History of doing the laundry - How people used to wash

Nowadays only a few people can imagine doing laundry without any washing machine, aromatic detergents, and nice softeners. How was washing in the past? Enjoy reading our article about the history of washing, washing machines, and laundry detergents.


                                                    Illustration photo 1          Source: Kerstin Riemer and KRiemer from Pixabay  

How clothes were washed in the past

The need for cleanliness naturally developed with starting to wear textiles. The first reference to washing had come from the Sumerians from the period of 2,800 years BC. In the beginning, laundry was done by literally slapping the clothing against rocks in the river. The soap was made from ash, wood, grains, and the herb called mock gillyflower.

Washing in ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman times

In ancient Egypt, the emphasis on cleanliness was strong. You can see the hieroglyphs showing barefoot slaves stomping on the laundry in a water tank with added grains. The Greeks and Romans loved the tidiness as well. The Romans invented communal wash houses. They washed the clothes with their bare feet in water tanks with added lime-ash, alkali, and sometimes even urine. Already in the 2nd century, they began to use soap - a mixture of animal fat, ash, and lime-wash.

Dirty medieval times

No one really cared about cleanliness through the medieval times, so the development of washing slowed down. Due to the plague epidemics, people thought the diseases were coming from water. They took a bath once a month and did the laundry every 2 months. They first boiled the clothes and then beat the dirt out of them with wooden sticks.


Illustration photo 2: Olive oil soap and Valcha         Source: Monfocus and Thomas Wolter from Pixabay 


In the 17th century, washing was on the rise. The clothes were washed, pounded, and scrubbed. The Spanish and Italians started with soap production. Soap was made from olive oil and algae ash. Valcha, the serrated washing board, was invented.

The development of washing machines and laundry detergents

The first washing machine was made by Jacob Christian Schäffern in 1767. The machines consisted of a tub base, paddles or rods, and a handle that turned the rods. In 1851 a version with the rotating drum was involved, but it was too rough for the fabric. However, the golden age of washing machines began in the 19th century.


 Illustration photo 3: Wood ancient wash items    Source: PxHere


Over time the movement of clothes in the washing machines was accompanied by a hand-operated wringer. The soap became a part of people's lives and its consumption had become a measure of the culture of nations.

The modern washing machines

The most important milestone was Tesla's use of electricity in a small motor of a washing machine in 1894. The first electric washing machine was made by Alva Fisher in 1907. Washing powder, as we know it nowadays, was invented in 1907 as well. The first automatic washing machine made in Czechoslovakia was introduced in 1957 at the Romo plant.



Illustration photo 4: Vintage washing machines Source: PxHere


In the 1960s liquid detergent started to be produced, in the 1970s, biologically active enzymes were introduced. In the 1990s, anti-allergic washing powders came on the market, and a few years later people could enjoy the simplicity of washing capsules. Currently, manufacturers are focusing on lowering the washing water temperature, which saves energy and maintains the quality of fabric for longer.



Text: Denisa Dee

Photo (cover photo): by Willi Heidelbach from Pixabay 

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