Victorian Laundry: Washing And Stain Remover Recipes

Victorian Laundry- Washing And Stain Remover Recipes

‘As the appearance of many articles of dress depends greatly upon the skill of the washerwoman, it is thought that a few hints on the subject may not be misapplied; these have been collected from experienced laundresses’. (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 234)

A Victorian Laundress Needed …

  • Washing tubs which ‘should be of smooth wood, with no nails, or iron hoops outside, lest the linen should be torn or rusted.’
  • A copper furnace ‘in which to boil the Linen.’
  • A maid or dolley: ‘These are sometimes circular like a barrel churn, and sometimes upright, they are used for shaking and rinsing dirty and coarse linen.’
  • Rain water: ‘is essential for many articles, if none is at hand, a cask should be kept, to catch what falls from the house.’
  • Line pegs: ‘These should be of white soft wood; they must be kept very clean for use, and counted before being put away.’
  • Lines: ‘These should be of worsted, if not too expensive, otherwise soft flaxen lines answer well. When they are done with, and dry, they should be taken down, wound on a skein, and put carefully aside until wanted.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 234) A clothes-line of ‘sea-grass or horse-hair is best’ (Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper And Healthkeeper, 1873). ‘Gutta-percha clothes lines are stronger and much more durable than common cord. They can, moreover, be cleaned, and are not affected by wet.’ (Warne’s Model Housekeeper, 1882)
Victorian Laundress
Edwardian Working Woman Outfit

Removing Stains

Removing fruit stains: ‘Pour boiling water through the stains, and repeat several times before putting in soap-suds.’ (Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book, 1903)

Composition for restoring scorched linen: ‘Boil to a consistency two ounces of fuller’s earth, half an ounce of cake soap, and the juice of two onions, in half a pint of vinegar. Spread it over the damaged part, and suffer it to dry on, then give it one or two washings, and if the scorching is not so great as to injure the threads, the part will appear white and perfect.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 222)

To take out mildew: ‘Mix soft soap with powdered starch, half as much as salt, and the juice of a lemon. Lay it on the mildewed part, on both sides, with a brush. Let it lie on the grass day and night till the stain comes out.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 221)

To remove rust stains, iron mould and ink

To remove stains from mourning clothes: ‘Boil a handful of fig leaves in two quarts of water until reduced to a pint. Bombazines, crape, cloth, etc, need only be rubbed with a sponge dipped in this liquor, and the effect will be instantly produced.’ (Facts Worth Knowing, 1856)

To take grease spots out of silk: ‘Scrape some French chalk and lay it on the spot, put some blotting-paper over, and leave it for a day or two; all the grease will be extracted.’ (Hilda’s “Where Is It?” Of Recipes, 1919)

To take wax candle spots out of silk or cloth: ‘Lay a piece of blotting-paper on the spot, put a live coal of fire in a kitchen spoon, hold it on the spot all the grease will be absorbed in the blotting-paper.’ (Hilda’s “Where Is It?” Of Recipes, 1919)

To remove marking ink from linen: ‘When linen is erroneously marked or spotted with marking ink, an application of chloride of lime with either cold or hot water, will efface it. It should be applied over and over again till the marks are obliterated; but as the chloride of lime spoils linen, it is advisable to wash the part well, immediately after each application, so as to prevent its eating away the linen. Chloride of lime being poisonous, the mixture should be carefully thrown away after being used.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 217)

Victorian Laundry
My Victorian Underwear


To clean white veils: ‘Make a solution of white soap; let the veil simmer in it for a quarter of an hour; squeeze in warm water and soap till it is clean; rinse it in cold water, in which put a drop of blue water. Pour boiling water on a teaspoon-ful of starch; run the veil through this, and clear by clapping it. Pin it out on a cloth or a cushion, very evenly, by the edges to dry.’ (Warne’s Model Housekeeper, 1882)

To prepare muslin and lace for washing: If necessary the articles should be mended before washing. ‘Embroidered articles should be basted in exact shape upon a piece of flannel or other soft cloth. The muslin will be less liable to be frayed or torn by the weight of the needlework. Common laces should be folded evenly together into many thicknesses, and then basted through and through around the edges, with a fine needle and thread.’ (The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1871)

To wash muslin and lace: ‘Soak these various articles in warm water with Castile or olive soap in it. After a few hours, or the next day, squeeze them dry (never rub or wring them); put on more soap, pour on hot water, and let them stand another day. Then squeeze them dry, and examine them. If they are not white, lay them loosely into a broad dish or platter, with warm suds in it, and set them in the sun a day or two; or, put them into a large white glass bottle, with a wide mouth, fill it with warm suds and set it in the sun. Turn the muslins over now and then, and also turn the bottle round, so as to give every side the benefit of the sun. This is a very good way where there is no grass-plot which can be used for bleaching.’ (The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1871)

To clean silk: How to clean silk dresses

To clean silk ribbons, silks etc.: Mix together 1 tbsp gin, 1 tbsp soft soap, 1 tbsp honey and the white of an egg. ‘Dip the ribbon, or any silk you want to clean, in water, then lay on a board and scrub with the mixture, using a soft brush. Rinse in cold water, fold in a cloth, and iron half-dry. It will look like new.’ (Hilda’s “Where Is It?” Of Recipes, 1919)

Dry clean light-colored cloth coats and skirts at home: ‘Lay the garment to be cleaned on a table and proceed to scatter [fine powdered] salt over it with a liberal hand. Spread it gently with the finger-tips until a thin powdering of salt is evenly distributed over the entire surface. Next take the pad and rub the salt into the cloth with long downward sweeps, not round and round, as this would tend to roughen the surface and so destroy the sheen of the material. Now brush all the salt out, and go over the more soiled parts, such as the hem of the skirt and cuffs and collar of the coat, a second time’. (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

Victorian Laundry- Washing And Stain Remover Recipes
Antique Victorian Linen Chemise

To renovate black silk: ‘Take about two ounces of black tea, boil it well in a saucepan, add to it a few grains of washing soda or carbonate of soda and a little dissolved gum arabic, Strain, and sponge the silk thoroughly with this mixture hot. Hang the pieces of silk on a horse to drain, roll up smoothly, and iron whilst damp. Coffee is very good too, cleansing the silk, and removing every stain or grease-spot. The coffee must be hot and well strained.’ (Hilda’s “Where Is It?” Of Recipes, 1919)

To clean black cloth clothes: ‘Clean the garments in a boiler or copper containing two or three gallons of water, for half an hour. Dip the clothes in warm water, and squeeze dry; then put them into the copper and boil for half an hour. Take them out, and add three drachms of sulphate of iron; boil for half an hour, then take them our, and hang them up for an hour or two; take them down, rinse them in three cold waters, dry well and rub with a soft brush which has had a few drops of olive oil rubbed on its surface. If the clothes are threadbare about the elbows, cuffs, etc, raise the nap with a teazel or half worn hatter’s card, filled with flocks, and when sufficiently raised, lay the nap the right way with a hard brush. We have seen our old coats come out with a wonderful dash of respectability after this operation.’ (Facts Worth Knowing, 1856)

To clean black crape: ‘Women in mourning frequently discard long crape veils and trimmings, not because they are ruined by the rain, but because they do not know how to care properly for this material when it is wet. It should be dried immediately, spreading it out, but not near the fire. If it is stained with mud, clean it with cold water, and dry away from the fire, air, and sunshine. English crape, when it has become limp, should be dampened with brandy, then rolled on a roller. Moisten it at each turn, and evenly throughout. Milk may also be used to dampen crape and to restore its color, but the crape should be carefully sponged afterward with water.’ (The Home Cyclopedia Of Cooking And Housekeeping, 1902)

To clean black stockings: ‘Never use soap, but a suds made of a teacupful of bran inclosed in a muslin bag, thrown into warm water, and well stirred. First wash the stockings in this preparation. On taking them out of the water, roll them in a towel, pressing strongly, and dry quickly near the fire, not in the air.’ Restore the color of faded black stockings with logwood dye. (The Home Cyclopedia Of Cooking And Housekeeping, 1902)

To clean chintz: ‘Boil two pounds of rice in two gallons of water till it is soft, when the whole is poured into a tub fit for use. Wash the chintz till it is quite clean in soap and water, and then rinse it in the rice water, which will act like starch. In drying, it must be hung very smoothly, and rubbed with a glazed stone, but not ironed. An upper crust of bread or bran, are very good for cleaning also.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 222)

To wash colored prints, cretonnes, etc.: ‘Put a little bran into lukewarm water; wash quickly through; rinse in cold water also quickly. Hang to dry in a room without fire or sunshine. Iron with not too hot an iron. Use no soap.’ (Warne’s Model Housekeeper, 1882)

To clean down: ‘Open the seam, and wash with white soap and warm water; shake it before a gentle fire till dry.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 177)

To clean calico furniture: After brushing off the dust, ‘rub it with dry old bread. […] Bran is also an excellent cleanser.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 222)

To clean white satin shoes: ‘Rub them with stale bread. Or rub them with a piece of new flannel dipped in spirits of wine.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 224)

Substitute for soap: ‘The sawdust of pine and fir trees will do quite as well as soap for washing coarse linen.’ (Warne’s Model Housekeeper, 1882)

Indelible ink for marking linen: 1 pint juice of sloes, 1/2 ounce gum. ‘This requires no mordant and is very durable.’ (The Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts, 1841) ‘The thickened juice of the unripe sloe is used in Germany for making an ink for marking linen, and its tracings are permanent.’ (The flowering plants and ferns of Great Britain, 1855)

 Related: DIY Sloe Laundry Ink

Permanent red marking ink: ‘Take half an ounce of vermillion, and a drachm of salt of steel, let them be finely levigated with linseed oil to the thickness required. The mixture must be well shaken before used. Inks of various colours may be made, by using sap green, Prussian blue, gamboge, &c. instead of vermillion.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 217)

Victorian Laundress
Victorian Printed Cotton Dress


Bluing: There are various kinds of blues for use in the laundry. They may be bought either in solid or liquid form, but the solid blues are more generally used. […] The liquid blues are usually soluble and chiefly obtained from aniline dyes […] Ultramarine, azure, Prussian and indigo are the solid blues chiefly employed in laundry work. […] Blues are used to counteract the yellow tint given to clothes by wearing, or by the action of soaps, during washing. The blues, reduced to fine particles by mixing with water, enter the linen in the form of minute grains, and give linen and calico a uniform tint which intensifies the whiteness of the fabric. The blue water for white clothes should be of a very pale shade; if made too deep the clothes become a pale blue shade […] Solid blues should always be tied in a bag, preferably flannel […] Blue water should not be prepared until required […] Clothes must not be left in the blue water […] The blue bag must be tightly squeezed before putting away’ (The Minneapolis Journal, 1906).

To make linen white that has turned yellow: Heat a gallon of milk with one pound scraped soap till dissolved, ‘put the linen in, and let it boil some time, then take it out, put it into a lather of hot water, and wash it properly out.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 222)

To whiten yellow linen and cotton: ‘soak over-night, or longer, in buttermilk; rinse thoroughly and wash the same as other clothes […] Some use sour milk when not able to procure buttermilk.’ (Practical Housekeeping, 1887)

To whiten yellow laces and old collars: put them into a glass jar with strong suds, let it stand in the sun ‘for seven days, shaking occasionally.’ (Practical Housekeeping, 1887)


Related: How To Starch A Victorian Cotton Petticoat

How to starch lace collars: ‘Starch in hot starch and pull in shape on a soft white flannel. When nearly dry, rub over with a warm iron – not hot – and lay in a paper in the sun or warm oven. Then shape the edge with the fingers.’ (Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book, 1903)

Related: How To Make An Edwardian Lace Yoke

How to stiffen black wash-goods: ‘Use [hide] glue instead of starch for stiffening black dresses. It makes them shine like new and leaves no white spots as starch does. Or common flour starch colored with cold coffee answers very nicely.’ (Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book, 1903)

Related: 20 Ways To Make Homemade Natural Glue

Coffee starch: ‘For dark prints or percales, mix 2 tablespoons raw starch with cold water, smoothly. Stir into a pint of clear, hot coffee, that has been strained. Boil about 10 minutes, add a bit of enamel or a teaspoon of kerosene.’ (Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book, 1903)


To iron bobbinet tulle:Bobbinet laces, if ironed at all, should be ironed diagonally, as in this way only can the mesh retain its shape. Dip them in stiff starch, and after drying them, dip them again, then pin them out upon a bed. They will dry soon, and will need only to be folded even, and a warm iron set upon them to press the folds flat. Whether pressed or not, they will look like new bobbinet’. (The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1871)

To iron lace and needlework: They should be ironed on the wrong side over a piece of flannel or soft cloth, ‘and be long enough under the iron to dry it, as it will look ill if laid away damp.’ (The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1871)

Make an ironing board: ‘It is convenient to have a board expressly for ironing caps, collars, cuffs, laces, and other small articles. It should be about two feet long, a foot and a half wide, covered on one side with four or five thicknesses of cotton cloth sewed on tight and perfectly smooth, and covered with white flannel.’ (The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1871)

Preserving Wool, Silk and Lace

To preserve woolens and blankets: ‘They should first be properly washed in a lather of soap and water, and well dried, then pepper must be sprinkled over them before they are folded up and put away. It is a good plan to keep them in brown paper bags.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 225)

Related: 10 Ways How To Get Rid Of Moths & Carpet Beetles Naturally – Historical & Today

To store white clothes: ‘In putting away white clothes in the fall, have the starch washed out and make them very blue. This will keep them from getting yellow.’ (Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book, 1903)

To keep blonde, satin, silk, etc.: ‘The above, and all articles which are apt to be discoloured by lying by, should be wrapped up and covered with the coarsest brown paper, as the turpentine contained in it, is an effectual preservation.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 224)

Bleaching And Dyeing

To bleach muslin white: ‘scald in suds and lay them on the clean grass all night, or if this can not be done, bring in and place in a tub of clean soft water. In the morning scald again and put out as before. It will take from one to two weeks to bleach white. May be bleached in winter by placing on the snow. May is the best month for bleaching.’ (Practical Housekeeping, 1887)

To dye cotton a nankeen (yellowish) colour:Keep old nails and rusty iron for fifteen days in good vinegar; apply this dye to the cotton with a brush, it will give an excellent colour, which improves by washing.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 224)

Related: How To Make DIY Iron Liquor For Natural Dyeing

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17 thoughts on “Victorian Laundry: Washing And Stain Remover Recipes

  1. These Victorian cleaning references and tips are fascinating. I am a history lover as well so I really appreciated your research. Of course, I also found some great DIY cleaning tips to try. I’m pinning and sharing.

  2. Great tips that I am sure I will be able to use. Thanks for sharing them. Congratulations on being featured on #WasteLessWednesdays blog hop. Pinning and tweeting. Have a healthy, happy & blessed day.

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