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This Is The Backbreaking Way That Women Used To Wash Clothes In The Past

Doing Laundry

Most people don’t look forward to doing laundry. Some hate switching the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Some hate folding, some hate putting it away, and most people hate everything about doing laundry. The next time you decided to wash a couple of loads, you should be thankful. You have a machine to do all the work for you. This hasn’t always been the case.

Washing Clothes Recipe

When a woman in Alabama got married, her grandmother gave her the recipe for washing clothes as a wedding gift. The process was so involved that someone thought it was necessary to create a comprehensive list of instructions. Even the language used was far from what we know today.

The ’40s

In 1940, only 25 million homes in the United States were connected to the electrical grid. Of these homes, only 60 percent owned electric washing machines. The reason that everyone didn’t own one of the first, automatic front-loading machines was that they cost around $250. This isn’t a lot of money today, but back then, it was the equivalent to $2,700. For those who couldn’t afford a luxury like this, using the recipe for laundry was the way that they washed their clothes.

The “Warshing” Clothes Recipe On Display

The origin of the recipe is unknown, but it has been circulated as something called xeroxlore, which is a meme but on a printed piece of paper. Currently, there is a copy of the instructions on display in a museum in Arrowtown, which is about 13-miles from Queenstown. Arrowtown is a historic city, and much of the agriculture has been preserved since 1862, during the gold rush. A folklore specialist named Jaqna Harold Brunvand found a copy of the recipe in a diary in South Carolina in 1981. He also found a reproduction of the recipe in a newspaper in 1975. The instructions were also found in a newspaper in Kansas in 1954.

The Bride’s Copy

The bride from Alabama, who was given the recipe by her grandmother received it decades ago. There are misspelled words, phonetic errors, and misused words. The first step was to, “Bilod fire in back yard to heet kettle of rain water.” At this time, 10 percent of the homes in the U.S. were in the mountains, and they had no electricity. Water wasn’t introduced to homes yet, so rainwater had to be collected and then heated over an open fire.

Step Two: Take Caution

The second step was a warning. It read, “Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eye if wind is pert.” If a woman was doing her wash on a windy day, the smoke could blow from the open fire into her eyes, which would cause irritation. It could also cause vision problems, so the recipe lets women know to be cautious on windy days.

The Next Steps

Step three read, “Shave one hole cake lie soap in bilin water.” Today, bilin means boiling. Back then, soap couldn’t be bought in stores, so it had to be made at home of boiled animal fat and wood ashes. Making soap was a messy job, and it took all day. Most women would make soap once or twice a year, ensuring that they had enough to last them for months. Sorting the wash was the next step. It read, “Sort things, make three piles, 1 pile white, 1 pile cullored, 1 pile work britches, and rags.” We sort laundry today, but back then, it was essential to wash the clothes in the proper order. The work clothes were washed last because they were the dirtiest. It was done last to prevent the dirt from contaminating the other garments.

Wrinkle Resistant

“Stur flour in cold water to smooth, then thin down with filin water.” This is how people starched their clothes to prevent wrinkles. “Rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard. The file. Rub cullard, but don’t bile.” Back then, washboards were a common household item. The bumpy surface help force the hot water through the fabric. This was essential in killing germs to freshen the fabric. “Take white things out of kettle with a broom handle, then wrench, blew, and starch.”


Since electric and gas dryers weren’t available back then, the recipe gave instructions for drying the clothes. “Spred tee towles on grass, hand old rags on fence.” Clearly, there were spelling errors, but you get the gist. The last step was to “pour rench water into flower bed.” Rench meant rinse, which means that the water used to wash the clothes would be poured into the shrubbery. If necessary, the water could be used to wash down the porch. Finish by turning the tub upside down to allow it to dry before the next wash.

Be Thankful

this is the backbreaking way that women used to wash clothes in the past. You should be thankful that you can put your laundry in a washing machine, press a few buttons, and go. The next time you complain about doing laundry, think of the way the women did it in the old days.

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