From Academic Kids

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Laundry hung out for drying

Laundry can be:

  • items of clothing and other textiles that require washing
  • the act of washing clothing and textiles
  • the room of a house in which this is done

History of laundry

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"Man and woman washing linen in a brook", from William Henry Pyne's Microcosm, 1806.

Laundry was probably first done by immersing cloth in streams and letting the stream carry away the materials causing stains and smells. In many Third-World countries and rural regions, laundry may still be done this way. Agitation helps remove the dirt, so the laundry is often rubbed, twisted, or slapped against flat rocks.

Various chemicals may be used increase the solvent power of water, such as the compounds in soaproot or yucca-root used by Native American tribes. Soap, a compound of lye, from wood-ash, and fat, is an ancient and very common laundry aid. However, modern washing machines typically use powdered or liquid detergent in place of soap.

When there were no streams to use for laundry, laundry was done in water-tight vats or vessels. Sometimes large metal cauldrons were filled with fresh water and heated over a fire; boiling water was even more effective than cold in removing dirt. The washboard, a corrugated slab of a hard material such as metal, replaced rocks as a surface for loosening soil.

Once clean, the clothes were wrung out -- twisted to remove most of the water. Then they were hung up on poles or clotheslines to dry, or sometimes just spread out on clean grass.

The Industrial Revolution completely transformed laundry technology.

First came the mangle (wringer US), in the 18th 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.

In the early 20th century inventors further mechanized the laundry process with various washing machines. Typically, these machines used an electrically-powered agitator to replace tedious hand rubbing against a washboard. The earliest machines 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 dryers. Dryers were also spinning perforated tubs, but they blew heated air rather than water.

Modern laundry

Washing machines and dryers are now fixtures in homes around the world. Apartment buildings and dormitories often have laundry rooms, where residents share washing machines and dryers. Usually the machines are set to run only when coins in appropriate amounts are inserted in a coin-slot. Those without home machines or access to laundry rooms must either wash their clothes by hand, visit a commercial laundromat or ...

Use a car as agitator. If clothes are put in a water-tight container, with soap or detergent, and the container is placed in the trunk of a car or the bed of a pick-up truck, a few hours of stop-and-start driving or a stretch of bumpy road will agitate nicely. The clothes may then be rinsed and dried. This method is said to be used by some ranchers in the Western part of the United States.

See also: laundry symbols, washing machine, dryer, household chore

External links


Laundry is also the name of an experimental/indie band from San Francisco, featuring drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, guitarist Tom Butler, Stick player Ian Varriale, and vocalist Toby Hawkins. They have released two albums: 1994's Blacktongue and 1999'sätt


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