How to Starch Clothes

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, June 6, 1912:  Utterly forgotten.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Must have been a slow day . . .

I’m still reading a booklet that Proctor & Gamble published almost a hundred years ago on how to do laundry. A couple of days ago I told you about how clothes were ironed in the early 1900s. Many clothes needed to be starched before they were ironed.

Here are the abridged directions for starching clothes.


Aprons, shirtwaists, the trimming of underwear, etc. are starched. Make the starch according to the directions given below.

The amount of starch needed depends upon the number of garments to be starched. Those that should be stiffest must be starched first. Dry or thick materials take up more starch than wet or thin ones, and the starch may need to be thinned with water for some garments.

When only part of a garment is to be starched, gather that part into the hand and dip it into the starch, rub it well, then squeeze out the extra starch. This must be done by hand, the rest of the garment being held out with the rest. The starched pieces are hung out with the rest.

Thick Starch

Mix 1/2 cup starch and

1/2 cup cold water, add

¼ level teaspoonful shave white wax or lard and

4 cups (1 qt.) boiling water

Let it boil up several times to be sure that wax is melted and mixed and starch cooked. Add a little bluing and set dish in a pan of cold water until it is cool enough to handle.

Thin Starch

Mix 1/2 cup starch and

1/2 cup cold water, add

1/4 level teaspoonful lard or twice as much borax, stir smooth with

1/2 cup of cold, then stirring rapidly, add

3 pints of boiling water and continue stirring until it boils thoroughly. Have holder ready to lift it from the fire, or it will boil over. Add

1 pint of cold water to thin it and reduce the heat, and add enough bluing to counteract the yellow color of the starch. Turn starch into a large dish. If carefully made, it need not be strained.

Approved Methods for Home Laundering (1915)

As a reader commented on the post about ironing—thank goodness for spray starch. 🙂

17 thoughts on “How to Starch Clothes

    1. I don’t know if she did, but I know that I’ve scorched lots of things. And it doesn’t take starch for me to do it–just a moment’s distraction. . . a garment that is more wet than damp. . . etc.

    1. I am very fortunate to have the diary and it is fun to read the entries. I like the way the blog forces me to go through the entries slowly and to savor each one. I find that I get much more out of them than when I read a bunch of entries at one sitting.

  1. Whoa! One of my great grandmothers is listed as a laundress in one census. I wonder if she had to do all that to the clothes she took in. whew. makes me tired just to think about it.

    1. I also had relative–a great aunt– who did laundry. I can remember racks and ranks of men’s white shirts hanging in her enclosed porch waiting for customers to pick them up.

      I can remember her staying with my family for a wedding–and she thought that the men’s shirts had not been properly starched and ironed. So she decided to redo them prior to the wedding. We had to go to the store and buy some kind of old-fashioned starch that I think she put into the washing machine.

  2. When I was a kid starch was what we dipped strips of newspaper into to put on a balloon and make a papier-mâché piggy bank. Now I know what starch was actually designed for.

    1. Your comment reminds me of the time when one of my children and some classmates came to my house to do a school project that involved making a head out of a paper-mache covered balloon. The balloon broke and the wet starch-covered strips of paper flew all over the kitchen–even on the ceiling. Whew, what a mess!

  3. Reminds me that at the age of 14 (early 1960’s) my Domestic Science teacher didn’t like me at all until we had to wash/starch & iron a doily and I was only one, in the class, who knew how to do it … and “perfectly” the teacher enthused 🙂 … ha ha ha. How sad, eh?

    1. Awe–I’d almost forgotten doilies. Now that you mention them, I also remember them. Handkerchiefs and doilies were the first things that I learned how to iron when I was a kid.

  4. Oh I remember the starching, the dampening of the laundry (after drying it, how weird), and the ironing with a hot iron but balancing the heat. What a rigmarole.

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