I really do like doing my laundry all on one day. The homemaking routines that have you do a load or two of laundry a day drive me crazy. I always just feel like it’s a never-ending slog. Of course, I do at least one load of laundry every day because I do cloth diapering. And when there is a newborn, I wash baby clothes once a day until they are out of diapers. So, I am doing two small loads a day right now, every day but Sunday. But it is seriously depressing to feel like I am always behind, and I have to wash a load of boys’ clothes, or kitchen towels, because everything clean has run out. I am trying to create a Monday-Wash Day routine, based on my 1950s cleaning and baby care books that will reduce laundry from all week to once a week (plus baby stuff). Here is my plan for doing laundry like a 1950s mom, which I will be trying out for this school year!
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Doing Laundry Like a 1950s Mom
My book notes that “It used to be a matter of pride to get the wash on the line as early Monday morning as possible.” So, that’s going to be my goal. It also notes that fresh water and fresh suds will be needed frequently during a large family laundering!
By the way, the housekeeping book I use is America’s Housekeeping Book, compiled by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, and published in 1953. You can get a copy for free here, or you can find a used copy on Amazon or Ebay.
Doing laundry like a 1950s mom is going to take a lot of planning, and also a lot of doing. By the end of this, we may have all new wardrobes and a fully stocked linen closet! (That’s my dream anyway.) Right now, it’s too easy to slip into slob mode and then stay depressed. I want my family to be well turned out. Still, there’s time, there’s time! (I love Mary Poppins!)
- Separate clothes into piles:
- Table linen — white and colored
- Bed linen and towels — white and colored
- White and colorfast cotton and linen clothing
- Colored cotton and linen clothing
- White silks and rayons
- Colored silks and rayons
- White woolens
- Colored woolens
- Subdivide piles into lightly and heavily soiled pieces.
- Watch for and remove any spots and stains before washing. (Stain removal is like 15 pages of ideas! Mostly using kerosene . . .)
- Mend rips and tears before washing. (except in stockings and undergarments; I have no idea why they were so careful to say that!)
- Remove pins and clips, and empty pockets.
- Put aside any new articles to wash separately, unless you are sure about colorfastness.
- This DOES NOT cover the special laundering:
- Handkerchiefs used by people with colds or sinus infections
- Diapers, baby clothes, and baby linens
- Bathroom cleaning cloths
- Kitchen dishcloths and dish towels
- Sick room linens and garments
- Foundation garments, gloves, veils, stockings, and all the other little pretties of vintage dress
- Bedspreads, mattress pads, blankets, slipcovers, rugs, and window dressings
So, my current plan is to work through all the sorting by about 8:30, after tidying, but before I start the daily cleaning. Since I have an automatic washer, I can start soaking and washing while I work on the daily cleaning in the rest of the house.
Soaking and Washing
- Overnight soaking is not necessary; 15-20 minutes is enough for white and colorfast cottons and linens.
- Use cool, soft water and a light suds for soaking; it is to remove soil and dirt that may be set by hot water.
- Extract the soiled water thoroughly before putting items in wash water.
- Wash rumpled or lightly soiled white articles, then more heavily soiled items, then colored pieces in the same order.
- Rinse 2 or 3 times in clean soft water, and extract the water by wringing or spinning.
- Chlorine bleach should be added to the first rinse water when it is used; rinse at least twice after bleach is used. Never use chlorine bleach on silk or wool.
- Liquid bluing can go in the final rinse water to counteract the yellow tinge that white articles can acquire.
Fortunately for me, I have a modern washing machine (thank God!) and although my cleaning book says that the procedure is much the same for washing by machine or by hand, I am bypassing all the vintage washing machine times and instructions and following the washer manufacturer’s directions (which it recommends doing four times in the washing instructions). So, I will blue and bleach as needed, my soaking will be a preliminary washing in cool suds (recommended by experts!), and I will add extra rinses as necessary.
I am NOT starching. I don’t even iron regularly yet. And my book says that starched clothes mold quickly. So, no regular system + tasty mold food = no clothes for anyone. I DO want to get a regular system in place, and then start ironing regularly, and then try starching. Just because starching is so vintage-y. But not until I having all this washing down!
However, for those who want to know, starching improves appearance and finish, and sheds soil better. Make the starch properly (or buy it), dilute it based on what you are starching, and then immerse rinsed and wrung-out inside-out garments in the starch and press to force the starch through. Remove the excess starch by wringing. Hang the garments to dry immediately, then turn them right-side out (except starched, dark-colored garments, which are ironed on the wrong side) and sprinkle them for ironing. Use tinted starch for dark-colored items. Of course, doing laundry like a 1950s mom means having the kids and myself wearing clothes that need starching and ironing, instead of jeans and t-shirts or knit dresses ever day.
- Adjust the clothesline so you are comfortable.
- Clean the clothesline before each use, and use clean, smooth clothespins.
- Before you take the clothes into the yard, sort them. Keep and hang like pieces together to save time in sprinkling and ironing.
- Hang a clothespin bag on the line, and put the clothesbasket on a stand or a child’s wagon
- Hang whites in the sun and colors in the shade (or inside).
- Put out large pieces first; smaller pieces can fit in the remaining space.
- Don’t things hang by their corners.
- Fold sheets and tablecloths hem to hem, wrong side out, and hang lengthwise with a third of the double thickness over the line.
- Hang towels, pillowcases, etc. about a third of their lengths over the line. 2-3 handkerchiefs and napkins may be hung together.
- Dresses made of fine fabrics should be hing inside on rustproof hangers.
- When you take the washing in, smooth and fold each piece, and keep like things together to save time in sprinkling and ironing.
- Dry silks, rayons, and velvets by rolling in terry towels, unrolling and ironing as soon as it is only damp.
- Dry woolens by rolling in towels, kneading to extract moisture, and blocking on a frame or putting on a form to finish drying.
So, my goal with drying will be to have everything washed by noon, and hung out over the course of the afternoon. Unfortunately, my clothesline is not big enough for hanging all my washing at once. I will have to dry in stages. That means that I will need to have all the washing in by 4:00, and folded, ready for sprinkling and ironing the next day (or, let’s be real, for putting away in drawers, so they stay folded for at least 5 minutes . . .).
Care of the Washing Machine
After using the washing machine, clean out any lint, wash the inside of the washer with warm soapsuds, rinse and dry, and leave the lid open. Also, wash out your cleaning rags in hot soapsuds and hang to dry after each use. So, clean the washer every Monday after laundering. And after diapers and baby things. And after special loads like sickroom linens. At least the washer will be clean!
- Using warm water, sprinkle as evenly as possible, a couple of hours before ironing.
- Sprinkle large articles one at a time, and thoroughly wet heavy fabrics, collars, etc. Fold collars and cuffs inside and sprinkling. Put handkerchiefs, napkins, etc. in a neat pile and sprinkle every third piece.
- After sprinkling, roll up pieces smoothly and firmly. No wrinkles. You can roll the piles of napkins, etc. together.
- Pack rolls firmly in a clothesbasket and cover with a clean cloth.
I can tell you that I will not be sprinkling unless I intend to iron. The book says that I could also take down the clothes while still damp, and they won’t need sprinkling. But I would probably get mildewed clothes, because they weren’t ironed in time. So, maybe when I am better at this whole vintage housekeeping thing, I can try it. If I am REALLY doing laundry like a 1950s mom, I will have to do it at some point.
- Start with fabrics needing low temps and work up to high-temp fabrics.
- Smooth fabric with the palms of your hands, rather than pulling with the fingers.
- Iron with straight strokes with the grain of the fabric, and iron each section dry before moving on to the next. First, iron collars, cuffs, sleeves, belts, and trimmings, then move to the flat sections of the garment.
- Iron whites and light colors on the right side, iron darks, silks, and rayons on the wrong side, and iron damask first on the right side, then the wrong side.
- Fold your flatwork differently from time to time, to avoid wear from creasing.
- Hang blouses, shirts, and dresses.
- Use low or very low heat for rayons, moderate heat for silk and wool, and hot for cotton and linen.
- Clean starch from the iron if it sticks.
I am not an expert ironer. I need a lot of practice. Currently, everyone wears wrinkled clothes or knits that don’t need ironing. T-shirts and jeans are common. I would love to dress all the children better. And I would love to wear crisply starched cotton aprons and housedresses while I worked. Doesn’t that just sound pretty? So, by the end of this schoolyear, my goal is to be starching and ironing shirts, pants, and dresses (and my aprons!) for all the kids and myself. My husband wears jeans, t-shirts, and flannel shirts for his work. But I can keep his suits and dress shirts looking sharp for when he needs them. The ironing chapter has five pages of tricks to help me, so I will try lots of practice. And maybe starching.
As far as scheduling ironing, I plan to iron on Tuesday, which means that I will try sprinkling the clothes between tidying and doing the daily cleaning in the morning. After I do the daily cleaning, I will iron, with the goal of finishing before 4:00, so I can put away all the clothes and rest before I finish dinner.
What Doing Laundry Like a 1950s Mom Looks Like in Practice
Obviously, I will be working this routine into my 1950s Mom Daily Routine on Mondays and Tuesdays. My schoolkids get up and do their morning routines between 7:30 and 8:30. Breakfast is at 8:00. After that, I tidy the house, before starting my dailies. Doing laundry like a 1950s mom means sorting and sprinkling between tidying and dailies on the checklist on Monday and Tuesday. On Mondays, washing happens during dailies, since I have an automatic modern machine. On Tuesdays, ironing happens after dailies, and will probably take over the afternoon. Both days, I will need to prepare dessert, dough for rolls, dinner veggies, a starter, all of lunch, and an afternoon snack as early as possible.
Cleaning Cloths and Kitchen Linens
Kitchen linens and cleaning cloths were not included in the weekly laundering. The book says to wash all cleaning cloths in hot soapsuds when they are used. So, after I clean the bathroom, I wash the cloths and the toilet brush in hot suds and hang them to dry. Every day.
In the kitchen, I wash the dishtowels daily to prevent stains. Every meal requires one or two clean dishtowels, so every day I wash at least 4 dishtowels. First, soak the dishtowels, then wash in hot suds, bleach as needed, rinse thoroughly, and hang outside to dry. Dishcloths are also kitchen cleaning cloths, and are washed in hot suds and rinsed thoroughly after every use.
Dusters are not washed; they are treated with oil. I presume that wiping cloths are used for little spills and the mop for big spills. (I have a professional mop bucket with a wringer and a commercial wet mop, because 9 people, a dog, and adobe mud do not allow the use of sponge mops.) Keeping cleaning cloths separate from the other laundry also helps to prevent cross-contamination. 1950s housekeeping was preoccupied with preventing disease, which makes sense when you realize that most of those housekeepers grew up with at least a few family and friends dying of disease. Antibiotics were new, and there were only three vaccines by the 1950s: smallpox, diptheria, and polio.
Diapers and Baby Things
Doing laundry like a 1950s mom means doing laundry for the non-potty-trained. Diapers and baby things will be washed separately, but not every day. Late morning, after I do the dailies, I will take the baby’s laundry and diapers to wash. Diapers, like sickroom linens and sick handkerchiefs, should be boiled. Baby things don’t have to be washed every day, but every couple of days there is a full load of blankets, baby clothes, and washcloths. Diapers and cloth wipes need to be done frequently — at least every couple of days. Until they are washed, they should be soaked. I soak them in borax and cold water. I also bleach them regularly, instead of boiling them. I’d try the boiling thing, though. It sounds like it might be better for the diapers. I think that is something to add after the baby is born, as part of a new routine.
I’ll keep you updated on the insanity of attempting all the ruffles and starching and ironing that goes into doing laundry like a 1950s Mom! (And dressing one’s kids like a 1950s mom . . .) If I can manage it, it will look fab-u-lous, and make me even happier than a clean house every day and dessert every night. We’ll see how it goes!
4 thoughts on “Doing Laundry Like a 1950s Mom”
Are you expecting again? (If I read this right.) How exciting, congratulations! I love this post and all the inspiration it gives for continuing to fight for improvement. Thank you!
Thank you! Holding my breath.
I guess I’m a weirdo. I don’t mind doing laundry, at all. I definitely will not do it all in one day, I’m not sure the day is long enough. The first load of the day is actually loaded the night before and I run it as soon as I get up. Then it’s ready for the clothesline when we’re done with breakfast. The second load is loaded as soon as the first load is hung on the line. It is then ran right before lunch and ready to hang when we are done eating. If I must do a third load, I do it when we are done with school for the day. Bedding is washed on Saturdays. I love schedules, lol. Your blog has been such an inspiration, thanks.
Not weird at all! This is why women used to specialize in a particular task. I would totally hire a laundress, so I could focus on what I am good at! My daughters always argue over which would have been the maid, cook, nursemaid, or seamstress.
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