16. Newly laundered clothes were not exactly April Fresh
Laundries and housewives did the bulk of the washing of clothes, with the servants of the wealthy performing the task in their homes. Besides the harsh soaps available, laundresses employed several other weapons in their war against stains and dirt. Stains were scrubbed with pumice, sand, and other abrasives, and further treated by additional elements in the hot wash water. There the clothes were agitated with a long-handled paddle. Among the additives were onion juice, lemon juice, and even urine, which acted as a bleach. Items which required starch, such as neckcloths and cravats, soaked in water previously used to boil potatoes. In the South water used to cook rice substituted.
Clothes were hung, outside when possible, to dry. During the cold months they hung in attics, near the chimney for heat. When Abigail Adams moved into the White House, she used the then uncompleted and unfurnished East Room to hang her laundry. While drying the clothes picked up the various smells of their immediate surroundings, including wood smoke, cooking aromas, and if outdoors the smells of the gutters and all they contained. By the time they were ready to be donned by their owner they carried all of the various odors of the cleaning/drying process. Wardrobes and clothes chests of the wealthy frequently held cachets of herbs, spices, and scented oils to combat the smell of “fresh” laundry.