History of Laundry
Wednesday 20th March 2019
Most of us do laundry on a fairly regular basis, without putting too much thought into it. It's just a matter of collecting dirty clothes, putting them into the washing machine, adding detergent and conditioner, and pressing the start button. Newer washing machines even come with a smartphone app for remote management although sadly, it will not load your dirty laundry or sort it afterwards. Even more conveniently you can just pick up the phone and call someone to come pick it up from your home or office and deliver it nice and clean as soon as in half day. But these commodities are quite new.
Of course, the concept of laundry is as old as clothing itself, but for many years it was done very differently than how we know it. Frankly, the only thing that didn't change is water. Before washhouses were introduced, women (usually) would take their family's laundry to a river or a lake and use water to get rid of the stains and odours. If the stains wouldn't wash away, laundry was rubbed or slapped against rocks. Later on, helping tools such as wooden, glass or metal washboards were invented, much to the relief of river-side rocks.
Washhouses changed the culture of doing laundry. They were built in the cities, usually having just a roof over, to protect people from the rain. Washhouses had two rows of basins, one for washing and one for rinsing, and a constant flow of water. People doing laundry would wash in groups standing around the basin row. Because of this, doing laundry became a social event, where people would meet, chat and of course, gossip. The oldest washhouses are dated as far back as the 10th century.
The industrial revolution was a game changer for how laundry is done. In the 19th century mechanised washing machines were introduced, allowing people to do laundry much quicker than ever before. All one had to do to was to rotate the handle to turn the drum around much like the washing machines we know, except manually. It wasn't until early 20th century that electric washing machines saw the daylight. Soap was for the most part replaced with synthetic laundry detergent which is what goes into the tray.