The environmental debate is turning its attention to the one thing every person on the planet has to do – laundry!
To clean clothing it is necessary to rub and flex the cloth to break apart solids and help the soap penetrate. Laundry was first done in watercourses, letting the water carry away the materials which could cause stains and smells. Now, modern machines have taken over from traditional laundry techniques increasing carbon emissions especially whilst drying clothes.
Traditional laundry methods are still practiced in some less industrialised 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.
The earliest washing “machine” was the scrub board invented in 1797. American, James King patented the first washing machine to use a drum in 1851, the drum made King’s machine resemble a modern machine, however it was still hand powered. With the earliest machines, because water usually had to be heated on a fire for washing, the warm soapy water was precious and would be reused over and over, first to wash the least soiled clothing, then to wash progressively dirtier clothing. While the earliest machines were constructed from wood, later machines made of metal permitted a fire to burn below the washtub, to keep the water warm throughout the day’s washing.
The Thor was the first electric-powered washing machine. Introduced in 1908 by the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago, Illinois, the Thor washing machine was invented by Alva J. Fisher. Bendix introduced the first automatic washing machine in 1937, having applied for a patent in the same year. In appearance and mechanical detail, this first machine is not unlike the front loading automatic washers produced today. By 1940, 60% of the 25,000,000 wired homes in the United States had an electric washing machine.
Electric tumble dryers appeared in the early 20th century. Industrial designer Brooks Stevens developed the first electric dryer with a glass window in the 1940s. Most dryers consist of a rotating drum called a tumbler through which heated air is circulated to evaporate the moisture from the load. The tumbler is rotated to maintain space between the articles in the load.
Laundry has been dried since antiquity by clothes lines, clotheshorses, or clothes racks, the cheap to buy, free to use and carbon-neutral alternative to machine drying. Clothes dry through evaporation by wind and sunlight without consuming electricity or gas. The modern inexpensive rotary clothes line was developed and marketed by Australian, Lance Hill in 1945 and called the Hills Hoist. Natural outdoors clothes drying is considered the most environmentally friendly way to dry clothes reducing domestic carbon emission by at least 310kg of CO2 a year saving up to £70 for an average UK home.
Beating clothes on a rock is gentle compared to putting the fibers through a tumble dryer where they are heated, slammed and scrubbed against other clothes continually for 15 minutes to an hour at a time. The fibers get broken and pulled and torn and worn which is why clothes don’t last as long as they used to. The grey fluff that collects in the filter used to be part of the fabric of the clothes. Using these machines may also cause clothes to shrink, become less soft (due to loss of short soft fibres/ lint) and fade.
Whilst labour saving electric washing and drying machines are saving us time, it comes at a financial and environmental cost which will effect generations to come.← BackNext →