How Did People Clean Their Clothes Before Washing Machines Were Invented?


Quick Answer

Before washing machines were invented, most people took their clothing to nearby rivers and used the power of the flowing current to rinse dirt away. To loosen the dirt from the fibers of the cloth, people would trample the clothing or would beat, scrub or stir it.

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Full Answer

Doing laundry by human power was a very labor-intensive process and for this reason was not done often. Prior to the actual washing, clothing might be soaked in lye or scrubbed with soap. Seafarers had another method: they would place their clothing in a cloth bag that was towed behind the ship to rinse dirt away. After the clothes were rinsed, they were wrung out and spread to dry on rocks, hedges, drying frames or clotheslines. In many parts of the Third World, these methods are still used today.

The need to keep clothing clean was reflected in human settlements and occupations. In Europe and America, professional washerwomen often did laundry for those willing to pay for their services. Public fountains in Siena, Italy, included laundry troughs where clothes could be washed, while London, England, had ordinances specifically allowing public access to wharves and stairs along the bank of the Thames for the purpose of doing laundry. Many towns in Europe and colonial America also had communal drying greens where women could spread their laundry on the grass to dry,

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