Friday, October 29, 2010
Dhobi Ghat in BOMBAY -[AND IN SINGPORE THERE IS PLACE CALLED DHOBI GHAT ;MAY BE IN OLDEN DAYS WHEN BRITISH RULED SINGAPORE AND INDIA ; DHOBIS WASHED CLOTHS THERE] ANCIENT TIMES (2500 B.C. – 476 A.D. approx. 3000 years) In ancient times, bathing and clothes washing evolved. Soap began to be used, both for bathing and for laundering clothes. The Romans used public laundries or “fulleries”, staffed by workers who washed clothing with a version of detergents. The fulleries were not a healthy environment for those who worked in them. Public baths became popular, as bathing was seen as a social event. Aqueducts brought water into the homes of the wealthy, whereas the working class relied on hand-carrying water from the public fountains and rivers to their homes. Plumbing was still rudimentary, with waste carried through open drains to rivers. Because of the lack of waste treatment of any kind, the environmental impact of human activity was high, especially near the cities. Romans were a fashion-conscious people and paid much attention to their attire. Soap
Dhobis call on regular clients, collect their dirty clothes and then take them to the Dhobi Ghats;which has rows of concrete wash pens, each with its own flogging stone.
The Dhobi sloshes dirty linen into a soapy water mixture, thrashing them with the flogging stones, and then puts the linen into huge vats of starch. After which being dried, they are ironed and delivered to the owners.
This is however not a standard practice of dhobis in general. In a large number of areas in the country, dhobis have migrated to washing machines and dryers, using the modern detergents.
In the more rural parts in India, clothes are taken to the nearest river or canal, preferably one with huge rocks or boulders on the banks and then flogged on these. They are then spread out over the nearest grassy land, and dried.
Dhoby Ghaut is a place in Singapore that often refers to the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station, a major interchange station on the Mass Rapid Transit of Singapore.
picture is from 1942, and shows women washing clothes in wash tubs with wash boards. The tubs were in a community wash center in Pinedale California.
ANCIENT TIMES (2500 B.C. – 476 A.D. approx. 3000 years)
In ancient times, bathing and clothes washing evolved. Soap began to be used, both for bathing
and for laundering clothes. The Romans used public laundries or “fulleries”, staffed by workers who
washed clothing with a version of detergents. The fulleries were not a healthy environment for those
who worked in them. Public baths became popular, as bathing was seen as a social event. Aqueducts
brought water into the homes of the wealthy, whereas the working class relied on hand-carrying
water from the public fountains and rivers to their homes. Plumbing was still rudimentary, with
waste carried through open drains to rivers. Because of the lack of waste treatment of any kind, the
environmental impact of human activity was high, especially near the cities.
Romans were a fashion-conscious people and paid much attention to their attire.
The first primitive soap was made from ashes from wood and other
plants, by extraction with water. Ashes from halophytes – plants
from the Mediterranean region - such Saponaria sp., Salicornia
sp. and Salsola sp., were particularly effective for soap-
making. The fact that such alkaline solutions had cleaning
properties was probably discovered accidentally.
According to legend, the word soap, or rather the
process of saponification, derives from Sapo Hill in
Rome, where animals were sacrificed and cremated.
Tallow, or animal fat, and ash were washed down
the hill by rainwater, into the clay soil along the
Tiber River. Women found that washing clothes
was easier if they used this clay. A less romantic
derivation is the name of the Italian town of Savona,
where large quantities of soap were manufactured
during the 9th century A.D. In French, “savon”
means soap. The oldest reference to purposeful
soap-making dates back to 2800 B.C. Fats were
boiled with ashes to make soap. Gallic and Germanic
tribes carried out saponification by trial and error. In
the process of soap-making, they also produced glycerol
as a result of the action of alkali on fat (goat tallow, birch
wood ash and herbal extract colouring). Human or animal
urine was commonly used as a cleaning agent in ancient times.
Its cleaning properties are due to the production of the alkaline
ammonium carbonate from fermentation of urea. Its use was first
reported in the Orient, from which it spread to the West.
The first Roman baths were built around 312 B.C. and continued to be popular until the fall of the Roman Empire
in the 6th century. At the end of the day, Roman men and women would gather at the public bathhouses. Some
wealthy families had their own bathhouses, yet they would often invite friends to bathe with them, as bathing was
very much a social event. Afterwards, they would spend the rest of the evening on an elaborate dinner. When
the Roman Empire fell in 467 A.D., their habits with regards to personal cleanliness were also lost. In the Middle
Ages, this lack of hygiene would have dramatic consequences. The ancient Greeks “washed” themselves with
lumps of clay, had steam baths and rubbed their skin with oil, such as olive oil, which they then scraped off with
an instrument called a “strigil”, along with any dirt. The use of soap for bathing was reported as early as 1500 B.C.
by the ancient Egyptians.
Frescoes in Pompeii show how important laundry was for the Romans. Laundry was not done at home, at least not
by the wealthier Romans. It was done at the public “fulleries” – the equivalent of the modern laundromat – by
workers called “fullones.” “The large fulleries have several features in common. They contain a large hall with very
large basins in the floor, communicating with one another. In these basins clothes were put to soak and cleaned.
Along three sides of the hall are pressing-bowls, usually made of terracotta, often the lower half of a dolium.
Here the material was further cleaned, by workers who ’jumped‘ or ’danced‘ on the clothes (the so-called saltus
fullonicus; Seneca, Epistulae 15,4), while they leaned on small walls on either side. Detergents were used, such as
the creta fullonica (fuller’s earth), that was stored in small bowls. It helped remove the grease and enhanced the
colours. Urine, collected in public urinals, was used for bleaching, and so was sulphur, which was burned under
wooden frames over which the cloth was suspended. After the pressing, the material was taken to the basins again,
for the removal of the detergents. Fullers were organized into powerful Guilds. Clothes were cleaned by treading
(fulling) in stone bowls containing clay and ammoniated water. After rinsing once, the bowls were filled once
more and the clothes were rinsed again. Drying took place on bell-shaped wire frames under which sulphur was
burned.” (from the Ostia Anctica web site). The Roman laundries were not a healthy work environment: workers
were constantly exposed to polluted, foul-smelling air and their skin was in constant contact with chemicals in the
water. As a result they ran a high risk of developing work-related illnesses. The ancient Greeks used only water,
without soap, for laundry.
During the early years, water for Rome was brought in from the Tiber River. Aqueducts that piped the water from
rivers or wells into the city were built during the Late Empire. Wealthy Romans had the water piped all the way into
their homes, but most people had to rely on the public fountains or water delivery by a contractor or Aquarius.
Some homes had cisterns in which rainwater was collected. The aqueducts and cisterns of Carthage (Tunisia, N.
Africa) are well preserved to this day.
Rome was well equipped with open drains and sewers, which ran parallel to streets. Many houses had latrines,
but apartments did not. Where there were no latrines, chamber pots were used. These were emptied in the
public drains and sewers, or in public urinal pots. The large public urinal pots at the street corners were
periodically emptied by “fullers” who worked in the laundry facilities, where urine was used as a laundry
additive. Public toilets were large, rectangular rooms that could be used by many people at the same time.
The construction was similar to today’s “outhouses,” but the waste was continuously flushed away by
running water in the sewers down below.
Wastewater from households as well as from public toilets was flushed away to the rivers, often via open
channels that ran alongside or in the middle of the streets. Out of necessity, ancient civilizations were
much more tolerant of foul odors than modern society! As these sewage streams and human waste
streams were discharged to the rivers without any form of treatment, the environmental impact of
human activity was high. Similar situations still exist to this day, in developing nations. A well known
example is that of the sacred Ganges River in India, used by millions for bathing and washing but also
the receptacle for untreated sewage and human waste from the cities.
Men and women of Rome were very interested in fashion. They wore tunics, which were knee-length
for the men and floor-length for the women. Heavy white togas were worn on formal occasions. The
fabrics of the time were wool, linen, silk and cotton. The women wore make-up and jewelry, mostly
gold and precious stones among higher classes, amber jewelry among lower classes.
De Bonneville, Francoise (1998). The Book of the Bath. Rizzoli Publ. Stalmans, M. & Guhl, W. (2003). An Introduction to the
Historical Developments of Laundry. Household and Personal Care Today, pp. 17-22.
MIDDLE AGES (476 A.D. – 1453 A.D. approx. 1000 years)
During the Middle Ages (about A.D. 476 to A.D. 1453) people in Europe became much less concerned
with hygiene, and public health declined. People began to have a superstitious fear of water, believing
it to cause disease, so bathing was no longer a daily activity. In its place, people prayed and made
pilgrimages, believing that sin was another major cause of disease. Clothing was washed only every few
months. Towns became overcrowded. Household wastewater and the contents of chamber pots were
tossed into the streets. This lack of personal cleanliness and the unsanitary living conditions - especially
the lack of any type of waste treatment - had dire consequences. Epidemics swept through Europe. The
Black Plague of the 14th century killed tens of millions of people.
In the Middle Ages, soap was used primarily for washing clothes.
Arab traders brought bars of soap to Europe in the 7th century,
and soon soapmaking became an established craft in Europe.
Soapmakers formed guilds and jealously guarded their recipes.
Soap production began to differ from region to region. In
southern European countries, such as Italy, Spain, and
southern France, soap was made from olive oil. During
this period, Castile soap began to be made in Spain.
In the countries of northern Europe, soap was made
from a base of animal fats, primarily tallow from
cattle, and sometimes even from fish oils. Aromatic
herbs were added for fragrance. The soaps made
from olive oil were of a higher quality than those
made from animal fats, and soap manufacturers in
the south began to export their products to other
countries. In the 9th century, Marseilles, Geneva,
Savona, and Venice became important centres of
soap manufacturing. These regions had a plentiful
supply of olive oil and the barilla plant, the ashes of
which were used to make lye. During the 10th century,
soap production expanded to many European cities. By
the 12th century, soap started to be produced in England
where the soap business was very successful and would
remain so for centuries to come. In 1622, King James I granted
a monopoly to a soapmaker for $100,000 a year! Until the 19th
century, soap was a heavily taxed luxury item in most countries, and
therefore out of reach for the ordinary citizen.
In Europe, cities had public baths, called stews, where two or three patrons at a time bathed together in large wooden
tubs. The aristocracy had their own private baths, and even tiled rooms devoted to bathing. But early in the Middle
Ages, the practice of bathing declined, as people began to believe that it spread epidemics. But because people also
believed that bad odors spread disease, they made liberal use of perfume.
Clothing was washed only every two or three months. It was soaked in a tub with a washing solution of lye and fuller’s
earth or white clay. Then it was trampled or beaten, after which the dirty wash water ran out through a hole. This
process was repeated until the water came out clean, after which the clothes were rinsed, wrung out by hand, and
left to air dry.
Wealthier citizens and the aristocracy had water piped into their homes or castles, and peasants used public fountains
or wells. Because of nonexistent sanitation, drinking water was often contaminated.
Wastewater was discarded directly into the streets.
Chamber pots were used to contain human waste, and the contents were emptied into the streets. Some cities had
laws requiring people to call out a warning before emptying pots, to avoid unpleasant accidents. In many homes, the
first floor had a protuberance in the back, and feces were collected from there.
Especially in cities, the environmental impact of human activity was very high. Waste was discarded into the streets,
where is sat for days before it was washed untreated into rivers and streams.
Most people in the Middle Ages wore woolen clothing over undergarments made of linen. The wealthy wore garments
with brighter colors, made from better materials. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, clothing became more elaborate.
Wealthy men wore hose and a jacket, often with skirting, and aristocratic women were partial to flowing gowns and
headdresses shaped like hearts or butterflies or tall steeple caps.
De Bonneville, Francoise (1998). The Book of the Bath. Rizzoli Publ.
Stalmans, M. & Guhl, W. (2003). An Introduction to the Historical Developments of Laundry. Household and Personal Care Today, pp. 17-22.
RENAISSANCE (approx. 1450 A.D. – 1700 A.D. ; approx. 200 years)
The Renaissance - the period between about 1450 and 1700 - was a time of renewed flourishing of the arts and
the intellect in Europe. In the beginning of this period, though, hygiene remained firmly in the Dark Ages. People
continued to fear water, believing that it would dilate the skin’s pores and expose the organs to the dreaded plague.
But as the Renaissance progressed, the nobility’s desire to maintain its appearance as a higher breed brought more
emphasis to personal hygiene. Fashion, and changing into clean clothes frequently, represented symbols of status
to the wealthy. Science also advanced, and doctors began to understand that lack of hygiene was a factor in the
spread of contagious diseases, and some doctors even advocated a regular bath! Cleanliness campaigns and
a more widespread use of soap resulted. During the Renaissance, soap became more refined, and doing the
laundry remained a highly ritualized, time-consuming process. Although water closets had been invented, this
marvel of plumbing would not become a fixture in most homes until much later, around the middle of the
19th century, for lack of adequate water supply and sewer systems.
Soap making became more specialized. In the 15th and 16th
centuries in France, soap was made on a small scale from
goat tallow and beech ash, but in the 17th century, soap
factories were established. The first one, built by royal
edict in Toulon, was an immediate success. More
factories were built in Marseilles. By the end of the
century, Marseilles had to import raw materials
from all over the Mediterranean to keep up with
demand, and the French perfected the soap
manufacturing process, now using vegetable oils
rather than animal fat. All along, soap was used
for laundry. Towards the end of the Renaissance,
soap came back into favor for bathing, and people
began to use soap for shaving and shampooing.
Throughout much of the Renaissance, people believed
that water penetrated the skin and spread disease.
Indeed, King Louis XIII had what was only his second
bath at the age of 7, and Louis XIV took baths only when
it was prescribed as a medical treatment. It was thought that
a layer of dirt protected the body, so people cleaned themselves
by rubbing exposed parts of the body with a dry, sometimes perfumed, cloth. To show that they were “clean,”
the nobility wore white linen shirts, and changed them daily. In 1626, Savot, a French etiquette writer, wrote,
“We can more easily do without [baths] than the ancients, because of our use of linen.”
In the mid-17th century, clothing got a dusting of scented powder to make is smell fresh longer, and
after this nobles no longer felt the need to change clothing so often.
This lack of hygiene started to change toward the end of the Renaissance. Body odors became less tolerated,
and cleanliness became more important. Communal bathing in bath houses became popular once again
(as it once was in Rome) and was often accompanied by music and eating. But because nudity was taboo,
people wore clothes while bathing. As a courtesy, people offered a bath to their guests, and by the 15th
century, this was an established part of the code of hospitality. Handwashing before and after eating is
often mentioned in literature from this period, and basins appear regularly in illustrations. During the 14th
and 15th centuries, washing one’s hands became an elaborate ceremony at banquets, complete with a
servant called the Laverer, who brought water and towels to guests before a feast began. Outside Europe,
regular bathing was the custom. In India, the institution of Gushalkhana (a bathroom) was established by
the Mughal Kings in 1556. Oppressed by the heat and dust, the Kings constructed luxurious bathing and
massage facilities, but these were accessible only to the rich. Indian handbooks from the 17th century
describe bathing rituals that took place in bathing ghats, public baths on a riverbank.
There were a large number of laundries in cities because of the importance of keeping linen white, but
women also did laundry at home and it continued to be backbreaking labor. Clothes had to be soaked,
boiled and beaten, then rinsed and wrung out by hand, and dried in the fresh air. Washboards and sticks
made doing the laundry a little easier, but it was still a very time-consuming task. Leftover soapy water was
given to the poor, because soap was still too expensive for most people. In addition to the regular laundry, a
“Grand Wash” took place twice a year. It was a symbolic ritual, lasting three days. Some sources say that that
it represented Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The “Grand Wash” was a symbol of purification, the triumph of
clean over unclean. Communal laundry rituals also existed in Asia and North and South America.
Throughout the Renaissance, little progress was made in terms of bringing the water to the people. Water could
only be moved around by mechanical means. The homes of the wealthy and certain centers of culture, such as
monasteries, had water piped in, but the poor still had to hand-carry their water home from wells and rivers.
In 1698–99, the steam engine was invented by Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen. It would later be
perfected by James Watt and Benjamin Franklin. This invention would lay the groundwork for the water
distribution networks of the future.
Chamber pots continued to be used throughout the period, but now small rooms or closets were dedicated to the
purpose of using these chamber pots in private, hence the terminology “water closet” and “privy.” The contents of the
pots had to be hauled away manually. In 1596, Sir John Harrington, godson to Queen Elizabeth, installed water closets
for the queen and himself. However, he was ridiculed by his peers for this device, and never built another one.
Pollution continued to be a problem, due to the increasing population in cities. Waste water from household uses and
laundries, as well as human waste, continued to be discharged into rivers and streams without any type of treatment.
Clothing during the Renaissance was very important to the aristocracy, because it demonstrated one’s cleanliness and
wealth. Girls wore many layers of clothing: a chemise, stockings, a leather corset, a bodice, and petticoats, topped by
a gown. Both girls and women covered their hair with a scarf or hat. Boys dressed like their fathers, with shirts and a
fitted jacket, hose and breeches. Clothes were made out of wool, cotton, raw silk, linen, flax, leather or linen. Colored
fabrics were rare and for the most part only the rich could afford them; purples and reds were very difficult to obtain
and reserved for royalty exclusively.
Bramsky, S. & Reynolds, S. (1995). Leonardo: The Artist and The Man. Penguin Publishers, USA.
De Bonneville, Francoise (1998). The Book of the Bath. Rizzoli Publ.
Learn all about the history of plumbing
Stalmans, M. & Guhl, W. (2003). An Introduction to the Historical Developments of Laundry. Household and Personal Care Today, pp. 17-22.
18TH AND 19TH CENTURIES
In the course of the 18th century, personal cleanliness became a status symbol. More frequent bathing and hand
washing with soap and water were at first fashionable, and not until much later (in the late 18th and in the 19th
century) would they become indispensable. Science and technology made giant leaps forward. The early washing
machines (after 1850) revolutionized the laundry process. When bacteria and their role in causing infections and
contagious diseases were discovered in the middle of the 19th century, people understood the importance of hygiene
for good health. With the industrial era in full swing towards the end of the 1800s, the environmental impacts of
discharging untreated wastewaters began to become more apparent.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Marseilles had around 15 soap factories, making it the Mediterranean centre for
production and distribution of soap made from olive oil and natural soda.
Also in the 18th century, and continuing at the beginning of the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury
product. When taxes were lowered and advances in chemistry integrated in the soap-making process, soap became
an everyday item for the majority, with a resulting rise in cleanliness standards.
In 1837, two young men merged their two businesses, a candle factory and a soap manufacturing business, into The
Procter & Gamble Company. In the United States, scientific discoveries allied with the overall industrial potential of the
country made soap manufacturing one of the nation’s most flourishing industries from 1850 onwards.
A brief history of soap-making in marseilles during the 18th and 19th centuries
1760: 28 factories totalling 126 boilers produce 9,000 tonnes of soap.
1786: 48 factories totalling 192 boilers, giving production capacity of 34,000 tonnes in the nine authorized working
1789: 65 factories totalling 280 boilers produce 22,000 tonnes.
1793: Civil strife and downturn almost ruin the city. Soap industry,
however, rallies and survives the French Revolution.
1801: Peace returns, shipping redevelops. 73 factories
totalling 331 boilers.
1808: First soda factories open, using the Leblanc
manufacturing process. Prohibition on the
use of vegetable soda. Introduction of seed
oils, e.g., nut, rape, poppy and linseed,
cheaper than olive oil.
1817: Soap shares crash, only 15 factories
1820: 88 factories totalling 420 boilers.
1823: New oils available, such as palm and
coconut. Chevreul publishes first
definitive theory of saponification.
1842: Number of factories stable, but increase
in production capacity with the advent
of steam heating (50,000 tonnes). Palm
oil is used extensively for white soap with
1863: Another growth crisis: Factories down to 52
for a production of 70,000 tonnes, although
demand continues to rise.
1885: 90 factories for 94,000 tonnes of soap, but lower
quality due to production cost-cutting.
Throughout the 18th century, the belief that originated during the time of the
plague in the Middle Ages namely that disease could be contracted through water that touched the skin,
remained relatively unchallenged. The world would have to wait until the mid-19th century for French scientist
Louis Pasteur to prove this theory wrong. Until then, bathing was used as a medical treatment in thermal springs,
a leisure activity for the upper class at the health spas, and as a status symbol for the upper class generally.
Advances in science and technology
In 1774, Swedish chemist Karl Wilhelm Scheele discovered chlorine. Scientists would later discover that,
mixed with water, chlorine bleaches (Claude Berthollet) and that, mixed with a soda solution, chlorine
disinfects (Antoine Labarraque).
In 1783 Karl Wilhelm Scheele discovered a sweet-tasting substance he called OÅNlsüss (which we now
know as glycerol or glycerin) by boiling olive oil with lead oxide. Soap manufacture was revolutionised
in 1791 by the chemist Nicolas Leblanc, who devised a process of obtaining sodium carbonate (washing
soda) from sodium chloride (salt). Soap is produced from soda and fat. Leblanc’s process resulted
in the production of large quantities of good quality and low-cost soda. In 1823, inspired by this
discovery, French chemist Eugène Chevreul found that soap is not formed by fats combining with
alkali, but that these are first broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. Chevreul thus originated the
theory of saponification. Towards 1840 the process evolved further by the use of oils other than olive
oil, resulting in a still greater variety of end products. Chevreul’s discovery revolutionised the candle
industry. Another important leap forward was made when Belgian chemist Ernest Solvay (1838 –
1922) discovered that soda (sodium carbonate) could be produced on a larger, commercial scale from
ammonia, carbon dioxide and salt (sodium chloride). The Solvay process resulted in better quality soda
produced at a lower cost. On a different front, Frenchman Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) proved the link
between micro-organisms and infectious diseases with his famous “germ theory.” As of that moment,
the importance of hygiene for the protection of public health became a firmly established fact. In 1879,
William Procter invented Ivory Soap. In 1889, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz invent the automobile,
revolutionising transport, which would have far reaching consequences for all of industry.
The middle of the 19th century witnessed the appearance of the first mechanical washing machines.
Typically a closed tub with wooden paddles (agitators, later made of metal) allowed laundresses to work
in an upright position and not get their hands wet so much. Laundry was no longer the laborious and
timeconsuming ritual it had been in the past. The dirt and bad smells that accompanied overcrowding
in thecities were less and less acceptable to people, and this led to steady scientific progress. But before
washing machines were generally in use, large towns installed large public wash-houses or laundries. The
fixed tub with a hand-propelled rotating agitator was the forerunner of the rotating tub (gyrator) machine.
The forerunner of the modern drum machine that extracts the water during a rapid spin cycle would not
appear until into the 20th century. Laundry remained a ritual in the U.S. throughout the 19th century. A written
testimony by a late-19th century author in Practical Housekeeping reads: “Laundry and cooking go hand in
hand . . . On washing and ironing days, it is inadvisable to cook steak or fry fish, due to the smell. In addition, no
spinach, split peas, green beans (which need stringing), or stewed apples [should be prepared] because these all
take too long to prepare and time should be given to the laundry. More suitable dishes would be potatoes, pasta,
rice and corn, with a dessert of baked apples with cream: Quick, easy and very tasty.” Developments in laundry
products didn’t keep pace with the technological advances in washing machines: Until the end of the 19th century,
people still washed their clothes with soap flakes. Synthetic detergents would not appear for another 10 to 20 years,
during World War I.
Water supply and indoor plumbing
The wealthy had water piped into their homes, but for the urban poor, water hydrants or street pumps provided the only
source of water. To make matters worse, these were opened infrequently and not always on schedule. In the countryside,
people still drew water from rivers or wells. In 1829 and 1834, architect Isaiah Rogers built the Tremont Hotel in Boston
and the Astor House in New York, both with indoor plumbing and bathrooms in every room. A storage tank on the roof
supplied the bathrooms, kitchen and laundry with running water. Baths were copper or tin tubs, and the water for the
bath was heated in small gas furnaces. A steam engine-driven pump raised the water to the storage tank on the rooftop.
A simple system of pipes transported wastewater to the sewers. By the middle of the 19th century, the more widespread
installation of sewers in the cities provided more people with a way to dispose of their wastewater. In 1652, Boston had
already built the first public waterworks in the U.S., formed to provide water for firefighting and domestic use. Wooden
pipes were used until the early 1800s when the switch was made to cast iron. Later - in the 20th century - cement,
concrete, steel and iron would be used for the water distribution lines. In 1857, engineer J. W. Adams’ designs laid the
groundwork for modern sewer systems. In 1869, Chicago drew water from Lake Michigan via a tunnel. Steam engines
pumped the water from the tunnel beneath the lake. In 1906 the system was modernized. This station is still supplying
Chicago with water until this day. Chicago also was the first city to install a citywide sewerage system in 1885. By the
mid-1850s, many new homes had bathrooms. Copper and silver fixtures made room for stainless steel. Lead pipes were
used for cold-water supply lines, but were later replaced with iron, copper and sometimes even plastic. In the late 1730s,
the valve-type toilet came into use. The valves were rudimentary, however, and often leaked. By the late 1770s, the
hydraulics were improved, and this type of toilet is still in use today in many areas. There was another major breakthrough
around 1820, with the invention of the flush-type toilet by Albert Giblin in Britain. This was a siphon toilet with a water
reservoir for flushing when a rope was pulled. A certain Thomas Crapper worked on developing the piping of toilets, but
contrary to popular legend, he didn’t invent the flush toilet. His name, however, lives on in the slang for “toilet.” In 1857,
toilet paper was invented by the American Joseph Cayetti. In Asia, the wealthy already had toilet-like devices when in the
early 18th century. Soon, the cheaper uropean toilets began to appear in the homes of the less well off.
All household waste waters, including the spent wash water (grey water) and water containing human waste (black
water), were discharged into the rivers and surface waters without any form of prior treatment. Regulations to protect
the environment did not yet exist. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the onset of the industrial era.
Inevitably, environmental pollution kept right in step with it, until public awareness and environmental regulation
would catch up – but that would not happen until much later, about the middle of the 20th century.
Clothing became more elaborate for both men and women. Women layered on a chemise, a corset, numerous
petticoats, and a dress. Men wore breeches or trousers, shirts, waistcoats, and coats, often with embroidery. For both
men and women wore clothing made of silk, satin, velvet, wool, and cashmere.
The milestones in the history of washing machines and dryers during the 18th and 19th centuries
1797 Scrub boards.
Early 1800s First clothes dryers; hand-powered.
1851 First, hand-powered, washing machine with a drum, invented by James King.
1861 First clothes wringer added to the washing machine.
1874 William Blackstone built his first hand-driven wooden washing machine. The company he founded still
produces and sells washing machines to this day, out of their New York headquarters.
1858 First rotary washing machine, invented by Hamilton Smith.
Biographies of famous scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries
Nicolas Leblanc - French chemist (1742-1806), perfected a process for preparing sodium carbonate,
contributing to the development of the use of minerals in the chemical industry.
Karl Wilhelm Scheele - Swedish chemist, born in Stralsund (1742-1786). Discovered chlorine, glycerol and
hydrocyanic (prussic) acid.
Hydrocyanic acid: Hydracid, HCN, intermediary in numerous reactions, but also highly toxic.
Antoine Labarraque - Chemist and pharmacist, born 1777 in Oloron (France), died in Paris 1850.
Discovered disinfectant properties of bleach. Labarraque solution: A solution of sodium hypochlorite and
water in equal measures. Used to disinfect objects, but not advisable for wounds. Other uses include
deodorising and bleaching.
Count Claude Berthollet - French chemist born 1748 in Talloires (France), died in 1822 in Arcueil. He
discovered hypochlorites and applied their bleaching properties to cloth. He also perfected chlorate-
detonated explosives, and went to Egypt with Napoleon Bonaparte.
Hypochlorite: Salt of hypochlorous acid (sodium hypochlorite is a constituent of “Eau de Javelle,” or
common household bleach).
Eugène Chevreul - French chemist born 1786 in Talloires, died in 1889 in Paris. Noted for his research
in organic chemistry, particularly the composition of fats, necessary to understand saponification. He also
worked on the theory of colour contrasts, and the results of his studies influenced the neo-impressionist
painters. Saponification: A chemical reaction from an ester molecule, yielding a carboxylase ion, a
conjugated base of carboxylic acid and an alcohol.
Ernest Solvay - Belgian industrialist, born in Rebecq-Rognon (Belgium) (1838-1922). Founder or
benefactor of various scientific bodies, he originated a manufacturing process for sodium carbonate
whereby a concentrated solution of sodium chloride is saturated with ammonia, carbon dioxide is passed
through it, and the product is calcinated (1861-1865).
De Bonneville, Francoise (1998). The Book of the Bath. Rizzoli Publ.
Practical Housekeeping. A Careful Compilation of Tried and Approved Recipes. Minneapolis, MN: Buckaye Pub. & Co., 1884.
Stalmans, M. & Guhl, W. (2003). An Introduction to the Historical Developments of Laundry. Household and Personal Care Today, pp.17-22.
20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES
In course of the 20th century, hygiene became more and more of a priority and the role of soap became
even more important. Around the turn of the century, oil and soap manufacturers merged. The invention
of the steam generator, electricity and innovative manufacturing technology all worked together to
support the growth of the industry. Development of gentler bath soaps and laundry detergents began
in the early 20th century, and the remainder of that century would witness continued invention of new
products and the diversification of existing ones. The emergence of wastewater treatment plants, the
rise in environmental awareness and the increase in environmental regulations after ~ 1970 prompted
– among other things - the development of biodegradable detergent ingredients. The first synthetic
detergents appeared in 1916. Production of household detergents began during the 1930s in America,
but did not really take off until after World War II, with development in 1946 of all-purpose detergents.
During the 20th century the development of washing machine and dryer technology accelerated,
resulting in ever more practical and efficient machines. This effort was, at least in part, driven by
the parallel, rapid development of a wide range of synthetic and mixed fibers that fueled the textile
Soap and synthetic detergents
During the the World Wars, in particular World War II, detergent research was spurred by shortages
of animal and vegetable fats, plus the need for armies to wash clothes in hard, cold water. The first
detergents were mainly used for dish washing and laundering delicate fabrics. From the 1950s onwards,
soap products were gradually replaced by synthetic detergents derived from petroleum by-products,
vegetable oils and animal fats. Development of all-purpose detergents began in 1946, when the first
detergents that contained surfactants and builders were introduced in America (“built” detergents). This
combination of ingredients worked very well because the surfactant would remove the dirt, whereas the
builder would make the surfactant more effective. Synthetic surfactants held a significant performance
advantage over soap: they performed much better in cold, hard water. Synthetic detergent production
surpassed the highest level ever achieved by soap in 1957. Detergents could now be found in many common
household products, including personal hygiene products, and progress has continued at a rapid pace ever
since. In 1964, biodegradable LAS (linear alkylbenzene sulfonate) replaced branched
alkylbenzene sulfonate, its non-biodegradable counterpart. The worldwide
consumption of detergents and soap today (2003) is more than 27 million
metric tonnes.Soap accounts for 9 million tonnes.
The first electric washing machine was produced in the U.S.
in 1908. It featured a top-mounted electric motor-driven
agitator. Towards 1920, new machines were fitted with
a horizontal cylinder. But this did not prevent manual
machines from prospering. At the end of the 1940s,
electric machines were fitted with an impeller. During
the 1950s, a heating element and automatic spin
cycle were added (some machines had separate
spinners, alongside the wash drum). The 1960s
saw the advent of automatic machines which, at
the touch of a button, wash, rinse and spin in the
same drum, at first mounted vertically, and later
horizontally (“front loaders”).
By the end of the 20th century, washing machine
technology had continued to evolve. Electro-
mechanical controls (knobs) had been replaced by
electronic ones (push-buttons). The newer machines
required less water and newer laundry products worked
better at lower temperatures, rendering the laundry process
more energy-efficient. Concentrated laundry products required
less transport, less shelf-space and less packaging. New wash
cycles appeared, such as those for silk, wool and delicates, and short wash. In some developing countries, even today,
manual practices still exist, as shown in these photographs of people in India, doing the laundry on the banks of the
Ganges, and of people on the African continent.
Science and technology1
1908 The first electric washing machine is made in the U.S.
1927 Filo T. Farnsworth invents television. TV advertising and soap operas would follow!
1938 Wallace Carothers invents nylon.
1958 Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce invent the microchip, laying the groundwork for modern computers.
1964 The biodegradable anionic surfactant Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate (LAS) replaces its branched predecessor.
1991 Tim Berners-Lee invents the Internet.
Water supply and indoor plumbing
As the 20th century progressed, indoor toilets and running water—often both hot and cold—became the norm,
especially in cities. In rural areas, however, outhouses continued to be used, in some areas until the 1960s. Beyond
that, most communities in developed countries had main water supplies and sewage systems.
At the start of the 21st century, the trend in bathrooms was to make them bigger and more luxurious.
Bathrooms no longer consist of just a standard toilet, sink, and bathtub/shower combination. New bathrooms are
large, tiled rooms with a toilet and a bidet, two or more sinks, a stand-alone shower, and a roomy bathtub, often with
a whirlpool bath. The poor in some developing countries, however, must still haul water from a communal tap - water
which is not guaranteed safe to drink - and share communal toilets. In many countries outside Western Europe and
North America, running water that is piped into the home may not be safe to drink, and may need to be boiled or
Centralized wastewater treatment emerged in the form of municipal sewage treatment works in the late 19th
and 20th centuries in the cities of the U.K. and the United States. There are, by origin, three types of wastewater:
stormwater from runoff after rains, sanitary or domestic wastewater from homes and industrial waste water.
Early sewage treatment works would accept all three types, but ran into problems with overflow and too
highly polluted industrial wastewaters. After ~ 1950, as public concern about the environment increased, the
number of regulations designed to protect the environmental also increased. In modern sewage treatment
systems, stormwaters by-pass the treatment works and are discharged directly to surface waters. Domestic
wastewater is treated at the municipal sewage treatment plant and then discharged. Manufacturers are
often required to pre-treat their wastewater prior to sending it to a municipal sewage treatment plant.
Detergent manufacturers started developing biodegradable detergents in the 1960s. These detergents
contain surfactants and other cleaning agents that are effectively removed from wastewater during
sewage treatment. However, not all countries can afford the luxury of wastewater treatment, even though
it is badly needed and often required by law. When wastewater treatment is not available, sewage is
discharged directly into surface waters which causes pollution even today. It has been shown that the
development of modern wastewater treatment significantly improves the quality of surface waters. Since
detergent and cleaning product ingredients are well removed during wastewater treatment, there are no
adverse ecological effects from the use of laundry detergents and household cleaning products.
During the late 19th and 20th centuries, man-made fibers were developed. Until then, fabrics were made
from natural fibers: cotton, wool, silk, jute or flax. Synthetic fibers (nylon, polyethylene terephtalate, acrylics,
polyurethane, polypropylene) were manufactured from polymers, made from petroleum byproducts or
natural gas. The first women’s nylon stockings caused quite a stir in 1940! Fabrics from synthetic fibers
were cheaper to make, easier to dye and offered more processing flexibility compared to the natural
fabrics. Also the characteristics of the fabric could more easily be tailored for certain purposes: think about
the revolution in outdoor wear and sportswear in the 1990s, with fleece, Polartec®, wrinklefree fabrics,
water-repellent fabrics, stain-resistant fabrics, thermal fabrics, breathable fabrics - the list goes on an on.
These rapid developments in the textile industry put pressure on the fabric care industry to keep up, as
people needed affordable technology to take care of an ever expanding range of fabrics. In addition, the
customers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, often part of dual-career families, don’t want to spend a lot
of time on laundry, and they want their clothes to stay looking newer, longer.
The milestones in the history of washing machines and dryers during the 19th and 20th centuries
Early 1900s Wooden wash tubs are replaced by metal tubs.
1907 Maytag Corporation began manufacturing a wooden-tub washing machine with a flywheel, still
manually operated with a rotary handle.
1922 Maytag Corporation introduces the agitator system for moving the water around in the drum,
rather than dragging the fabrics around in the water.
1908 First electric-powered washing machine is invented by Alva J. Fisher.
1911 Whirlpool Corporation, then called the Upton Machine Co. is founded in St. Joseph, Michigan
and starts producing electric motor-driven wringer washers.
1915 The first electrical clothes dryers appear.
1930s John W. Chamberlain of Bendix Aviation Corporation invents a machine that can wash, rinse,
and extract water from clothes in a single operation.
1947 The first top-loading automatic washing machines are introduced by the forerunner of the
1951 The first automatic washing machines are made in Europe. The first computer-controlled
automatic washing machines appear.
1950 Many technological advances follow. Among hundreds of systems tested, only two washing
systems survive until this day: the agitator system and the tumbling system. Wash cycles and products
are developed for new fabrics and a greater range of wash conditions.
The milestones in the development of laundry and dish products during the 19th and 20th
1950s Dishwasher powders.
Liquid laundry products, dishwashing liquids and all-purpose detergents.
Fabric conditioners (softeners) for rinse cycle.
Laundry detergents with bleaches for cleaner, whiter wash.
1960s Pre-wash treatments and stain removers.
Biological washing powders containing enzymes.
1970s Fabric conditioners (softeners) for the wash cycle.
All-purpose products, such as washing and conditioning all-in-one.
1980s Low-temperature laundry detergents.
Concentrated laundry powders.
In what year were brighteners added?
1990s Highly concentrated powder and liquid detergents.
Concentrated fabric conditioners.
Biodegradable fabric conditioners.
Refillable containers for laundry products.
2000 and beyond
Single dose laundry detergent tablets (Liquitabs as well as powder tablets).
Single dose dishwasher tablets (All-in-one).
“Do it yourself” dry-cleaning sheets for use in the dryer.
Gradual further compaction of liquid and powder detergents.
Ariel Coolclean is launched across Europe and in other regions (‘Turn to 30’, Actif à Froid, Kalt-Aktiv, Tide Coldwater
in North America).
Consumer educational campaigns, such as ‘Future Friendly’ (www.futurefriendly.co.uk), encourage sustainable use of
detergents and cleaning products in the