Laundry was a greater challenge– and more work– than most amateur historians comprehend. Even when methods gave way from a washboard to a washing machine, the amount of physical labor required was nothing simple. Manual washing machines didn’t become available until quite late in the frontier era– after the Transcontinental Railroad went through. The washing machine was first available to order through a catalog in the late 1880’s.
Laundry, back in the day, was accomplished in a kettle over an outdoor fire. Every bucket of water was carried from a river, lake, well, or pump. In this secret recipe from a Kentucky grandmother to her newlywed granddaughter, learn how laundry was accomplished on the homestead pre-washing machine era (which did occur in the 19th century). This time-intensive chore required skill and elbow grease.
Twenty-first century people have it easy. In fact, most of us don’t know how to make soap–much less the ingredients (found on the Old West homestead) that should be saved in the process of living so that soap could be made. Soap did become readily available through catalog orders, but it cost money, and the more remove a settler, or the earlier a man or family found themselves on a frontier, the dirty, hot job of soap making was a necessary one. This article sheds light on the process, basic ingredients, methodology, as well as the rise of commercially prepared soap products.