Artifact Corner: Victorian Wash Basin

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at an artifact outside of the home. This is an iron wash basin or tub. It’s not for humans, it’s for your laundry. The basin is placed at the back of the home, and position right behind the kitchen. This was a great spot for it, because it wasn’t too far from the well, so hauling water to fill it up was a bit easier. It is a large iron vessel, for doing a big load of laundry, and a wooden cap on top of it to make sure that small animals, or worse, children wouldn’t accidentally fall into it. Let’s learn a bit more about doing laundry in the Victorian period.

Every successful laundry day, or laundry days, began with the process of soaking. So, the night before you would gather all of the clothing needed to be laundered, and put it in warm water. So, the process begins with gathering water, either from a well, or from a river or other body of water. Then, you would need to heat the water up, pour it into your wash basin, and put all the clothes in. Some Victorian manuals actually called for soaking up to three times. The next morning, very early, they would start collecting and boiling water again for the wash day. Once all of the clothes were covered in boiling water you would use a stick called a dolly, which was a long stick with what looked like a small stool on the end of it to agitate the clothing. Next the clothing would be taken out piece by piece and scrubbed on a washboard. Then it would be wrung out, using a mangle or wringer, or if you were very poor, by hand. Then it was time to hang the clothing on a line to dry out. Once the clothing was dry, it would need to be ironed, or pressed. Then folded, and put away. Depending on the number of people in the family, this could be a one to two day process.

The Victorians had a number of clever ways to remove different parts of stains. Given that white cotton and linen where incredibly popular fabrics used in both men’s and women’s fashions, one of the hardest parts of laundry day was keeping white fabrics looking white. A Victorian laundresses trick was to add a bit of blue dye to the wash water. The process was called bluing, since blue is a complementary color to yellow, it helped cancel the yellow out. You can still buy bluing agents for clothing today. Multiple laundry manuals mentioned that sour milk can remove iron rust from white clothing. Fruit or wine stains can be treated with chloride of lime, sal ammonia, or spirits of wine. And ink can be removed with just a few drops of oxalic acid or salts of sorrel.

Doing laundry was an all day and sometimes even days a air, and was incredibly hard work. It definitely makes you appreciate the modern conveniences of a washing machine and a dryer. If you’d like to see our wash basin in person, we have our Historic Farm and Garden Festival this weekend! It’s a free family event that has lots of activities and games, as well as demonstrations. It’s Saturday and Sunday from 11-3, and again, it’s free. We hope to see you there, and thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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