Wednesday 19 June 2019

Mrs Tiggywinkle Was A Washerwoman

I'm still thinking about hedgehogs...Beatrix Potter made her jolly little hedgehog a busy worker- she was the laundress for the other animals. She washed and ironed for them, and BP illustrated her work with old fashioned tubs, and "dollies" and flat irons. She was deliberately harking back to 'the old days' before electric irons and washing machines [both already in existence by 1905 when the book was published]
The washing machine has revolutionised life for women - and yet 50% of the world's population do not have access to one.
In Hans Rosling's TED talk, he explains powerfully what a difference it can make to a family, if the washing no longer must be done by hand. In his own childhood in Sweden, it meant his mother had the time to take him to the Library, to read him books, and to teach herself English. For him, it is was and is a miracle machine. It takes less than ten minutes to watch this...

And yet - 50% of the world doesn't have a washing machine - women [and the majority of laundry is done by women] have to carry water, boil water, and physically scrub their clothes. They spend hours every week on this most basic of tasks. So they do not have time to learn to read or write...or to teach their children. Things I take for granted.
- however, the Climate Change Scientists say "Stop! We cannot let everybody have washing machines, they will use so much energy" 
- and the Pollution Experts say "Stop! we mustn't pump more detergent into the oceans, it is killing the wildlife!"
but the washing machine manufacturers, and the detergent companies say "You need to be clean, your shirts must be whiter than white, how lovely to climb into a bed made with fresh sheets every night - with our products you can do those things, and have a better life..."
What can one person do? Well, not much alone, but 

  • I can make sure I don't wash my clothes on long wash-cycles, using hot washes, with multiple rinses. 
  • I can ensure that clothes are worn more than once [or twice] before they go in the laundry bin. 
  • I can ensure that when I do use the machine it is an efficient full load
  • I can avoid using too many 'products' [I gave up fabric conditioner donkeys' years ago, and haven't missed it at all] Drying can be done outside on the line, or on a rack indoors [not in a tumble dryer] 
  • I can investigate using "washballs" instead of powder.
And I can support charities like Water Aid, and Myra's Wells which work to give regular supplies of clean drinking water to the millions who are rightly more concerned about the water their children have to drink than whether their clothes are spotless.

Have you any suggestions about lifestyle changes in terms of laundry? and has anybody any good recommendations for washballs, please?


  1. Great list of practical suggestions. I've moved over to an eco egg and find it brilliant. Like you I abandoned conditioner years ago and I've looked long and hard at my laundry routine and reduced the amount of washing I do. I still use my dryer occasionally but that's because I can't fight with large sheets on the washing line anymore.

  2. When the WI were starting to campaign against 'Plastic Soup' we were told wash balls are quite vicious for clothes, bashing the fibres. (I suppose if all clothing was natural cottons it would be OK) I use a tiny bit of Ecover liquid and washing soda.

  3. The jury is out then [not that a sample size of TWO really counts] FC thinks her eco-egg is brilliant, SinS says the WI warned them off! I've done a bit more reading, and discovered [a] that the majority of scientists say that a lot of the claims are not scientifically based - the stuff about ions etc. [b] a lot of the brands advise adding detergent or using a hotter wash if there is heavy staining - which defeats the object. So I do not know- and Lakeland have just discontinued selling EcoEggs, so they arent happy with the poor reviews. This is an absolute minefield!

  4. Waiting till one has enough for a full load is a good idea. The more modern machines are quite efficient in terms of water use and detergent, etc. Indeed our modern lives are messing the environment.

  5. I am almost afraid to enter into this conversation! When I was growing up, the laundry was hired out; a man (the dhobi) came by weekly to pick up that week's dirty laundry and brought the previous week's laundry, all nicely washed, starched, ironed, and folded. It was done all manually, by him and his family. Later, my mother bought herself a washing machine, but, it wasn't used as an every day appliance, and the dhobi didn't lose a customer.

    When we first came to the US, we washed our clothes and linen by hand, because money was tight and my mother didn't want to run up the electric bill by using the washer or the dryer that came with the apartment. Later, we moved to another apartment building with a coin-operated washer and dryer in a common laundry room, and we used those machines (although my step father still preferred to wash his shirts in the sink by hand and hang them up to dry).

    When I bought my house, I went without a washer and dryer for about 7 months. I handwashed all the laundry, in a large "laundry sink" that was in the garage (the previous owners of the house had their washing machine in the garage, so there was water on tap there). Later, I bought both a washer and a dryer, although I would often line dry my laundry.

    These days, I do use a washing machine and, even the dryer. I generally do one or two loads a week, depending on how much I have to wash. I've never used "washballs", whatever they are, though.

  6. When I was a child, my Mum had no machine - some stuff was washed by hand in the sink, and she also had a big "copper" in which water was heated for the "hot wash". And then it was taken outside and rolled through a mangle to squeeze out the water. Later when I married I had a little "twin tub" which had to be filled and emptied with a Jug... How quickly things have changed!


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