An amusing view into how doing laundry has changed since the 1950’s

When clearing an elderly relatives house recently I found some lesson plans and exam questions that she used - she was a home economics teacher and taught in Oxford and Birmingham schools between the early 1950’s and the late 1970’s. They make fascinating reading.

There were many items that schoolgirls had to learn to wash as part of their home economics lessons and garment care/repair was also taught.

The second years were taught how to starch aprons and wash handkerchiefs:

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Third years were taught to wash and press table linen:

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Other lesson plans included topics such as ‘Brush your hat and coat and attend to lining, loops and buttons’; ‘Make a list of garments and items you would send to the laundry. Price these.’; ‘Do some household mending’ and ‘My vest and knickers. Finishing by mangling – topping if necessary’.

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Washing machines were introduced in the home in the 1950’s, but many families did not have them. In many homes washing was still done by hand in a sink using a washboard to rid items of dirt and a mangle to remove excess water.

If a family was lucky enough to have a washing machine, it would be top-loading machine filled from the tap with a mangle over the top (similar to the image below). White items were washed first, followed by coloured items and then very dirty items (which would have been pre-soaked).

After the clothes had been washed in the machine they were lifted out of the hot soapy water with large wooden tongs, fed through the mangle, rinsed in several rinses of clean water and put through the mangle again.

Clothes were dryed outside on the washing line on good drying days or placed on airers by the fire on damp days. Electric irons were available in the 1950’s, but they were not steam iron’s, so people had to ensure that garments were still slightly damp when ironed to ensure the creases were ironed out effectively.

Sounds like hard work doesn’t it? Can you imagine girls being taught this at school now?!

Today of course very few of us use/wash/starch table linen and tray cloths, use cotton handkerchiefs or send household linen to the laundry. What’s more, home economics is not generally taught in schools.

Now most homes have their own automatic washing machine or access to a launderette. Easy care/non-iron garments are extremely popular and many of us (including me) don’t use an iron unless absolutely necessary. Laundry is definitely easier than it used to be and caring for clothes has now become more of a shared household responsibility!

Whilst a lot has changed since the 1950’s, Love Your Clothes still recommend that you air dry clothing rather than use a tumble dryer, as it saves energy and clothing wear and tear. However, rather than washing at hot temperatures, we recommend that you wash at 30oC where possible as this saves energy and because modern washing detergents are designed to clean effectively at lower temperatures.

For other tips and guidance such as a guide to current washing care labels and advice on how to care for and repair different types of garment – please refer to the care and repair section of our website.