Urine: The Natural Way to Clean Your Clothes


Cooler King
Staff member
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When in (Ancient) Rome
You've seen that commercial where the woman gets so frustrated with set in stains that she hurls her washing machine out of the window. Getting clothes clean can drive a person crazy; however, perhaps the solution isn't
in those expensive store bought detergent. Perhaps the best cleanser is free product you have easy access to everyday-urine.

This idea may not be as bizarre as you may think. It's exactly what people did in Ancient Rome. In the days of emperors, gladiators and gods, men and women relied on human urine to get those togas and tunics their whitest.

Most clothing was made from wool, which was light in color and needed to be cleaned often. Dirty clothes were taken to the fullonica (a laundry) where it was the job of the fuller, or launderer to clean the clothes as thoroughly as possible. Soap was not used as a detergent until several centuries later; however, fullers discovered urine contained a natural cleaning agent-ammonia.

The process for obtaining the urine was rather interesting in itself. The fuller would place urine vessels on street corners for people to publicly relieve themselves. When the vessels were full, they were then carried back to the fullonica. The urine was diluted with water and the clothes were soaked in the mixture. Part of the cleaning process also involved someone standing in the tub of urine and stomping on the clothes, similar to an agitator on modern washing machines. After the clothes were cleaned, they were rinsed again to get the urine stench out of them.

The glamorous job of hauling the urine and washing the clothes usually fell to either a young boy or a slave. Ancient Rome was a slave society; however, it is important to realize slavery then did not resemble Western slavery as we know it. Slavery was not based on skin color but was one of the spoils of war. Also, many slaves were able to earn their freedom, and upon doing so were granted full Roman citizenship. So even though standing in a tub of urine was a detestable job, workers knew they probably would not do it their entire life.

By now, most people might be wondering why I even know such an unusual fact about urine. It's not because I have a fascination with bodily functions. Actually, I am a special exhibits volunteer at the Science Museum of
Minnesota. Working at the museum affords me the opportunity to see rare and unique artifacts as well as learn from experts many interesting tidbits about the exhibits.

The museum is about to unveil their newest exhibit called "A Day at Pompeii" which will focus on August 24, 79 AD; the day Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying several nearby cities including Pompeii and Herculaneum. As tragic as the volcanic eruption was, because the cities were buried in ash so fast, the entire community was preserved.

This created an opportunity for archeologists as well as tourists to see exactly what life was like during the first century. Streets, homes and businesses look exactly as they did in 79 AD. Frescos and woodcarvings depicting what daily life was like have been uncovered, including how urine was used in the cleaning process.

Imagine how strange it would be today to wash your favorite silk blouse in your urine. I don't know about you, but I think I'll stick to Woolite.

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