Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of programmes about social history, which I’ve always found fascinating. I love learning about the seemingly mundane things, the day-to-day stuff that doesn’t really make the history books. I was watching one about the ordinary folk in the 1600s; the women washing the clothes in the river, beating them with wooden paddles to drive out the dirt, having a good gossip! Then another programme, about the Victorian era, waking up at 2am for laundry day and using things like milk and butter to get out stains. Then soaking the clothes, before using a technique called dollying, to dislodge the dirt; before putting through a mangle to get rid of excess water. And that’s all before ironing. Can you imagine? Laundry taking a whole day, if not days!
I often chat to my mum about her childhood, and the things she remembers, and I love hearing about what life was like back then, and it makes me realise how easy we have it with modern day appliances these days.
My mum was born in 1948, and told me she remembers her mum washing the clothes using a washboard, in a tin bucket, and hanging them out on the line. I asked if nanny had a mangle – apparently not, but she remembers her Godmother having one.
Mum also remembers a washing detergent called Dolly Blue, and how her mum would scrub the collars of her dad’s shirts with a bit of soap and a scrubbing brush, because that was where most of the dirt would accumulate. This reminded me of the Victorian programme, where they spot cleaned the stains, minimising the need for lots of soap, and saving precious resources. Ultimately, the action of washing clothes doesn’t change that much.
Once the 1960s came, both my nanny and grandad worked, and mum would do the laundry – taking everything to local launderette to wash, before brining it all back home to hang on the washing line. She said she remembers the women in their gossiping, and also arguing over who got the machine first! Sounds like nothing much has changed then, since the time of the Stuarts!
Mum told me she didn’t get a washing machine until her and dad became managers of their first pub – before that she would have to wash many thing the old fashioned way. I was the generation of cloth nappies, so she would, erm, dispose of the waste, and then chuck the nappies into a bucket of bleach, before washing out – by hand. Mum, you trouper you!
Now onto my memories… We lived in a flat above a pub, so didn’t have a washing line in the garden (oh what a novelty that was for me, when I finally moved out of home into my own place!)
I remember a clothes horse that rested across the bath to dry stuff, as well as mum putting shirts on hangers and hanging them from the shower pole – something I still do, when I can’t hang washing outside. I remember the Ali Baba type washing basket we had, and the separate tub for dad’s socks!! I also remember the time I got told off for something or other, and threw a tantrum, grabbing that sock tub, taking the lid off and tossing the socks out around the bathroom (where it was kept) in anger, what a weird child I was!
I remember learning what the symbols clothing labels meant during textiles lessons at school, so that has come in very handy for me as an adult, it meant no accidental shrinking of clothes in the wash!
Now I’ve shared a little bit of my family’s social history, here are some laundry tips, from my nanny, my mum, and from me.
Laundry Tips (That Spans The Generations)
- Keep two wash baskets – one for lights and one for darks. If you have the space, have another one for underwear. – mum
- Have a fun washing basket in the kid’s rooms to encourage them to put their dirty clothes in that, rather than the floor. – mum
- Encourage everyone in the house to empty pockets, and to unravel socks, sleeves etc, so that you save time when putting the wash in the machine. – me
- Should you have some particularly stinky clothes, a flowery smelling disinfectant can help! – mum
- To keep woollens soft, do a final rinse in vinegar and water. – nanny
- Always fill a washing machine to capacity so as to save energy and detergents. If you need a couple of items washed, you can always do them by hand. – mum, me
- When washing duvet covers and pillow cases, invert them before washing so they are ready to put back on the duvet and pillows without getting yourself in a tangle when making beds. – mum
- Before hanging clothes on the washing line, run a cloth along it to get rid of any dirt, and (shudder) spider webs. – me
- If you have no option but to hang clothes in your house to dry, make sure you leave a window open for the condensation to escape. You don’t want a build up of that in your home, causing damp and mould. – me
- Teach everyone in the house how the washing machine works. And for kids, from a young age, so that they know how to do it when they grow up and leave home! – mum, me
You should also check out the laundry tips from parents over on the Beko website – there are some fab ones for getting rid of stains.
Disclosure: Collaborative post in association with Beko