Washing laundry with ammonia, soda & borax (1898)

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That's a lot of laundry
Unlike so many old washing recipes that call for ingredients we rarely have on hand today — such as hypochloride of lime, powdered alum and potash — the chemical products mentioned herein are easily available today, and are still used as laundry boosters as well as to make “natural” or homemade laundry detergent.

That's a lot of laundry

Chemicals in the laundry

One of the safest chemicals is ammonia. Two tablespoonfuls of ammonia will be sufficient to soften four gallons of water. A small amount of washing soda, dissolved first in boiling water and stirred through a tub of cold water, will accomplish the same result, but when soda is used in large quantities, it will rot the strongest fabric.

Borax, though somewhat more expensive, is a safer article. It seems to have the power of starting the dirt. It is used extensively in Holland and Belgium, and the Dutch laundresses are among the most famous in the world. In this connection, the Boston Cooking School Magazine gives the following directions:

Half a pound of borax is sufficient to soften ten gallons of warm water. It not only saves labor, but it saves soap. Dissolve the borax in the water. If the water is soft, use only half the quantity of borax given. Shake out the soiled clothes loosely, rub soap on any especially soiled spots, and immerse them in the borax and water. After stirring them thoroughly, let them lie overnight. In the morning, lift the pieces out one by one and rub them on the board. Throw them into a boiler of cold water, in which a half pound of dissolved soap has been stirred. Let the clothes boil up once in the boiler, then lift them out and rinse them in cold water. Add a teaspoonful of borax to every gallon of water used in the rinsing.

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Photo: Football Team, 1898, at the University of Wisconsin, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Sport News. It’s our guess that these guys produced a LOT of dirty laundry.

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