Laundry refers to the washing of clothing and other textiles.
Laundry processes are often done in a room reserved for that purpose;
in an individual home this is referred to as a laundry room or utility
room. An apartment building or student hall of residence may have a
shared laundry facility such as a tvättstuga. A stand-alone business
is referred to as a self-service laundry (laundrette in British
English or laundromat in American English). The material that is being
washed, or has been laundered, is also generally referred to as
Laundry has been part of history since we began to wear clothes, so
the methods by which different cultures have dealt with this universal
human need are of interest to several branches of scholarship. Laundry
work has traditionally been highly gendered, with the responsibility
in most cultures falling to women (known as laundresses or
Industrial Revolution gradually led to mechanised
solutions to laundry work, notably the washing machine and later the
tumble dryer. Laundry, like cooking and child care, is done both at
home and by commercial establishments outside the home.
1.3 Washing machines and other devices
1.4 Chinese laundries in North America
1.6 Ancient Rome
2.2 Cleaning or dry cleaning
3 Shared laundry rooms
4 Right to dry movement
5 Common problems
Laundry in culture
8 See also
10 External links
"Man and woman washing linen in a brook", from William Henry Pyne's
Microcosm (1806). Unusually, this is depicted as a mixed-sex activity.
Laundry was first done in watercourses, letting the water carry away
the materials which could cause stains and smells.
Laundry is still
done this way in the rural regions of poor countries. Agitation helps
remove the dirt, so the laundry was rubbed, twisted, or slapped
against flat rocks. One name for this surface is a beetling-stone,
related to beetling, a technique in the production of linen; one name
for a wooden substitute is a battling-block. The dirt was beaten
out with a wooden implement known as a washing paddle, battling
stick, bat, beetle or club. Wooden or stone scrubbing surfaces set
up near a water supply were gradually replaced by portable rub boards,
including factory-made corrugated glass or metal washboards.
Once clean, the clothes were rinsed and then wrung out — twisted to
remove most of the water. Then they were hung up on poles or clothes
lines to air dry, or sometimes just spread out on clean grass, bushes,
or trees. Finally, they were ironed.
Main article: Lavoir
Washhouse in Sanremo, Italy, at about the turn of the 20th century
Washhouse in Cabeção, Portugal, today. Note the two basins and
inclined stone lip.
Before the advent of the washing machine, laundry was often done in a
Villages across Europe that could afford it built a wash-house,
sometimes known by the French name of lavoir. Water was channelled
from a stream or spring and fed into a building, possibly just a roof
with no walls. This wash-house usually contained two basins - one for
washing and the other for rinsing - through which the water was
constantly flowing, as well as a stone lip inclined towards the water
against which the wet laundry could be beaten. Such facilities were
more comfortable and convenient than washing in a watercourse. Some
lavoirs had the wash-basins at waist height, although others remained
on the ground. The launderers were protected to some extent from rain,
and their travel was reduced, as the facilities were usually at hand
in the village or at the edge of a town. These facilities were public
and available to all families, and usually used by the entire village.
Many of these village wash-houses are still standing, historic
structures with no obvious modern purpose.
The job of doing the laundry was reserved for women, who washed all
their family's laundry. Washerwomen (laundresses) took in the laundry
of others, charging by the piece. As such, wash-houses were an
obligatory stop in many women's weekly lives and became a sort of
institution or meeting place. It was a women-only space where they
could discuss issues or simply chat (cf the concept of the village
pump). Indeed, this tradition is reflected in the Catalan idiom "fer
safareig" (literally, "to do the laundry"), which means to gossip.
European cities also had public wash-houses. The city authorities
wanted to give the poorer population, who would otherwise not have
access to laundry facilities, the opportunity to wash their clothes.
Sometimes these facilities were combined with public baths, see for
example Baths and wash houses in Britain. The aim was to foster
hygiene and thus reduce outbreaks of epidemics.
Sometimes large metal cauldrons (a "wash copper", even when not made
of that metal), were filled with fresh water and heated over a
fire, as hot or boiling water is more effective than cold in removing
dirt. A posser could be used to agitate clothes in a tub. A related
implement called a washing dolly is "a wooden stick or mallet with an
attached cluster of legs or pegs" that moves the cloth through the
Washing machines and other devices
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The "Woman's Friend" washing machine, circa 1890 U.S.
Industrial Revolution completely transformed laundry technology.
Christine Hardyment, in her history from the
Great Exhibition of 1851,
argues that it was the development of domestic machinery that led to
The mangle (or "wringer" in American English) was developed in the
19th century — two long rollers in a frame and a crank to revolve
them. A laundry-worker took sopping wet clothing and cranked it
through the mangle, compressing the cloth and expelling the excess
water. The mangle was much quicker than hand twisting. It was a
variation on the box mangle used primarily for pressing and smoothing
Meanwhile, 19th century inventors further mechanized the laundry
process with various hand-operated washing machines. Most involved
turning a handle to move paddles inside a tub. Then some early 20th
century machines used an electrically powered agitator to replace
tedious hand rubbing against a washboard. Many of these were simply a
tub on legs, with a hand-operated mangle on top. Later the mangle too
was electrically powered, then replaced by a perforated double tub,
which spun out the excess water in a spin cycle.
Laundry drying was also mechanized, with clothes dryers. Dryers were
also spinning perforated tubs, but they blew heated air rather than
Chinese laundries in North America
See also: Yick Wo v. Hopkins
In the United States and Canada in the late 19th and early 20th
century, the occupation of laundry worker was heavily identified with
Chinese. Discrimination, lack of English-language skills, and lack of
capital kept Chinese out of most desirable careers. Around 1900, one
in four ethnic Chinese men in the U.S. worked in a laundry, typically
working 10 to 16 hours a day.
New York City
New York City had an estimated 3,550 Chinese laundries at the
beginning of the
Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1933, with even
this looking to many people like a relatively desirable business, the
city's Board of Aldermen passed a law clearly intended to drive the
Chinese out of the business. Among other things, it limited ownership
of laundries to U.S. citizens. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent
Association tried fruitlessly to fend this off, resulting in the
formation of the openly leftist
Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance
Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA),
which successfully challenged this provision of the law, allowing
Chinese laundry workers to preserve their livelihoods.
The CHLA went on to function as a more general civil rights group; its
numbers declined strongly after it was targeted by the
FBI during the
Second Red Scare (1947–1957).
Note that the phrase "Chinese laundry" as in "We set up a Chinese
laundry in our ski lodge" is not a reference to the social history
described above, but indicates a (usually temporary) system of indoor
or veranda clothes-lines, whether well-organized or
crudely-improvised, that have been rigged up to get clothes dry. The
phrase is presumably kept alive less by historical memories of Chinese
laundries in Western countries than by the colorful displays of
washing that visitors to China often remark upon.
In India, laundry was traditionally done by men. A washerman was
called a dhobiwallah, and dhobi became the name of their caste group.
The places where they work or worked include
Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai.
Related to this is
Dhoby Ghaut in Singapore and
Dhoby Ghaut, Penang
Dhoby Ghaut, Penang in
The workers who cleaned the cloth were called fullones, singular fullo
(cf fulling, a process in wool-making, and Fuller's earth, used to
clean). Clothes were treated in small tubs standing in niches
surrounded by low walls, known as treading or fulling stalls. The tub
was filled with water and a mixture of alkaline chemicals (sometimes
including urine). The fuller stood in the tub and trampled the cloth,
a technique known elsewhere as posting. The aim of this treatment was
to apply the chemical agents to the cloth so that they could do their
work, the resolving of greases and fats. These stalls are so typical
of these workshops that they are used to identify fullonicae in the
Laundry processes include washing (usually with water containing
detergents or other chemicals), agitation, rinsing, drying, pressing
(ironing), and folding. The washing will often be done at a
temperature above room temperature to increase the activities of any
chemicals used and the solubility of stains, and high temperatures
kill micro-organisms that may be present on the fabric.
Various chemicals may be used to increase the solvent power of water,
such as the compounds in soaproot or yucca-root used by Native
American tribes, or the ash lye (usually sodium hydroxide or potassium
hydroxide) once widely used for soaking laundry in Europe. Soap, a
compound made from lye and fat, is an ancient and common laundry aid.
Modern washing machines typically use synthetic powdered or liquid
laundry detergent in place of more traditional soap.
Cleaning or dry cleaning
Main article: Dry cleaning
Many dry cleaners place cleaned clothes inside thin clear plastic
Dry cleaning refers to any process which uses a chemical solvent other
than water. The solvent used is typically tetrachloroethylene
(perchloroethylene), which the industry calls "perc". It is
used to clean delicate fabrics that cannot withstand the rough and
tumble of a washing machine and clothes dryer; it can also obviate
labor-intensive hand washing.
Shared laundry rooms
In some parts of the world, including North America, apartment
buildings and dormitories often have laundry rooms, where residents
share washing machines and dryers. Usually the machines are set to run
only when money is put in a coin slot. One name for these is
In other parts of the world, including Europe, apartment buildings
with laundry rooms are uncommon, and each apartment may have its own
washing machine. Those without a machine at home or the use of a
laundry room must either wash their clothes by hand or visit a
commercial self-service laundry (laundromat, laundrette).
Right to dry movement
Some American communities forbid their residents from drying clothes
outside, and citizens protesting this have created a "right to dry"
movement. Many homeowners' associations and other communities in the
United States prohibit residents from using a clothesline outdoors, or
limit such use to locations that are not visible from the street or to
certain times of day. Other communities, however, expressly prohibit
rules that prevent the use of clotheslines. Some organizations have
been campaigning against legislation which has outlawed line-drying of
clothing in public places, especially given the increased greenhouse
gas emissions produced by some types of electrical power generation
needed to power electric clothes dryers, since driers can constitute a
considerable fraction of a home's total energy usage.
Florida ("the Sunshine State") is the only state to expressly
guarantee a right to dry, although Utah and Hawaii have passed solar
rights legislation. A Florida law explicitly states:
"No deed restrictions, covenants, or similar binding agreements
running with the land shall prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting
solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on
renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the
lots or parcels covered by the deed restrictions, covenants, or
binding agreements." No other state has such clearcut
legislation. Vermont considered a "Right to Dry" bill
in 1999, but it was defeated in the Senate Natural Resources &
Energy Committee. The language has been included in a 2007 voluntary
energy conservation bill, introduced by Senator Dick McCormack.
Legislation making it possible for thousands of American families to
start using clotheslines in communities where they were formerly
banned was passed in Colorado in 2008. In 2009, clothesline
legislation was debated in the states of Connecticut, Hawaii,
Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oregon, Virginia, and
Vermont. Other states[which?] are considering similar
bills.[clarification needed]
Similar measures have been introduced in Canada, in particular the
province of Ontario.
Directions for hand-washing New Britain Standard Hygienic Underwear,
Novice users of modern laundry machines sometimes experience
accidental shrinkage of garments, especially when applying heat. For
wool garments, this is due to scales on the fibers, which heat and
agitation cause to stick together. In cold countries they dry it with
their fireplaces, others just have many or buy more garments in
preparation for winter or cold times. Other fabrics are stretched by
mechanical forces during production, and can shrink slightly when
heated (though to a lesser degree than wool). Some clothes are
"pre-shrunk" to avoid this problem.
Another common problem is color bleeding. For example, washing a red
shirt with white underwear can result in pink underwear. Often only
similar colors are washed together to avoid this problem, which is
lessened by cold water and repeated washings. Sometimes this blending
of colors is seen as a selling point, as with madras cloth.
Laundry symbols are included on many clothes to help consumers avoid
The word laundry comes from
Middle English lavendrye, laundry, from
Old French lavanderie, from lavandier.
Laundry in culture
The launderer by Jef Lambeaux
In Homer's Odyssey, Princess
Nausicaa and her handmaidens are washing
laundry by the shore when they see and rescue the ship-wrecked
A washerwoman is the disguise adopted by Toad in Wind in the Willows.
My Beautiful Laundrette
My Beautiful Laundrette features two laundry enterpreneurs.
List of laundry topics
^ a b "Laundry". The Free Dictionary By Farlex. Retrieved
^ a b Katz-Hyman, Martha B.; editors, Kym S. Rice, (2011). World of a
slave : encyclopedia of the material life of slaves in the United
States. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood. p. 303.
^ The Oxford English Dictionary. III (Second ed.). Clarendon Press.
p. 908: copper 3.a. ISBN 0 19 861215 X.
^ "Ponch, punch or ?". OldandInteresting.com. Retrieved
^ Maxwell, Lee (2003). Save womens lives : history of washing
machines (1st ed. ed.). Eaton, CO: Oldewash. p. 8.
ISBN 9780972971003. CS1 maint: Extra text (link)
^ Hardyment, Christina (1988). From mangle to microwave : the
mechanization of household work. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
^ a b c "Yung, Judy; Chang, Gordon H.; Lai, Him Mark, eds. (2006),
"Declaration of the Chinese Hand
Laundry Alliance.", Chinese American
Voices, University of California Press, pp. 183–185 (including
notes), ISBN 0-520-24310-2
^ Ban Seng Hoe (2004), Enduring Hardship: The Chinese
Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilization, ISBN 0-660-19078-8
^ See for instance the article Now that's a Chinese laundry! Washing
hung out on students' balconies creates a bright patchwork of colours.
^ "How Does The Dry Cleaning Process Work?". LX. Retrieved 21 November
Dry cleaning is the process of deep cleaning clothing without
using water. Usually reserved for dress clothes and delicate fabric,
it requires special equipment and detergents.
Dry cleaning is
typically a 5 step process. These steps are tagging the clothes,
pretreating clothes, cleaning, quality checking, and ironing.
^ "Toxic Substances
Tetrachloroethylene (PERC)". Retrieved 21
Tetrachloroethylene (Perchloroethylene)". Retrieved 21 November
^ "The 2008 Florida Statutes". 163.04. Florida Senate. 2008.
chapter= ignored (help)
^ "Why Clothes Shrink".
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List of laundry topics
Combo washer dryer
French laundries of California
Laundry and Dry Cleaning International Union
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Worshipful Company of Launderers
Barbier v. Connolly
Laundry Co. v. United States
Muller v. Oregon
Pearson v. Chung
Yick Wo v. Hopkins
Baths and wash houses in Britain
Historical clothing • Traditional and national clothing
High water pants
Little black dress
Red Sea rig
Square leg suit
History of clothing