Pioneering Laundry: How Early Settlers Washed Their Clothes

Pioneering Laundry: How Early Settlers Washed Their Clothes

As modern-day individuals, we are fortunate to have washing machines and detergents to make our laundry routine a breeze. However, pioneers from the early 1800s did not have these modern-day conveniences. Instead, they did laundry by hand, using homemade soaps and natural elements to clean their clothes. In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of pioneering laundry and some of the methods used by our ancestors to keep their clothing clean.

How Often Did Pioneers Do Laundry?

Pioneers did not have access to laundry facilities or wardrobes full of clothes, so they typically washed their laundry once a week. However, this timeline could vary depending on the family’s schedules, the number of clothes they had, and weather conditions.

How Did Pioneers Wash Their Clothes?

Pioneers used a washboard and a large basin to do their laundry manually. They first soaked their clothes in hot water and soap and then used the washboard to scrub away any dirt or stains. The soap used by pioneers was usually made from lye, animal fat or vegetable oil, and water. The mixture was boiled, creating a thick, foamy soap that was excellent at removing dirt and grime.

How Did Pioneers Dry Their Clothes?

With no access to dryers, pioneers relied on the sun and wind to dry their laundry. They would hang their clothes on a line outside or indoors in front of the fireplace, depending on the weather. Sometimes drying clothes could be a challenge, especially during rainy seasons, or in colder climates with less sunlight.

How Did Pioneers Get Stains Out of Their Clothes?

Pioneers used natural ingredients to treat common laundry stains such as grass, blood, and grease. They used lemon juice to remove grass stains, salt to tackle blood stains, and boiling water to separate grease from fabric fibers. For extra cleaning power, they would use borax or vinegar instead of bleach to brighten their clothes. These natural treatments were typically safer than many of the chemicals used today and had antimicrobial properties that modern-day detergents lack.

Pioneering Laundry Soap Recipe

If you’re interested in trying out the pioneers’ way of making laundry soap, here is a simple recipe you can try at home.


  • 1/2 cup of lye
  • 2 cups of lard or vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup of water


Slowly mix the lye into the water, being careful not to breathe in the fumes or touch the mixture as it can cause a chemical burn.

In a separate container, melt the lard or vegetable shortening.

Once the lye-water mixture has cooled, slowly pour it into the melted lard or vegetable shortening and stir continuously.

Pour the mixture into a mold or container and let it sit for a few days until it hardens into soap.

It might take some practice and trial and error to get the perfect recipe, but early settlers’ soap has an undeniable charm and effectiveness.


The way pioneers did laundry may seem archaic and time-consuming, but it was a necessary and important task in their daily lives. The natural soaps they made and the methods they used to remove stains are still valid today and have the added benefit of being kinder to both the environment and the fabrics. As we reflect upon our history and homesteading lifestyles, let’s take a page from the pioneers’ book and put more care into the clothes we wear.

The Author: – Ingredients for a Simple Life.

Photo. Home Maker

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