I think that sometimes in our busy, hurried day to day existance we take a lot of things for granted.
Take washing your clothes for example. It is something we dont even think about. We just pop them into the washing machine, close the door, add our choice of fragranced detergent, press the on button, and then sit back and wait for the cycle to complete. Ta-dah – clean clothes!
We have a very charmed life nowadays when you think of how our ancestors had to keep their clothes clean. Washing detergent is quite a new invention in its present form.
It is quite possible that your Grandma (definitely your great-grandma) washed clothes with a washboard. She would have used a bar of soap that would be cut into pieces and boiled to make a lather. If items were really stained you would just rub the soap on the clothes beforehand. Then she would wring out the clothes before putting them in the rinse tub which had a hand wringer. It had rollers and a hand crank to turn it. The clothes would then be dunked into a second tub to rinse, and then a further rinse just to make sure they were soap-free. She would wring them out one last time and hang them up. In the winter, she would either hang them on lines in the kitchen, or outside to freeze-dry. In the summertime, she hung the clothes outside on lines. The next day, she would take the clothes down, dampen them, and roll them up to be ironed. The irons would be heated on the stove burner until hot before use.
And if you think that was an unpleasant hard task, we can cast our minds back further to the days of Ancient Rome, where white tunics were the order of the day. Now how do you think they were kept so white and clean? Well…………….
The solution lay in a product that we have access to every single day - it was free then and is still free now. Have you guessed yet? It is urine!
The idea isnt as bizarre as you may think. The Ancient Romans realised that urine contained ammonia, which is a natural cleaning agent. It wasnt only the choice of cleaning material that was unusual - the process of obtaining the urine was rather interesting in itself. Fullers would place urine vessels on street corners for people to publicly relieve themselves. Once the vessels were full they were carefully carried back to the Fullonica (laundry).
The urine was then diluted with water and dirty clothes were soaked in the mixture. Part of the process also involved someone stomping on the clothes to agitate them. After this the garments were rinsed to get as much of the urine stench out of them as possible. I presume there would always be a residual odour left behind which paints a very pleasant picture (not) of the kind of smell that pervaded the air.
So, the next time you are loading your machine up just remember – we’ve come a long way ladies and gents!