Top Tips for Cleaning Clothes – Georgian style

So, just how did those Georgians cope with  cleaning delicate fabrics? They couldn’t simply nip along to a dry cleaners to have them chemically cleaned. Well, we came across this wonderful little book from 1753, packed with all types of useful information including top tips for cleaning clothes, ‘Madam Johnson’s Present: Or, Every Young Woman’s Companion in Useful and Universal Knowledge’ so we thought we would share some of them with you. We have no idea as to how effective some of these methods are so ‘approach with caution’. Some of them sound very dubious, so please do be careful if you try them one at home as we acceptable no responsibility!

unknown artist; Portrait of a Lady in a Floral Dress Washing Clothes; National Museums Northern Ireland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/portrait-of-a-lady-in-a-floral-dress-washing-clothes-123098
unknown artist; Portrait of a Lady in a Floral Dress Washing Clothes; National Museums Northern Ireland

To take iron mould and all sorts of spots and stains out of linen

These are removed by holding the linen, where they are, round a silver or stone mug containing boiling water, and by rubbing them with a slice of lemon. In the middle of summer, when the sun is very hot, the soaping them on both side will take them out; and if the linen be soaped all over it will be very white. Rubbing the stained places with juice of sorrel, or dipping them in the hot juice will take out the spots. The same may be done by rubbing them with salt and vinegar and squeezing; or by dipping them a few times in sharp vinegar boiling in an earthern, tin or silver pipkin over the fire; after which they should be well rubbed with soap, dried before the sun or fire and washed. Boiling milk will take the stains of fruit out of linen.

Morland, Henry Robert; Domestic Employment: Ironing; Lady Lever Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/domestic-employment-ironing-102602
Morland, Henry Robert; Domestic Employment: Ironing; Lady Lever Art Gallery

To take paint out of linen

Stains of that kind are extracted by rubbing them over with butter, hanging them in the sun, or before some heat to dry and then washing them.

To wash thread and cotton stockings

Let them have two lathers and a boil, having blued the water well. Wash them out of the boil, but don’t rinse them. Turn the wrong sides outwards and fold them very smooth and even, laying them one upon another and a board over them, with a weight of press them smooth. Let them lie thus about a quarter of an hour, after which hang them up to dry and when thoroughly so, roll them up tight without ironing by which means they will look as new.

2010EE8115_jpg_ds- pink stocking V and A

To clean gold and silver lace

This is performed by taking some Talk, finely pounded and moistened with the spirit of wine, and then rubbing it with a brush over the lace every way. The same will do also for gold and silver stuffs highly raised, but lace turns black, if rubbed with Talk by itself.

70413_85eec1f9eb1ede56_b
Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

How to make starch for small linen

Having wetted a quarter of a pound of starch, mixed with a little Powder Blue, so as it will bruise, add it to half a pint of water, and then pour them into a quart of water boiling on the fire. Stir well, and let the starch boil at least quarter of an hour, for it cannot be boiled too well, neither will the linen iron or look well, unless the starch be thoroughly boiled. After the starch is strained, dip the linen into it and then squeeze it out. Dip first those things you would have stiffest, but do not rub them in the starch; and as you want the starch stiff or thin, add or diminish. Some put Gum Arabic, Allum and Candle into the starch as it boils, but these are prejudicial; and if anything be added let it be Isinglass, about an ounce to  quarter of a pound of starch, for that will help to stiffen and make them clear, but not to be used for laces. A kettle of Bell-Mettle is the properest vessel to boil starch in.

Mercier, Philippe; Lady Mary Fairfax; Fairfax House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/lady-mary-fairfax-9884
Mercier, Philippe; Lady Mary Fairfax; Fairfax House

To take dirt from any silk

This is done by wetting it with a cloth dipped in clear water, and then wiping it, till the stain is out; then rubbing it first with a wet cloth, and next with a dry one and afterwards rolling it up dry in another clean cloth; but no air must come to it, for it would change the colour or crumple it. If the pieces of dirt be thick, they should be let dry and then shaken off; after which the silk should be rubbed with crumbs of bread and then with a clean cloth. If it be stained with coffee, rubbing with milk and then with fair water and a cloth will clean it.

How to take out spots of oil or any grease spots in silk

Let the spot be covered with French chalk, scraped and then rubbed well with a clean cloth. Pure spirit of lemon, without the essence, will extract any stain; but spirit of Sal Ammoniac is though preferable; for although the silk be all over stained with oil, it will take it out, at least on the second application if the silk be dry.

Silk, linen, silk thread; hand-woven damask, hand-sewn. c1743. Courtesy of V&A Musuem
Silk, linen, silk thread; hand-woven damask, hand-sewn. c1743. Courtesy of V&A Museum

To take spots out of thin silk

Dip a piece of black cloth in a pint of white wine vinegar, pretty well heated and rub it over the stain; after which scrape Fuller’s Earth on the stain and putting dry woollen cloths above and below, place and iron, moderately hot on the upper part and the spot will vanish.

The Camp Laundry, 1782, British Museum
The Camp Laundry, 1782, British Museum

To clean satins and Damasks

A suit of these may be cleaned by rubbing them with the crumb of a three-penny loaf, two days old, mixed with a quarter of an ounce of Powder-Blue.

And, to finish, we couldn’t resist a Thomas Rowlandson caricature, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

lwlpr11413

Source:

Madam Johnson’s Present: Or, Every Young Woman’s Companion in Useful and Universal Knowledge

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13 thoughts on “Top Tips for Cleaning Clothes – Georgian style

  1. Salt and vinegar or lemon certainly work for iron mould aka rust as for blood stains.
    My gran always used to roll her cotton lisle stockings
    I’d have used bicarb myself on gold or silver lace
    I certainly concur with using isinglass
    Getting grease out of silk, fuller’s earth or French chalk or bicarb for a start and I’d use warm white wine vinegar to soak it and then dab it out with kitchen towel which of course the Georgians didn’t have. [actually baby wipes lift most things from most fabrics, including gloss paint so long as it hasn’t dried]
    I’d use talc and dried tea leaves on a brocade or damask, pat it in and beat it out.
    I have been using some of the cleaning methods from old books and many of them work surprisingly well.

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    • Many of them do still work, but we’re a little concerned about the use of butter on linen, as surely that would leave a grease mark, but we haven’t put it to the test as yet!

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      • butter on linen is ok, because you can boil linen and get rid of the butter grease. I recall mother using butter to clean my hands when I’d been helping my father strip down his motorbike.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Milk cleaner is made today in Germany, it’s quite powerful stuff. I was always using their vinegar cleaners. The Germans have more of an eco-friendly approach than us British.

    I always enjoy reading your posts, thank you! 🙂 💙 🍵

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments, delighted you enjoy our posts. Perhaps we should look back to some of the more traditional/natural ways!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see you put a lot of love as well as research into your blog – it’s a real treasure. 🙂

        Did you know that herbalism – which is popular in Germany – is a legacy of the Nazis?! They wanted their OWN (lol) medicine. I suppose the herbs were a springboard for other green consumables. I lived there for a decade and consider the country my 2nd home.

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      • Well, you learn something new every day! We always try to find little snippets of new or rarely reported information that we hope will be of interest to our readers:)

        Liked by 1 person

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