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Many years ago, as I was enjoying The Victorian Farm, a documentary you must watch if you enjoy historical homemaking or farming, Ruth Goodman shared a fascinating tidbit about laundry bluing. She was demonstrating “wash day” from a “wash room”. She had a large vessel of water steaming in the background and was putting in bed linens to soak in the hot water as she agitated it with a manual agitator also called a Washing Dolly. (Washing dolly below, in a galvanized wash tub).

As she goes about with each step of the labor-intensive laundry care, she talks briefly about laundry blueing and demonstrates how it works to keep the whites from looking dingy. I felt warm-fuzzies at the moment as I realized the little “Advancements” made in our modern day washing aren’t too advanced in some ways. While our modern “washing day” is less labor-intensive, the mechanisms haven’t changed much. Our machines still agitate, they use hot water, soak clothing if needed and even “wrings” out the water. The “dying” of fabrics hasn’t changed either in the form of laundry blueing.

Optical Illusion

Blueing is the practice of dying fabrics so they appear new and bright. Since blue and yellow are complimentary colors in the subtractive color model of color perception, adding trace of blue to the off white color, makes it appear whiter. White, off white, and even colored laundry often becomes yellowed or dingy and grey because of wear and use. Dying fabrics slightly blue gives whites the brilliant white that is highly desired and looks “clean”. Modern fluorescent optical brightener added to modern laundry detergent, makes colors appear brighter or more brilliant. Notice how many laundry soaps are blue? That is why! The same idea applies to toning grey/silver hair with purple/blue shampoo.

Safer, More Natural Option

Many, like myself, seek alternatives to modern chemical cleaners and solvents for health and environmental concerns and laundry blueing is a wonderful tool to add to your natural-minded homemaking tool belt! Originally derived from Prussian blue ultramarine mineral (used in natural carpet dying still today), a synthetic alternative had come into popularity in the 1830s-1880s, making it more accessible and cost-effective to the working class. In America, Mrs. Stewarts Blueing agent (which is still in business today), offered an already diluted liquid blueing agent compared to the compact cakes that had to be dissolved and crushed before use, making it much easier to use.

Mrs. Stewarts blueing is environmentally safe, and child and pet friendly. The ingredients consist of a stabilizer, iron oxide dye, and water. Check out the MSDS page here. Using common sense and reading the use directions will ensure safety and efficacy.

How to Use Liquid Blueing

When I use liquid blueing, I use a glass jar and dilute it in water. I then use a reusable ball jar lids and shake it until it’s fully dissolved and pour it directly into my washing machine once it is filled with water. If you pour it into the laundry before there is water in the drum, you run the risk of the dye not being distributed properly and may show dye spots where you don’t want them. If you do over-dye, you can correct course.

Laundry blueing has stood the test of time as far as laundry is concerned and I think it needs a come-back in our modern laundry routine and care. What do you think? Do you use blueing? Have you heard of it before? Leave a comment below!

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One Comment

  1. I learned this a few years ago when I read the book “Laundry Love” by Patric Richardson (aka the Laundry Evangelist). I had always wondered why my whites turned dingy when I used chlorine bleach. Mrs. Stewart’s bluing is amazing!

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