Rinse and Repeat: Laundry in the Nineteenth Century: Background information when reading Longbourn

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Longbourn

By Jo Baker

Longbourn
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Oct 2013,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2014,
    352 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Rinse and Repeat: Laundry in the Nineteenth Century

Print Review

In Longbourn, the housemaid Sarah's frustration with the laundry would have been shared by anyone who cleaned clothes during the early 19th century. Our modern process of sorting, dumping into a machine, pouring in soap, and pressing a button is an embarrasingly wonderful diminution of this once complicated and time-intensive process.

Nineteenth Century Woman Doing Laundry, Henry Robert Morland Doing the laundry during this period was such a daunting task that even mistresses of households that employed servants often pitched in. The wealthier families were able to employ servants who, like Sarah, focused mainly on laundry duties. For most families without dedicated laundresses, two days a week were set aside for doing laundry. Washing, boiling, and rinsing a standard load of laundry required around 50 gallons of water, which had to be hauled from a convenient water source.

Because cleaning laundry was so laborious a process, most people washed their undergarments only once a week. Women generally wore a simple sheath made from muslin or linen under their dresses to keep the dirt of daily wear from getting to their outer dresses. A dress made from wool or silk - fabrics that many of us choose to dry clean today - posed challenges during laundry time. Colors could run or fade. Fabrics could stretch or shrink. If a dress were particularly fine, laundry women would deconstruct the garment - removing buttons and trimming, picking the seams to remove the lining from the actual dress - wash each piece separately, dry, and then re-sew, correcting for any shrinkage or stretching as they stitched.

Bluing Agent for Laundry Pinafores, undergarments, and other items made from more robust fabrics, like linen or muslin, were usually left to soak in a tub of warm water overnight before cleaning commenced. Some laundry guides in this period suggested urine be added to the soak. Urine is high in ammonia, a common cleaning agent in modern soaps, and was reputed to be very effective in removing tough stains. The next morning, each item was scrubbed on a washboard with lye soap to remove stains. Lye is very good at dissolving stains but is very hard on the hands (and it would be another 150 years before rubber gloves were available for household use). Today, lye is rarely to be found in washing soaps but is usually the main ingredient in oven cleaners and products to unclog drains. Next, the clothes were placed in vats of boiling water and stirred repeatedly to keep the fabrics from developing yellow spots. Then, bluing - an agent that can still be purchased today - was added. Whites tend to go yellowish-grey with use, so adding a hint of blue (yellow's complementary color) counters this giving the appearance of whiter whites. Finally, the clothes were rinsed one more time, and hung to dry which, in the case of large houses, would have been either outside or in heated drying rooms.

These methods for cleaning clothes were followed for centuries until the mid-19th century when hand-crank devices attached to drums were patented. Though these helped to shorten the process, they still required a lot of labor. Electric washing machines started to appear in the early 20th century. By 1940, six out of every ten homes in the USA that had electricity had an electric washing machine.

Picture of lady doing wash by Henry Robert Morland from Wikipedia.com
Picture of bluing agent from flapperdays.blogspot.com

This article was originally published in October 2013, and has been updated for the June 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.