As the first essential of laundry work is a plentiful supply of water, a word concerning that necessary article may not be out of place. Pure water is a chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen. It has great absorbent and solvent powers, therefore pure water is seldom found. The first fall of any shower is mixed with the impurities of the air; among these may be acids, ammonia and carbon in the form of soot and creosote. It is these impurities which cause the stain left when rain water stands on the window-sill or other finished wood. Rain water absorbs more or less carbon dioxide from various sources, and soaking into the soil often comes in contact with lime, magnesia and other compounds. Water saturated with carbon dioxide will dissolve these substances, forming carbonates or other salts which are soluble; such water is known as "hard."
Water for domestic uses is called either "hard" or "soft," according to the amount of salts which it may contain. When soap is added to hard water, the new compound formed by the union of the lime with the fatty acid of the soap is insoluble, and is deposited upon the surface of any article with which it comes in contact. This is the reason why "hard" water requires more soap when used for laundry work. It is much better to soften the water by the addition of alkalies, ammonia or sal-soda before using for laundry purposes than to depend entirely upon soap for cleansing.
Another important material used in the laundry is soap. In purchasing soap, it is safer to choose the make of some well-known firm, who have a reputation to lose if their products are not good; and for anything stronger than soap, it is better to buy sal-soda and use it knowingly than to trust to the various packages so extensively advertised. Washing soda should always be dissolved in a separate vessel, and added to the water to be used. Ammonia may be used, but its too frequent use will yellow bleached fabrics. Borax is an effectual cleanser, disinfectant and bleacher. It is more expensive than ammonia or soda but is the safest alkali to use. Turpentine is valuable in removing grease; 1 tablespoon to a quart of water will serve for washing silks and other delicate materials. It should never be used in hot water.
All spots and stains should be taken out before the clothes are put into the general wash to be treated with soap. Fruit stains are the most frequent and the most indelible, when neglected. The composition of fruit juice is readily dissolved by boiling water. Stretch the stained part over an earthen dish and pour boiling water upon the stain until it disappears. If fruit stains are allowed to remain, they will require an acid, or in some cases a bleaching liquid like chloride of lime to remove them. Wine stains should be immediately covered with a thick layer of salt. Boiling milk may be used for taking out wine or fruit stains. Medicine stains usually yield to alcohol. Iodine dissolves in ether or chloroform.
Coffee, tea and cocoa stain badly; the latter, if neglected, will resist to the destruction of the fabric. These all contain tannin, besides various coloring matters, and are "fixed" by soap and water. Clear boiling water will often remove fresh coffee and tea stains, although it is safer to sprinkle the stains with borax and soak in cold water first. An alkaline solution of great use and convenience is Javelle water. It will remove stains and is a general bleacher. It is composed of 1 lb. of sal-soda with 1/4 lb. of chloride of lime in 2 quarts of boiling water. When the substances have dissolved as much as they will, and become cool and settled, pour off the clear liquid and bottle it for use. Be careful not to allow any of the solid portions to pass into the bottle. Use the dregs for scouring unpainted woodwork, or to cleanse waste pipes. When a spot is found on a white tablecloth place under it an inverted plate. Apply Javelle water with a soft tooth brush (the use of the brush protects the skin and the nails). Rub gently till the stain disappears, then rinse in clear water and finally in ammonia. Blood stains require clear cold or tepid water; hot water and soap render the red coloring matter less soluble. When the stain is nearly gone soap and hot water may be used. Stains from meat juice should be treated in the same way. When blood is mixed with mucous, as in the case of handkerchiefs, it is well to soak the stains for some hours in a solution of salt and cold water, 2 tablespoonfuls to a quart. Grass stains dissolve in alcohol. If applied immediately, ammonia and water will sometimes wash them out.
The following methods have proved successful, and may be tried where colors are likely to be affected by alcohol. Molasses, or a paste of soap and cooking soda may be spread over the stain and left for some hours, or the stain may be kept moist in the sunshine until the green color has changed to brown, when it will wash out in pure water. Mildew requires different treatment from any previously considered. Strong soap suds, a layer of soft soap and pulverized chalk, or one of chalk and salt, are all effective, if in addition the moistened cloth be subjected to strong sunlight, which kills the plant and bleaches the fibre. Javelle water may be tried in cases of advanced growth, but success is not always assured. Some of the animal and vegetable oils may be taken out by soap and cold water, or dissolved in naphtha, chloroform, ether, etc. Some of the vegetable oils are soluble in hot alcohol (care being taken that the temperature be not raised to the point of igniting). Vaseline stains should be soaked in kerosene before water and soap touch them.
Ink spots on white goods are the same in character as on colored fabrics. Where the ink is an iron compound, the stain may be treated with oxalic, muriatic or hot tartaric acid, applied in the same manner as for iron rust stains. No definite rule can be given, for some inks are affected by strong alkalies, others by acids, while some will dissolve in clear water. Red iron rust spots must be treated with acid. Fill an earthen dish two-thirds full of hot water and stretch the stained cloth over this. Have two other dishes with clear water in one and ammonia water in the other. The steam from the hot water will furnish the heat and moisture favorable for chemical action. Drop a little muriatic acid on the stain; let it remain a moment, then lower the cloth into the clear water. Repeat until the stain disappears. Rinse carefully in the clear water and finally immerse in the ammonia water, that any excess of acid may be neutralized and the fabric protected. Salt and lemon juice are often sufficient for a slight stain.
Many spots appear upon white goods, which resemble those made by iron rust, or the fabrics themselves acquire a yellowish tinge. This is the result of the use of blueing and soap, where the clothes have been imperfectly rinsed. Therefore, if all dirt is removed, and the clothes thoroughly rinsed from all soap or alkalies used in removing the dirt, and exposed for a long time to air and sunshine, the use of blueing is unnecessary. In cities, where conveniences for drying and bleaching in the sunshine are few, a thorough bleaching two or three times a year is a necessity; but in the country it is wiser to abolish all use of blueing and let the sun, in its action with moisture and the oxygen of the air, keep the clothes white and pure. Freezing aids in bleaching, for it retains the moisture upon which the sun can act so much longer. When clean grass, dew and sunshine are not available, use a bleaching powder. Directions for the use of the powder usually accompany the can in which it is bought. Care must be taken to completely rinse out the acid present in the powder. Grease is more quickly acted upon by hot water than by cold, but other organic matter is fixed by the hot water. An effective method is to soak thoroughly the most soiled portion of the clothes, fold these together towards the centre, roll the whole tightly and soak in cold water. The water should just cover the articles. In this way the soap is kept where it is most needed, and not washed away before it has done its work. When the clothes are unrolled, the dirt may be washed out with less rubbing. Too long soaking, when a strong soap is used, will weaken the fabric.
Whether to boil clothes or not, depends largely upon the purity of the materials used and the care exercised. Many feel that the additional disinfection which boiling insures, is an element of cleanness not to be disregarded, while others insist that boiling yellows the clothes. This yellowness may be caused by impure material in the soap, the deposit of iron from the water or the boiler; the imperfect washing of the clothes, that is, the organic matter is not thoroughly removed. The safer process is to put the clothes into cold water, with little or no soap, let the temperature rise gradually to boiling point and remain there for a few minutes. Soap is more readily dissolved by hot than by cold water, hence the boiling should help in the complete removal of the soap, and should precede the rinsing. One tablespoonful of borax to every gallon of water added to each boilerful, serves as a bleacher and disinfectant. Scalding or pouring boiling water over the clothes is not so effectual for their disinfection as boiling, because the temperature is so quickly lowered.
The main points in laundry cleansing seem to be: (1) The removal of all stains; (2) Soft water and a good quality of soap; (3) The use of alkalies in solution only; (4) Not too hot nor too much water, while the soap is acting on the dirt; (5) Thorough rinsing, that all alkali may be removed; (6) Long exposure to sunlight, the best bleacher and disinfectant.