Laundry Cheat Sheet

This outline will focus on the best practices for laundry in a perfect situation, as if one had all the knowledge and resources available and they were being put into proper practice.

Best Practices in the 18th Century

This outline will focus on the best practices for laundry in a perfect situation in the 18th century, as if one had all the knowledge and resources available and they were being put into proper practice. This does not reflect the realities of camp life, or the practiced ignorance of people at all levels of society. But knowing this should help people develop demonstrations that suit their setting.

A demonstration can be done with nothing or with everything

Figure out who your audience is and find a way to connect, it will bring more learning than any item you may carry with you to an event.


Materials are not necessary, they are a convenience. I have done demonstrations without any of these things. Don’t panic, improvise. Things can be, and in many cases should be, added or removed depending on what you are portraying and who is your audience.

  • Buckets

    Fun prop for the audience. Buckets can be found in a lot of inventory lists in civilian and military life.

  • Laundry Bat

    They are so common in the countries we migrate from and simple to make that I usually use one. They come in all shapes and sizes. Always looking for information on their use in the colonies. 

  • Tub

    I have one large and one small. I have considered getting a second large, but they take up a lot of space and must be stored with water in them at all times.

  • Kettle

    This can be as simple as a tin camp kettle. Research and read the debates Don't forget a way to hold the kettle, a structure, chain or rope & hooks

  • Yoke

    You can haul other things using the yoke. Until I have more research I would use this only in a civilian, fort or long term encampment situation.

  • Bench

    Commonly used to work on with a bat or with your hands while agitating the fabric.I like my bench more than many of my other toys.

  • Hand Mangle

    A rolling pin without handles.

  • Soap

    I have hard soap, which is commonly sold by chandlers. Period soaps are soft unless salt is added. Soap is one of my favorite things to carry, I think that with just a bar of soap you can do a laundry talk. Often mistakenly called lye soap. Most soaps are lye based. It is misleading. The soap is not generally harsh.

  • Starch

    Wheat, potato or corn starch, Gum Dragon (tragacanth) and Isinglass. Another one of my favorite articles to always have. People like touching and interacting with things, and the starches have some good stories and information linked to them.

  • Indigo

    A wonderful thing to discuss. You can talk about laundry, about color and dyes, about the world economy, about India, or about Slavery and crops in the colonies. Wonderful conversation starter, and used in laundry as bluing.

  • Ash, Tallow & Suet

    Ash is also used to make lyewater or ashballs both used to up the PH in water and increase the cleaning during steeping. Add tallow and you have a wonderful spin off discussions about how to make soap.

  • Fire Starter

    Flint and steal or a magnifying glass; you can easily get anyone interested in a good chat about fire and it's necessity in every part of life.

  • Laundering Linen

    A yard of linen for bucking and to protect the linens during clapping or ironing.

  • Textiles in some form

    Use some random articles of clothing or swatches to show fiber types and explain the different ways to wash. It is also nice to have some clothing or pieces of material to wash. Wonderful endless textile conversations.

  • Vinegar

    Vinegar or lemon juice are used a lot in bleaching and stain removal. It is a nice article to have with you. Vinegar can turn into an entire conversation on it's own about all of it's uses and how it is made. Remember laundry is not just a thing you do, it can be a jumping point for constant interaction with the public.

  • Chamber Pot

    This is one of my favorite things to have. It does not always fit the situation, but it is such a good thing to start a talk with. Urine is used extensively in the period because of the ammonia that is produced when it is aged. Love getting kids interested using it.

  • Iron

    Sad irons and slug irons are super cool items to share, and are documented in encampments as well as in civilian life.

  • Starching Dish

    Any large bowl will do, fun demonstration to share in combination with that starch.


Dig a rectangular pit about a yard long and 2 ft wide. Set up your kettle and it’s stand. Start a fire. Begin to heat water. Make sure equipment is clean. Salt and sand are a big help in that. Check for anything that is splintered or that could damage clothing. Sort all of your chemicals in a way you would like to present them.



What is washed?

Show fibers and explain fabric types. Focus on linens, cottons and hemps. Explain what clothing is being washed, and house linens.


Marking and Mending

Be sure there is a laundry mark upon the clothing. Check buttons. Explain. Sort clothing by fiber, use and filth. Explain. Place a pin on the neck of any clothing that must be mended. Explain.



Check for stains and resolve them, or be prepared to. Presoak. Have a tub of water in front of you. Explain the use of lant, lye water etc. Bucking- Place a cloth over a tub that has a bit of water and clothing in it, place the ashes in a large cloth over the tub (bucking cloth). Pour steaming water through the cloth and ash. Explain Bucking. Talk about lye. The clothing can now be rinsed. Explain doing laundry near a waterway  or go straight into washing.



Whip some soap.  Add to the tub or the kettle. Talk about soap. Pull out a piece of clothing. Wring it. Fold it carefully, explain. Make sure there is a cloth upon the bench. Clap the clothing with a bat or with your hands dependent on the material. Continue the washing  cycle.


Bleaching, Bluing, Rinse and Dry

Take a piece of clothing from the wash cycle and lay out on the grass. Share vinegar. It can be sprinkled and added to clothing. Take a cup or bowl add indigo, add soapy water, make a paste.  Add to tub. Put the fabric in the water, pull it out. Rinse with pump water. If over blued, bleach with vinegar. Rinse clothing in a tub. Fold into basket for starching, hang or bleach. Cold and Clear Starching, Smoothing, Compression and Ironing Generally done on the second day. Adds crispness, body and soil resistance. Share the different starches. Mix up some starch. Clear or cold. When busy or anxious stick to cold. Clear is a lot of work, and you have to focus on it. Clap starch into clothing. Discuss mangles, irons and smoothing stones –  compression gives shine to linen. Hand mangle example. Make sure to wrap very tightly.

Purchase List

Some links to purchase things from.

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