Cleaning My Closet
We are finally renovating our master en suite, the workers are due this week. The one problem is that we are also replacing the carpeting in our walk-in closet with tile flooring to match the bathroom tiles. What this means is that everything in the closet needs to be removed, with the exception of the highest shelves, which should be ok covered with dust cloths. Some garments we will place in the guestroom closet (where we will be the guests for 3 weeks), Others we will hang, covered, on portable garment racks in the garage. I am confident that it will be necessary to place the overfill on the bed, covered with sheets. No matter how protected there will be dust and a certain amount of garment cleaning will be required.
This situation has led me to consider how laundering was done in the past. When my mother was a young housewife laundry was much more of a chore ( of course I never did understand her need to iron absolutely everything, with the exception of bath towels).
I turned to America’s Housekeeping Book as a reference. This small volume is packed with information any homemaker post-WWII would need to consider in keeping the perfect home. There is an entire section dedicated to LAUNDERING which includes laundry equipment, soaps, water softeners, ironing procedures and treatment of spots and stains. There are recipes for making bluing, starch and bleaching liquids.
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1947
One of my favorite references, Fashion Victims, tells of the dangers of women wearing street-length clothing which attracted not only dust from the streets but also a myriad of nasties, including organisms responsible for many diseases. All this detritus was brought into the home and cleaning was done by brushing and spot cleaning with damp clothes.
Allison Matthews David, Bloomsbruy, London, 2015
Then I retreated further into history reading Women of the Renaissance. Washing clothes ( and, apparently bodies) was undertaken once a month or so. Those without house-hold help drew water from the city wells for washing. Soap was made from lye and animal fats. Outer clothing was rarely washed but linen undergarments were "aired" after each wear. Those that were washed were dried on patches of grass. Linens dried on grass for up to 4 weeks resulted in permanent bleaching.
University of Chicago Press, 1991
Before there was access to city wells, laundry was taken down to the river for washing. In rural areas the waters were probably fairly clean, especially those upstream from farms, but those near higher populations were heavily contaminated as raw sewage was thrown out into the streets and washed away by rain ( into the the streams).
After all this research I have come to the conclusion that I am very fortunate to have a large white metal appliance into which I can put my laundry , add a soap pod, and push a button.