A great deal of impurity

It’s very easy to poke fun at what people thought, believed and wrote about in the past – I’m thinking of the sort of advice and instruction given in books about household management. We have all sorts of appliances to keep us and our houses clean, hot water literally on tap, labour-saving appliances of every sort for our convenience, and also products which are safe and effective to help us keep things – and us – clean in every sense.

Somehow I have acquired ‘Domestic Economy – a class-book for girls’ – with the note ‘edition published for the use of The Commissioner of National Education in Ireland’ in 1899. Here are some helpful instruction for doing the laundry:

  1. A great deal of impurity brought to the surface of the skin is of an oily, greasy nature. This is absorbed by the clothing worn next to the skin, and causes the dirt which settles from the outside to stick to it. Clothing thus soon becomes soiled, and should be frequently changed.
  2. A good deal of the outer clothing of men and boys will bear washing without injury. It should be brushed carefully and often, and any spot of dirt or grease sponged off, and all unnecessary stain avoided. At the same time, in selecting clothing for work, preference should be given to material that will wash.
  3. Cleaning clothes by washing. though effectual and necessary, is not pleasant work. It is hard to remove what laundresses call ‘flesh dirt’ and if the hands are not seasoned to the soda and water by habit, the skin will become tender, and breaks in the rubbing.
  4. There have been many inventions to supersede this rubbing – washing powders, and other receipts. The most famous for the time, was a London merchant’s “Washing Secret; or how to do a six weeks’ wash before breakfast, without any rubbing at all.” He sold a preparation consisting largely of lime, which was put into the water of the boiler with the clothes, and the dirt was stewed out of them.
  5. All washing-powders contain lime, and most injure the fabric of the linen. It is said that it does not do so more than rubbing. This may be true where the things are very dirty, but lime makes them drop into holes all over. The London merchant’s plan soon fell into disuse, which would not have been the case if housewives could have made it answer.
  6. The labour of ashing has been greatly diminished by the invention of washing-machines. One of those is filled with clothes and soap and water. Then by turning a wheel, the water is forced through many times a minute; of course it carries the dirt with it. Most machines need a man or strong lad to turn them, but there is little labour besides this connected to the work.
  7. Years ago, people used to “dolly” the clothes; that is you put them in a tub and pound them. This very soon wore out the clothes.

There’s so much to comment on – but I will just confine myself to saying, that many people I know who were born half a century or more after this was written, remember their grandmas and even their mums using a dolly to wash clothes!


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