Here’s a very interesting little article from 1857 about the proper way to do washing. Some of this sounds very foreign to me (what is soft soap vs. hard soap?), but some of it sounds downright gross. A cow’s gall or bollock’s gall is just as gross as it sounds. The bile from the cow was used as a sort of cleaning and setting agent. They talk about it here as if it’s no big deal, which makes me wonder just how many antique textiles I’ve handled have been coated in that stuff. Hmm…
Also worth noting that the issue of colorfastness is mentioned here. It’s something we take for granted today, but was a very important consideration for practicality in prior eras. White was more practical than colors in a lot of instances- especially for linens and underthings.
The Key BasketFrom The Home Circle- May, 1857
“Nothing tends more effectually to secure good washing than a full supply of all conveniences, especially an abundance of warm and cold soft water.
Soft water is indispensable to the washerwoman; rain or river-water is best. If you have good water, do not use soda; it gives a yellowish tinge to the clothes. If you buy your soap, it is most economical to use hard soap for washing soap and soft soap for floors, etc.
Mend your clothes before washing, except stockings; these can best be darned when clean.
Flannels should be washed in clean hot suds, in which a little bluing has been mingled; do not rinse them. Woolens of all kinds should be washed in hot suds.
To wash colored dresses, turn the inner side out, and wash them in cold water, in which a little boiled soap is mixed: rinse them well in clean cold water, and the last time with a little salt in the water, and dry them in the shade. They should be washed and dried with as much expedition as possible.
Isinglass is a most delicate starch for muslins. When boiling common starch, sprinkle in a little fine salt; it will prevent its sticking.
Mildew stains are very difficult to remove from linen. The most effectual way is to rub soap on the spots, then chalk, and bleach the garment in the hot sun.
Ink and iron-mould may be taken out by wetting the spots in milk, then covering them with common salt. It should be done before the garments have been washed. Another way to take out ink is to dip it in melted tallow. For fine, delicate articles, this is the best way.
For fruit and wine-stains, mix two teaspoonfuls of water and one of spirit to sale, and let the stained part lie in this two minutes; then rinse in cold waster; or wet the stain in hartshorn.
To clean a carpet, shake and beat it well; lay it upon the floor, and tack it firmly; then with a clean flannel wash it over with one quart of bullock’s gall, mixed with three quarts of soft cold water, and rub it off with a clean flannel or hose cloth. Any particularly dirty spot should be rubbed with pure gall.
In large washes, the clothes should be assorted and put in soak the night before; much labor and soap are thus saved. In assorting clothes, put the flannels in one lot, the colored clothes in another, the coarse white ones in a third, and the fine clothes in the fourth. Wash the fine first, and then wash the coarse white articles in the same manner, and then wash the colored articles.
Washing Calicoes- Calico clothes, before they are put in water, should have the grease-spots rubbed out, as they cannot be seen when the whole of the cloth is wet. They should never be washed in a very hot soap-suds; that which is mildly warm will cleanse them quite as well, and will not extract the colors so much.
Soft soap should never be used for calicoes, excepting for the various shades of yellow, which look the best washed with soft soap, and not rinsed in fair water. Other colors should be rinsed in fair water, and dried in the shade.
Setting the Colors- When calicoes incline to fade, the colors can be set by washing them in lukewarm water, with beef’s gall, in the proportion of a teacupful to four or five gallons of water. Rinse them in fair water: no soap is necessary, unless the clothes are very dirty. If so, wash them in luke-warm suds, after they have been first rubbed out in beef’s-gall-water.
The beef’s gall can be kept for several months, by squeezing it out of the skin in which it is enclosed, adding salt to it, bottling and corking tight.”
A little note for the end here- upon a quick little internet search, here’s what was recommended for starching. Info from Wikipedia:
Isinglass (/ˈaɪzɪŋɡlæs, -ɡlɑːs/) is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is a form of collagen used mainly for the clarification or fining of some beer and wine. It can also be cooked into a paste for specialised gluing purposes.
So, cow bile and fish bladder. Yum!