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Washing Clothing

Making Soap

Soap could be bought at the general store but most of the early settlers made their own soap using lard and lye. For lard they used animal fat or leftover cooking grease.

These are the steps settlers used to make soap.

A woman is pouring liquid into a soap mold to let the soap harden into rectangles.

Soap could be bought at the general store or made at home.

Children had to collect enough wood to provide for a long-lasting fire in order to prepare for soap-making day. The lye was very dangerous to work with. Lye could burn skin if it was touched and it was unhealthy to breathe in the fumes.

After the liquid in the soap mold hardens, the rectangles can be removed from the mold and used as soap.

The soap was made by pouring a mixture into a pan or mold and it was left to harden.


Washing clothes by hand was much harder than using a washing machine. First the clothing was checked for holes or rips and would be mended if needed.

Water was hauled from the well or a nearby river. Everyone in the family helped to carry buckets of water. There had to be enough water for washing and rinsing. Water for washing was heated in an iron kettle or metal washtub. Rinsing was done in cold water.

A woman is hauling two barrels of water from the river to the house.

Water had to be hauled from the well or river to wash clothes.

Two women are each holding one end of a giant laundry bag that is overflowing with laundry.


This is the load of clothes that needs to be cleaned on wash day. The photo is taken in 1939.

A pan of homemade soap was cut into pieces or chips and added to boiling water. Clothes were sorted and soaked in hot soapy water. The whites were washed first, then the colored clothes, and finally the dirtiest clothes. A long stick was used to stir the clothes around in the hot water and to pull the clothes out.

A woman is using a stick to put a piece of laundry into a very hot washbucket of water.

The wash water was boiling so women used long sticks to stir the clothes around.

Then the clothes were scrubbed on the washboard with homemade soap to remove the dirt. A pan of soap was rubbed over the stains. The cloth was rubbed up and down on the ridges of the washboard and dipped in water. This was very hard on the arms and fingers and a person’s back would get sore from bending over during the washing process.

A woman is scrubbing clothes on a washboard inside of a wash bucket.

A washboard and soap were used to scrub the clothes clean.

Soap was cut into pieces and used to clean laundry.

Soap was cut into pieces and added to boiling water to wash the clothes.

The wash water was reused until it was too dirty. Then more clean water had to be heated. To get out the soapsuds, the clothes were rinsed in cold water. If more than one rinse was needed two tubs were used. The clothes were wrung out by hand or with a wringer. A wringer had rollers and a crank that would turn the rollers and squeeze the water out of the clothes. It required a lot of effort to turn the crank.

Three women are washing laundry on a log that is on the side of a river.

Women would wash clothing in the river as well.


Then the clothes were hung on lines outdoors to dry. Clotheslines were tied between trees or buildings. Laundry was also spread out on the grass or on bushes to dry. In the winter, snow was melted to use as washing water. Lines were stretched across the room near the fireplace (or stove) and most of the clothes were dried indoors.

A fire is lit inside of a fireplace. The fire is used to cook food, heat water in a kettle, and dry clothes that are hanging on a clothes line. A mom is working to cook food, while kids play closeby.

Clothes were hung to dry by the fireplace in the winter.

Washing and ironing clothes was a lot of work for settlers.


The ironing was usually done the day after wash day. Some irons were made of two parts. The bottom part was heated up on the stove. Then the handle or cover was clamped on and the iron was ready to use. When the iron cooled it was placed back on the stove.

A illustration of an iron that is used for ironing laundry to remove wrinkles.

This iron is made of two parts so the bottom could heat up and then clamp to the top.

To get the wrinkles out, water was sprinkled on the clothes. Irons were set on the stove to heat. Then an iron was tested to see if it was hot enough. If it sizzled when touched with a wet finger, the iron was ready to use. When the hot iron was run over the material, steam was produced. If an iron was too hot there would be burn marks on the material. As soon as the iron cooled it was exchanged for a hot one off the stove. Two irons made the job go faster.

A woman is standing next to a stove and heating the iron on it. She clamps the handle onto the iron and then she can iron clothes that she has set out on a board.

The ironing was usually done the day after wash day and it was a long, tiring work.

Sometimes the iron was run over a waxy surface before ironing. Ironing was hot, tiring work which took most of the day. The house got very hot in the summer. In the winter, clothing was taken off the clothes line and ironed while still damp.