I’m always searching for interesting or little-known tidbits from our past. While reading about how folks laundered clothing in the 1800s, bluing was often mentioned.
White fabrics can become gray or yellow after washing. Adding bluing to the wash or rinse water gives a subtle blue hue to whites even as it makes whites appear whiter and cleaner. Bluing is part of the manufacturing process for many white fabrics.
Laundry detergents improved over time, but whites can still grow dingy with frequent washing. Even today, bluing is a better option for whitening because bleach weakens the fibers. Bluing is still available today.
Women made their own bluing in the 19th century.
One ounce of Prussian blue (dark blue pigment) and ½ ounce of oxalic acid (used to remove yellow or brown rust stains) are dissolved in 1 quart “of perfectly soft rain water.” Store in a corked bottle. Insert a quill into the cork to easily control pouring the bluing, as 1 to 2 tablespoons is enough for one tub of laundry.
Chinese blue was considered the best. In the 1870s, it cost 12 ½ cents per ounce. Oxalic acid cost 3 cents. The amount made by this recipe lasted a year for a mid-sized family.
-Sandra Merville Hart
“Bluing for Laundry,” Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., 2018/07/29 https://www.marthastewart.com/270924/bluing-for-laundry.
“Bluing (fabric),” Wikipedia.com 2018/07/29 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluing_(fabric)
Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.
“Oxalic Acid,” Sunburst Chemicals, 2018/07/29 http://www.sunburstchemicals.com/product/oxalic-acid/.
“Prussian Blue,” Wikipedia.com, 2018/07/29 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_blue.