How Did They Iron Clothes in the Old Days: A Comprehensive Guide

Have you ever found yourself asking “how did they iron clothes in the old days”? The history of ironing is a captivating journey that stretches from rudimentary stones to intricate mechanical devices. In this detailed guide, we will examine the methods, tools, and safety precautions that were commonplace before the advent of electric irons.

how did they iron clothes in the old days

Tools Used for Ironing in the Past

When looking into how did they iron clothes in the old days, it’s essential to start by identifying the tools that were used.

Many years ago, households had to rely on basic implements such as ironing stones, wooden boards, and later, metal flat irons. These tools were simple yet effective for the task at hand.

In the quest to understand how did they iron clothes in the old days, one can’t overlook the humble beginnings of garment care that involved basic yet ingenious solutions like ironing stones and boards.

These seemingly primitive methods laid the foundation for fabric care techniques we use today. In this section, we delve deeper into these archaic yet fascinating tools.

The Anatomy of an Ironing Stone

An ironing stone was typically a flat, smooth rock, meticulously chosen for its shape and texture. The ideal ironing stone would be uniform in flatness, devoid of any cracks or sharp edges that could potentially damage the fabric.

Stones with slight natural curves were preferred for ironing complicated pieces like sleeves or pleats.

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The Importance of the Wooden Board

The wooden board or table served as the foundational surface for the ironing process. Often, the board was as essential as the stone itself.

The type of wood used often depended on what was locally available but generally needed to be sturdy and able to withstand heat and pressure. Some households even had boards with padded surfaces, usually cloth-covered, to prevent the wood from imprinting its texture onto the fabric being ironed.

The Ironing Process

The fabric was usually laid out on the wooden board, sometimes dampened for easier wrinkle removal. The ironing stone was then pressed and slid against the fabric, making multiple passes to ensure that all wrinkles were smoothed out.

This method was labor-intensive and required significant physical effort, often requiring the person ironing to lean their body weight into the stone to effectively remove stubborn wrinkles.

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Efficiency and Limitations

While this method was effective in its own right, it had obvious limitations. The process was slow and could be quite tiring, especially for larger garments or fabrics made of more robust materials like wool or linen.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of the ironing was highly dependent on the skill and strength of the person doing the ironing. It was not uncommon for multiple people to participate, making it a communal activity.

Cultural Variations

The use of ironing stones and boards was not universal and varied greatly depending on geographical location and cultural practices.

In some cultures, similar methods involving wooden paddles or mallets were used to beat the fabric into smoothness. Regardless of the tools, the core principles remained: a flat surface and a pressing implement were the basic necessities for ironing before the advent of more modern tools.

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Metal Flat Irons

In the development of garment care, the introduction of metal flat irons signified a major technological leap. As society progressed, so did the tools available for everyday tasks.

Replacing the laborious methods of using stones and wooden boards, metal flat irons brought about a new level of efficiency and effectiveness, although they came with their own set of challenges.

Construction and Materials

Generally crafted from iron or steel, these flat irons consisted of a flat, weighted base and a handle, often made of the same material as the base.

Some versions had wooden or cork handles to offer a degree of insulation from the heat. The weight of the iron itself helped in pressing the fabric and removing wrinkles more efficiently than its predecessors.

Heating Mechanism

The iron’s base was heated by placing it over an open flame, such as a fire or stove, or on a bed of hot coals. This was a far cry from modern electric irons, which allow for precise temperature control.

Back then, gauging the correct temperature was a skill that required experience and close attention to avoid overheating the iron and potentially burning the fabric.

Monitoring and Risks

One of the significant drawbacks of using metal flat irons was the risk of overheating. Unlike today’s electric irons equipped with temperature controls and safety features, these early irons had to be monitored closely.

A common method for testing the iron’s temperature was the “spit test,” where a small amount of water or spit was flicked onto the iron.

If it sizzled and evaporated quickly, the iron was usually deemed ready for use. However, if it produced no sound or steam, the iron was likely too cold; if it produced excessive steam or smoke, it was too hot and needed to cool down before use.

Accessories and Adaptations

To improve the ironing experience, various accessories like iron stands and trivets were often used. These helped in keeping the iron elevated when not in use, allowing it to retain heat while also protecting the surface on which it was placed.

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Moreover, some households had multiple irons to maintain a constant workflow. While one iron was in use, another would be heating up, allowing for a more efficient ironing process.

The Legacy of Metal Flat Irons

Despite their limitations, metal flat irons paved the way for the development of modern ironing tools equipped with electrical heating elements and steam functions.

Their basic design principles have largely been maintained, proving the enduring ingenuity of these early devices.

Box Irons

As time passed, the flat iron evolved into the box iron. This was a hollow metal box with a handle and a hinged lid, allowing hot coals to be placed inside for a more even heat distribution.

While an improvement over flat irons, box irons were still challenging to handle due to their weight and the need to replenish the hot coals regularly.


Mangles were used primarily in commercial or larger domestic settings. They consisted of two rollers, often made of wood or metal, mounted on a frame.

The user would turn a handle to move the rollers while feeding wet clothes through them to both flatten and dry the fabric. This was often used in conjunction with other methods, such as flat irons, for a thoroughly ironed finish.

Safety Measures When Ironing in the Old Days

Safety was always a concern when ironing in the old days. Given the potential for fire or fabric damage, people had to exercise caution.

Temperature tests were commonly conducted by dropping a small amount of water onto the iron’s surface.

If the water sizzled and evaporated, the iron was hot enough for use. However, if the water droplet sat idly, the iron needed more heating. This form of temperature control was rudimentary but essential for preventing accidents.

Conclusion: How Did They Iron Clothes in the Old Days

Understanding how people ironed clothes in the old days is not just historical curiosity; it also offers us insights into the innovations that have led to modern ironing technologies.

While it’s easy to take our current tools for granted, acknowledging the laborious and often dangerous techniques of the past allows us to appreciate how far garment care has come.

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