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Today, I can load my clothes into a fully automatic washing machine, and press a few buttons to set it either for a full load or a light one (if I can't decide, there's always the fuzzy cycle which makes the decision for me), or for a gentle wash or a heavy cleaning…
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Sometimes I feel that, even doing this is quite a chore! Well can you imagine how it must have been a hundred-and-fifty years' back, when there were no washing machines, no detergent powder (only cakes of soap) and no electric irons Well, let's cut back to 1858
Monday used to be weekly washing day. The washing process being a long one, it was necessary to allot a full day to it. Most homes tried to keep enough linen to keep them going through the week. (Old and Interesting)
The coloured and the whites are separated the previous night, and the whites are soaked in water to loosen the dirt. On washing day, the clothes-both coloured and whites-are sorted out again. Those which are really dirty, oily or sweat-stained, including those whites which have been soaked the previous night, are soaked again in a large tub of a solution of soda bicarbonate (washing soda) and water. (WiseGEEK). Hot water was used if the clothes/ household linen were really dirty. Soda bi-carb was available in a powder form (it is a white powder) from the local grocery store. Alternately, some housewives boiled the clothes in a large metal pot, in water containing soda-bicarb. The pot was stirred with a long stick, and a large fork used to be used to handle the boiled clothes.
Next, the clothes were individually washed with cakes of lye soap, by being beaten onto a serrated washboard, by hand, or sometimes a flat wooden bat was used to beat the clothes. (Old and Interesting) Homes which didn't have a washboard, just used a flat, wooden board or a hard, flat stone. Collars, cuffs and hems (dresses were long then) needed special attention to get dirt out; likewise delicate clothes with lace had to be handled gently. After this, the clothes were rinsed out in clean water. Several rinses had to be done in tubs of water kept alongside in a row, till the water ran clean from the clothes. Then the whites had to be 'whitened'. For this, washing blue (made of indigo) (Old and Interesting) was used. Washing blue was bought from the corner store, in little blue chunks. A chunk was tied in a linen cloth and dipped into a clean bucket of water. The water turned blue from this. To this was added starch and mixed well. Whites dipped into this came out starched and sparkling. As more and more clothes were dipped into the starch-blue solution, the solution itself had to be strengthened by adding more starch and blue. Care had to be taken to mix the starch well into the water so that the solution was not lumpy. Starch was not always available in the market, a hundred years back. It could be prepared at home by cooking corn flour in water, which yielded a sticky, viscous liquid, which was added to the water to prepare the starch water. The coloured clothes received the same starching as the whites did, except that the starch solution did not contain the blue. Personal linen (underwear) did not need starching, of course. After the starching, the clothes were wrung out (if too heavily wrung, they would lose all starch) and hung out on clothes-lines to dry. Wooden clothes-pegs were used to ensure that the clothes did not fly off the lines. While hanging them out, care had to be taken to see that they were sufficiently 'spread out', for one layer of wet starched cloth could get stuck to another. White clothes could be hung out in the sun, but not the coloureds, at least not in strong sunshine. Warm weather helped in drying out the clothes
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