had to haul clothes down to a river and beat them on rocks, it was easy. In Ancient Rome, laundry was done by men who typically took care of the clothing for their entire city. In the Middle Ages, laundry transitioned to individual households, usually done by the female in the family, at communal washhouses. It was during that period that launderers discovered that hot water often made stain removal much easier.

How Laundry has Evolved

Throughout the 1800’s, wooden washtubs were filled with hot water, and clothes were washed with a bar of soap, sticks, and wooden plungers, but there were still many areas where river washing continued. Time saw advancements in all things, including the washing machine, and a number of versions were created using a tub, paddles, and a handle to turn the mechanism or a rotating tub instead of paddles. Both of these versions were designed to agitate the dirt off of the clothes. And today? Today we just throw clothes into a machine and hit a button.

The truth is that we all like to complain about laundry, especially when there are 8 loads to be done. But years ago, 8 loads of laundry meant 2 days-worth of work down at the river; today it may mean all day, but it’s a few minutes here and there, and you can get a whole lot of other things done as well. Plus, today we have A Cleaner World, a place that can take care of all our laundry needs from dry cleaning to wet cleaning to household items to delicate and treasured pieces.

laundry in the 30s-40s
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