Overlapping uses for kerosene, clay & milk

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


Cloth diapering my son taught me a lot about the science of washing clothes and now I know way more than I used to about things like hard water and borax, but nonetheless I spent some time this week researching the history of laundry and the chemistry of stain removal for a piece of flash fiction I wrote.

Fun Facts

  • Urine, lemon, and onion juice were once common methods for bleaching clothes.
  • A "washing bat" was a 2-3 foot long wooden paddle used to agitate clothes soaking in boiling hot water.
  • Chalk, brick dust, pipe clay were used to clean grease stains in eras before industrial cleaning agents became common.
  • A typical laundry "basin" for a Victorian estate would be made of copper and hold roughly 30 gallons of water per load and require about 300lbs of wood to heat on wash day.
  • Soap was not widely available until the 19th century, so most people washed their clothes in a nearby river and loosened dirt with rocks.

Clean Blood

Because hydrogen peroxide, useful for everything from removing bloodstains to disinfectant, is surprisingly difficult to make and even harder to transport safely, researchers are trying to use "fuzzy graphene" to synthesize hydrogen peroxide on-the-go. [Read More]

Distilled Asphalt

Kerosene, also known as paraffin oil, coal oil, and lamp oil, is a waxy petroleum mixture first developed by Arabian scientists millennia ago. Although it's mostly used as fuel, it's also useful as a solvent: from insecticide sprays to removing bloodstains from clothes. [Read More]

White For Red

Like cleaning red wine with white, the juice of unripe mulberries (or milk!) can be used to remove stains from dark, ripe mulberries. The use of acid (citric or lactic) lowers the pH, so that it doesn't technically remove the stain, but does remove the colour. [Read More]

Victorian Gall

Victorian laundresses sometimes added ox-gall to washwater to help preserve the color of important textiles that might otherwise be damaged by lye or soda. Ox-gall was obtained by sending the local butcher a glass bottle, so he could drain the liquid from a cow's gall bladder into it. [Read More]


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