Laundry is hung to dry above an Italian street.
Laundry hanging out of flats for drying in Bukit Batok, Singapore.

Laundry is a noun that refers to the act of washing clothing and linens, the place where that washing is done, and/or that which needs to be, is being, or has been laundered. Laundry can be considered a room or area, as in a home or apartment building, reserved for doing the family wash.



The launderer by Jef Lambeaux.
Laundry in the river in contemporary Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
Irreler Bauerntradition shows the history of laundry at the Roscheider Hof Open Air Museum

Laundry was first done in watercourses[citation needed], 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, or the ash lye once widely used for soaking laundry in Europe. Soap, a compound made from lye and fat, is an ancient and common laundry aid. 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. Wooden or stone scrubbing surfaces set up near a water supply or portable washboards, including factory-made corrugated metal ones, gradually 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.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution completely transformed laundry technology.

The mangle (wringer US) was developed in the 19th century — two long rollers in a frame and a crank to revolve them. A laundry-worker took sopping wet clothing and cranked it through the mangle, compressing the cloth and expelling the excess water. The mangle was much quicker than hand twisting. It was a variation on the box mangle used primarily for pressing and smoothing cloth.

Meanwhile 19th century inventors further mechanized the laundry process with various hand-operated washing machines. Most involved turning a handle to move paddles inside a tub. Then some early 20th century machines used an electrically powered agitator to replace tedious hand rubbing against a washboard. Many of these were simply a tub on legs, with a hand-operated mangle on top. Later the mangle too was electrically powered, then replaced by a perforated double tub, which spun out the excess water in a spin cycle.

Laundry drying was also mechanized, with clothes dryers. Dryers were also spinning perforated tubs, but they blew heated air rather than water.

Chinese laundries in North America

In the United States and Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century, the occupation of laundry worker was heavily identified with Chinese Americans. Discrimination, lack of English-language skills, and lack of capital kept Chinese Americans out of most desirable careers. Around 1900, one in four ethnic Chinese men in the U.S. worked in a laundry, typically working 10 to 16 hours a day.[1] [2]

New York City had an estimated 3,550 Chinese laundries at the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1933, with even this looking to many people like a relatively desirable business, the city's Board of Aldermen passed a law clearly intended to drive the Chinese out of the business. Among other things, it limited ownership of laundries to U.S. citizens. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association tried fruitlessly to fend this off, resulting in the formation of the openly leftist Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA), which successfully challenged this provision of the law, allowing Chinese laundry workers to preserve their livelihoods.[1]

The CHLA went on to function as a more general civil rights group; its numbers declined strongly after it was targeted by the FBI during the Second Red Scare (1947–1957).[1]

Apartments in developed countries

In some parts of the world, including Europe and North America, apartment buildings and dormitories often have laundry rooms, where residents share washing machines and dryers. Usually the machines are set to run only when money is put in a coin slot. They turn on when the money is inserted and they run for as long as you pay.

In other parts of the world, apartment buildings with laundry rooms are uncommon, and each apartment may have its own washing machine. Those without a machine at home or the use of a laundry room must either wash their clothes by hand or visit a commercial laundromat.

Right to Dry Movement

Directions for hand-washing New Britain Standard Hygienic Underwear, circa 1915

Some organizations have been campaigning against legislation which has outlawed line-drying of clothing in public places, especially given the increased greenhouse gas emissions produced by clothes dryers.[citation needed]

Legislation making it possible for thousands of American families to start using a clothesline in communities where they were formerly banned was passed in Colorado in 2008. In 2009, clothesline legislation was debated in several states, including Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oregon, Virginia, and Vermont. Other states are considering similar bills.[citation needed]

Although there are homeowners' associations and other communities in the United States that prohibit residents from using a clothesline outdoors, or limit its use to locations that are not visible from the street or to certain times of day, other communities expressly prohibit rules that prevent the use of clotheslines. Florida is the only state to expressly guarantee a right to dry, although Utah and Hawaii have passed solar rights legislation.

In Florida, a law states that "No deed restrictions, covenants, or similar binding agreements running with the land shall prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the lots or parcels covered by the deed restrictions, covenants, or binding agreements".[3] No other state has such explicit legislation[citation needed]. Vermont considered a "Right to Dry" bill in 1999, but it was defeated in the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee. The language has been included in a 2007 voluntary energy conservation bill, introduced by Senator Dick McCormack. Similar measures are being introduced in some parts of Canada, including the province of Ontario, as well.[citation needed]

Common problems

Novice users of modern laundry machines sometimes experience accidental shrinkage of garments, especially when applying heat. For wool garments, this is due to scales on the fibers which heat and agitation cause to stick together. Other fabrics are stretched by mechanical forces during production, and can shrink slightly when heated (though to a lesser degree than wool). Some clothes are "pre-shrunk" to avoid this problem.[4]

Another common problem is color bleeding. For example, washing a red shirt with white underwear can result in pink underwear. Often only like colors are washed together to avoid this problem, which is lessened by cold water and repeated washings.

Laundry symbols are included on many clothes to help consumers avoid these problems.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Yung, Judy; Chang, Gordon H.; Lai, Him Mark, eds. (2006), "Declaration of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance.", Chinese American Voices, University of California Press, pp. 183–185 (including notes), ISBN 0-520-24310-2 
  2. ^ Ban Seng Hoe (2004), Enduring Hardship: The Chinese Laundry in Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilization, ISBN 0-660-19078-8 
  3. ^ "Energy devices based on renewable resources". The 2008 Florida Statutes. 163.04. Florida Senate. 2008. 
  4. ^ "Why Clothes Shrink". 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Laundry — Laun dry, n.; pl. {Laundries}. [OE. lavendrie, OF. lavanderie. See {Launder}.] 1. A laundering; a washing. [1913 Webster] 2. A place or room where laundering is done; a laundry room. [1913 Webster] 3. A business establishment where clothing is… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • laundry — laun‧dry [ˈlɔːndri ǁ ˈlɒːn ] noun laundries PLURALFORM [countable] BANKING a financial organization, such as a bank, used as a place to put money obtained from illegal activities * * * laundry UK US /ˈlɔːndri/ noun [C] (plural laundries) ► LAW,… …   Financial and business terms

  • laundry — (n.) late 14c., place for washing; mid 15c. act of washing, from O.Fr. lavanderie, from L. lavandaria, pl. of lavandarium things to be washed, from lavare to wash (see LAVE (Cf. lave)). As a verb, from 1880. Laundry list in figurative sense is… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Laundry — room …   Dictionary of Australian slang

  • laundry — ► NOUN (pl. laundries) 1) clothes and linen that need to be washed or that have been newly washed. 2) a room or building where clothes and linen are washed and ironed …   English terms dictionary

  • laundry — [lôn′drē] n. pl. laundries [ME lavenderie < OFr < lavandier: see LAUNDER] 1. Rare the act or process of laundering 2. a) a room with facilities for laundering b) a commercial establishment for this 3. a batch of …   English World dictionary

  • laundry — n. clothes, linens that are to be washed or have been washed 1) to do the laundry 2) to dry; fold; iron the laundry 3) clean; dirty laundry establishment for washing clothes, linens 4) a self service laundry 5) at, in a laundry (they work at a… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • laundry — [[t]lɔ͟ːndri[/t]] laundries 1) N UNCOUNT Laundry is used to refer to clothes, sheets, and towels that are about to be washed, are being washed, or have just been washed. I ll do your laundry. ...the room where I hang the laundry... He d put his… …   English dictionary

  • laundry — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ clean, dirty … OF LAUNDRY ▪ pile ▪ There was a pile of clean laundry on her bed. VERB + LAUNDRY ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

  • laundry — laun|dry [ˈlo:ndri US ˈlo:n ] n plural laundries 1.) [U] clothes, sheets etc that need to be washed or have just been washed ▪ She did the laundry (=washed the clothes etc) and hung it out to dry. ▪ Ben was folding laundry. clean/dirty laundry ▪… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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