This is the way we wash the clothes, wash the clothes, wash the clothes.  This is the way we wash the clothes so early Monday morning?  It went on:  This is the way we iron the clothes, iron the clothes, iron the clothes.  This is the way we iron the clothes so early Tuesday morning.

Have you ever watched period movies, or classic series and wondered:  How on earth did they keep those yards and yards of fabric in their clothing clean?  I am not just talking  about the aristocratic women who had servants as that was not their chore.  But the servants and real folk– who did their laundry? And what about those already super busy pioneer women?   It got me to thinking so I decided to do a little research into times past and how they handled laundry back in the “old days.”

It seems that in  the earliest times, people just went to the river or creeks and put their clothing in  and agitated them with a stick.  Soap was only  introduced much later.  Some even stone washed their clothing and some used sand to scrub them clean.  Sounds counter intuitive.  I can remember being told that my very own nappies were cleaned by the ancient stone and creek bed method in New Zealand during a temporary  deprivation to our indoor plumbing which wasn’t  very much to speak of in the first place.

For bleaching, people often used to lay their whites on green grass and over bushes in direct sunlight.  Sometimes they would spray a little water to get the clothes damp again to increase the bleaching.  My very own Belgian  grandmother did this bleaching at times in her posh American neighborhood. She got away with it because she had an acre of land and could strategically place the times out of the neighbors’ critical eyes.  So, I can attest to the fact that this was a tried and proven method and it did work.

It is quite telling to see that soap and our other methods of cleaning only  recently came into vogue, thus changing our standards on cleanliness.  Recently, we have been watching some old TV shows from the 1950s complete with their  commercials of the day.  Palmolive Soap Company advertised that its soap, if used 3 times a day, would guarantee the American housewife a more beautiful complexion. Of course, this was all scientifically proven (and I note that the “truth in advertising” wasn’t in the American vocabulary yet) .  I thought, if anyone did that to their face 3 times a day, there would be no natural oils left and the skin would be left looking like a prune!  Or the one that Ajax is “gentle on your hands”   while the camera pans a lady’s lovely manicured hands.   Really? That stuff dries the dickens out of your hands.

Here are some interesting excerpts I found whilst perusing the internet

While it is agreed that electric appliances considerably altered the life of the typical American housewife, few would agree that the changes were all for
the best. Much of the hard labor could be done by machine, so one would assume that the development of washing machines and vacuum cleaners would mean less time spent doing housework. But not so! According to researchers, the average homemaker in 1924 spent fifty-two hours a week doing her housework. Forty years later, the average American homemaker was spending fifty-five hours a week on housework – even surrounded as she was by “laborsaving” appliances. Why might this be? One reason: higher expectations. As one author noted:

People began to expect more from those who kept the house. For example, whereas once laundry was done once a week and clothes worn several days before being laundered, modern housekeepers may do laundry every day because family members wear an item only once before washing it.

In addition, the American homemaker became – and to some extent, still is – obsessed by a variety of “germ theories” stating that kitchens and bathrooms had to be “scrupulously clean” to prevent disease. While it is true that sanitary homes tend to be healthier homes, magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Better Homes & Gardens published article after article encouraging women to achieve an almost impossible degree of “domestic perfection.” Dirty was equated Evil, while Clean became synonymous with Good. Instead of using technology to help meet society’s old standards, the homemaker now had to strive harder and work longer to meet new standards.

Between 1927 and 1932, the Cleanliness Institute worked with government agencies, medical departments, schools, and social service organizations to encourage the use of soap and water. They sponsored public service announcements on radio and published full-page advertisements in national magazines, encouraging the use of soap and water.

Resource :    (great read!)


The History of Cleanliness

While the meaning of all the virtues has changed overtime, the application of the virtue of cleanliness has perhaps fluctuated the most. We would probably be grossed out by Franklin’s standard of cleanliness, and today’s standard would likely have disturbed him. Historically and up through the present day, ideas of what constitutes “cleanliness” has varied greatly.

For an ancient Egyptian or Babylonian, cleanliness meant showering with water from aqueducts or simply from servants pouring water on you. A soap made from ashes and animal fat was used. The Greeks created the first plumbed-in showers, and citizens showered outside at various spigots scattered throughout their cities.

For an ancient Roman cleanliness meant rubbing his body with oil and dust and then adding a layer of perspiration from a day of work or play. After he had built up a sufficient patina of bodily soil, he’d have someone scrape it off with a rake-like instrument. Next he would take a series of baths-first lukewarm, then hot, then cold. This would all occur in public at a local bathhouse, a swinging place where he’d hang out for several hours. Soap was not typically involved in any part of the process.

For early Christians, cleanliness was not next to godliness. In fact, the dirtier you were, the more virtuous you were assumed to be. Cleanliness was considered a sinful luxury and thus monks and nuns who cared more for God than their earthly tabernacles avoided bathing to show their dedication to a holy life.

For Europeans in the centuries after the coming of the Black Death, cleanliness meant anything but a bath. To observers during the plague, it seemed that people often became stricken with the disease after using the bathhouse. The theory was advanced that bathing opened your pores and thus let in disease. A layer of dirt and odor was thought to stave off infection. Bathing became avoided like, well, the plague. It would not be until the 17th century when bathing would slowly come back into vogue.

But it would really be the purveyors of hygienic products that would continually up the ante of what cleanliness truly meant. As advertising became more prevalent in the early 1900′s, the producers of soap, deodorant, and toothpaste set out to convince a new generation of Americans of problems they never knew existed. For example, it was Listerine’s advertising team, not dentists, who came up with the term “chronic halitosis” to describe bad breath. Whereas as bad breath had previously been thought of as a part of life, it then became a dangerous disease to be cured and eradicated. Likewise, toothpaste manufacturers made the frightening discovery of “film on teeth,” a phenomenon that had once gone completely unnoticed. The cure of course was daily and religious tooth brushing. Advertisements warned potential customers that any kind of bodily odor could spell a premature social death.



While I’m not for advocating being stinky, smelly and dirty – hardly so!-  I take pride it keeping up appearances, and I rather think cleanliness is (almost) next to godliness to a certain extent.

“I Hanker for a Simple Life, Is that A Crime?”

Hat tip to the Dowager Countess of Downton

My approach is not as archaic as I, too, “hanker for a  simpler  approach”  to  a modern homesteading lifestyl.e

1. Layering your clothing helps.  Use  undershirts, etc., next to your body so you only have to was those items and those items keep your  clothes clean. Aprons for women and overalls for men  (especially those of us who are homesteaders) help protect your clothes.

2.  As they did in times past, air out your clothing and only wash those parts of the items that are soiled with “spot washing.”

3. Wearing natural fibers such as wool helps your skin and clothes made from it breathe and wool  is a natural antibacterial material. Cotton is very durable when wet and is lightweight but absorbs moisture  and provides warmth. Natural fabrics last longer and wash better.

4. Re-wearing   If an item is not soiled or smelly – why do I waste water and resources washing it.   I have basket besides my bed for such “worn” clothes.  I don’t want to fold them and put them in the drawers with the clean clothes but they aren’t yet soiled or smelly enough to wash.

Any other suggestions?

:: Resources ::

“Greener Laundry Tips”

Hand washing on the Homestead

Hung Out to Dry


  1. Leslie says:

    I remember reading that women in colonial times put their laundered clothes and sheets out to dry on fragrant herb bushes they planted so that they would smell nice. I think that’s a lovely idea.

    • Mitzy says:

      I, too, love that idea ! Thanks!

  2. Patsy says:

    The clothes I wear for every day (jeans, sweat pants, tee shirt, sweatshirt) I hang on pegs in the bathroom. I wear them more than once if I haven’t had any really sweaty, muddy, damp chores to do outside. The clothes I wear to my part time job get hung up immediately on returning from work and don’t get washed until they’ve been worn several times. My job is an administrative one that requires no strenuous work. I don’t believe in washing my clothes to death.

  3. Rachel says:

    Also washing yourself (especially under the arms) helps keep clothing clean and fresh for longer. I have to wear antiperspirant though unfortunately as I’m one of those people who perspires under the arm.

    Unfortunately, as a vegan, I don’t concur entirely on wearing wool. As around 40% of wool is from slaughtered sheep, I’m not overly keen on it. I try to go for plant alternatives such as hemp and cotton. Some may say the wool of slaughtered sheep is only a by product, but there is also some cruelty sometimes in how it is removed from live sheep and there have been cases of sheep that have suffered wounds and infections that have led to death. I’m also wary of angora wool as rabbits are some of the most abused animals on the planet both as pets and for animal testing laboratories/meat/wool production.

    • Silvia says:

      Im not a fan of the aluminum in the antiperspirant so some days when I know Im going to be running around a lot or off to work I will either use a deodorant or a fresh lime cut and rubbed under the arm. (just make sure you dont apply it if you just shaved your underarms, any minor cuts will cause burning). The lime thing really works!

    • Rita Augustus says:

      I respect your lifestyle as a vegan, but animals were put on this earth for humans. They have no other use but to glorify God through their help to mankind. We must treat them humanely…some do not. I guess if we do not use them for our benefit, they should not even exist.

    • WanderingArcher says:

      Linen is an incredible, breathable, durable and luscious-to-wear fabric. Some purport that it has healing qualities as well.

  4. Connie says:

    What a great article! It dawned on me a few years ago, as I started my journey to a more natural, sustainable lifestyle, how obsessed we in America have become with the ritual of cleaning our clothes. Not that I am opposed to clean, however in some instances the smell of detergent and/or fabric softeners are so strong that they actually have the opposite effect and become offensive. Besides not washing my clothes as frequently, I use lavender in small bags in my dryer and have cut even the natural detergents that I use in half per load. I also live on catchment water and love what the rain water does for my clothes.

    • WanderingArcher says:

      I know a family who makes a weak wood-ash lye and they use it as soap/detergent for almost everything. No need to transform it into actual soap.

  5. Lori says:

    When first married I had “laundry day” & was able to get everything done. Few yrs later with a house full of children I too got caught up in everyday washing. Now, yrs later I try to have only 1 day again. We have learned to pamper our “good” clothes, hanging them up after wear, washing when needed & we wear our “everyday” clothes as many times as we can before washing. For me it means I may wear something once or 2 weeks. It depends on the weather & how dirty the farm chores are that day 🙂 I have no problem wearing dirty clothes (not gross clothes) to do the dirty work then change into my inside clothes. Anyway you get the idea. I am going to start wearing my aprons…if I can remember to put them on.
    Anais, I check just about everyday & get so excited when you post. I found your family’s website about 2 yrs ago & have read through all the posts. I know you all are very busy but I do enjoy reading whats going on when you do post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Annie says:

    So, does everyone own a washing machine ? because mine broke down and I was wondering if anyone had a good, workable alternative for a busy single mum of two dirt magnet children ?

    • Sodie says:

      If you have a car or a truck you can wash your clothes this way (my grandparents did it often).

      Get one of those large plastic drywall mud buckets from Home Depot or the like – the kind with a snap-on lid that seals it tight. Fill with your clothes and water and a small amount of soap. Put it in the trunk of your car or the bed of your pick-up truck. Drive around for a day or two, as you run errands etc. Pour out the dirty water, refill with clean water and repeat. Voila! your clothes will be as clean as if you used a washing machine.

      • Ali H. says:

        I know I’m late to the party, but I have a question regarding this method- because it blows my mind. Do you put the bucket in sideways, so that it can roll around, or right-side-up?

    • Jessica says:

      I was a single mom for 7 years, and for over half of that time I did not have a washing machine. I learned to put the clothes in the bath tub (or a large unused/clean paint bucket with a hole in the lid and a non used plunger/ hand washer) with laundry soap and super hot water. Let sit for 2+ hours (maybe while you go to work or do errands) or until you can safely handle the clothes with out burning yourself. Agitate the water for 10+ minuets until your satisfied with smell or dirt removal. Drain water, lightly wringing out water. Then refill tub and let sit another 10 minuets or more (good time for a cool drink and sit down) and then agitate clothes again to get rid of soap. Then wring out by hand, clothes wringer or clean mop bucket wringer, then hang the clothes on the line or by fire place. After the first 2 weeks you’ll notice more defined arm muscles 🙂 I hope this helps!

  7. Droolcup says:

    For Annie: Google the ‘GiraDora.’

  8. Cathy Geary says:

    I hang clothing that has been worn on a hook or, if I happen to have several outfits, I make sure that when I hang them up, I turn them wrong side out, so I will know they have been previously worn. We, too, usually wear an item several times and I don’t wash bedding every week, but only as needed. We reuse our towels several times. In summer I jump in the tub almost every day, well at least every other day, but in winter, I just take sponge baths about every other day, my skin is too dry for all that soap and water, it makes me break out in a rash in dry air.

  9. Rene says:

    Ever since I was a girl, my mom had us wear our jeans at least twice before we washed them. So now as a mother myself, I have my family wear their jeans at least twice. I have a section of small shelves in my closet. I fold the previously worn pants and put on one shelf, and the previously worn shirts on another. If I put on clothing from those shelves, I will be sure to give myself a spritz of perfume or body spray to make sure I don’t stink! The shirts usually one get worn 2 times, but the pants sometimes 2 or 3 times before getting washed.
    Showers….my teens shower every night. I, however, can skip a day sometimes 2 before the oily hair comes to play! My husband showers 2-3 times a week. (Must be nice having good skin and hair! The kids took after me, poor things.)

  10. WanderingArcher says:

    It’s so nice to hear that we aren’t the only family that does this. 🙂
    When my children were younger, it dawned on me that having more clothes was not making my laundry load easier, even though I only laundered once a week. I hate excessive clothes. Argh!
    I got to thinking, just like you are, and decided to stick w the olden ways: two everyday outfits and one for-good per person. Oh! It worked lovely.
    Now my teenagers have a few more clothes than that, and the baby of course, but we still re-wear when practical to do so.

    Oh! And I love the comment about drying things on flower hedges! I’m moving into a place w a beautiful lavender hedge; can’t wait to try it!

  11. deb neville says:

    Water – with your water usage at 175,000 gallons, how can you be self sustaining? You must be using city water. 175000/365 is 479 gallons a day! If you plan on collecting rain and then storing it, I don’t see how you would have the space to do so.
    Please clarify.

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