Laundry was first done in watercourses, letting the water carry away the materials which could cause stains and smells. Laundry is still done this way in some less industrialized areas and rural regions. Agitation helps remove the dirt, so the laundry is often rubbed, twisted, or slapped against flat rocks. Wooden bats or clubs could be used to help with beating the dirt out. These were often called washing beetles or bats and could be used by the waterside on a rock (a beetling-stone), on a block (battling-block), or on a board. They were once common across Europe and were also used by settlers in North America, similar techniques have also been identified in Japan.
Various chemicals may be used to increase the solvent power of water, such as the compounds in soaproot or yucca-root used by Native American tribes. Soap, a compound made from lye (from wood-ash) and fat, is an ancient and very common laundry aid. However, modern washing machines typically use powdered or liquid laundry detergent in place of more traditional soap.
When no watercourses were available, laundry was done in water-tight vats or vessels. Sometimes large metal cauldrons were filled with fresh water and heated over a fire; boiling water was even more effective than cold in removing dirt. The washboard, a corrugated slab of a hard material such as metal, replaced rocks as a surface for loosening soil.
Once clean, the clothes were wrung out — twisted to remove most of the water. Then they were hung up on poles or clotheslines to air dry, or sometimes just spread out on clean grass.
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