Thread Number: 71054  /  Tag: Detergents and Additives
More Dangerous Then Dynamite - Washing Clothes With Gasoline
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Post# 940620   5/28/2017 at 06:54 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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There just aren't words.....

Have vintage laundry and cleaning manuals from the early part of last century that go on about using petrol, benzene, turpentine and so forth for laundry, but this film clip puts things into perspective.

How many women were disfigured, burned to death, and or even blew their homes up using gasoline for "dry cleaning".

Post# 940657 , Reply# 1   5/28/2017 at 13:15 by twintubdexter (Palm Springs)        

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I never could understand that old concept/rumor that people used to wash clothes in gasoline. Aside from the danger, how would you ever get the smell out? There was of course that time Lucy was fed up with all of her husband's shoddy leisure clothes and after getting rid of them, she fibbed and told Ricky she washed them in gasoline and got too close to an open flame...

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Post# 940661 , Reply# 2   5/28/2017 at 13:38 by mrboilwash (Munich,Germany)        

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Not sure what is more alarming the immediate threat of combustion or the lingering threat of lead poisoning.

There wasn`t a special type of unleaded gasoline around in the 30`s just for dry cleaning purposes, was there ?

Post# 940679 , Reply# 3   5/28/2017 at 16:36 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Nothing special about the petrol used, just whatever one could purchase from local filling station.

In both my European and American vintage laundry manuals authors are split about using gasoline or turpentine for wash day. Standard advice was one added amounts of the stuff to soapy wash water as part of the boil wash. About a teacup or less full per boiler. It was supposed to help with cleaning, remove/prevent lime scale scum, etc... However as noted yes, the stuff did give one's wash a pong that hung around because no amount of rinsing truly removed. That is why some were in the "no" camp.

When it came to "dry cleaning" or spot removing at home, that was another matter.

Naphtha, benzene, gasoline, and later trichloroethylene, were all recommended. Yes, by the early 1900's you had standard warnings about using out of doors/well ventilated areas with no open fires or anything that could produce a spark.... but still.

Air is sometimes naturally charged, such as before or after thunderstorm. Flicking a switch or otherwise causing a spark or flame can ignite vapors from petrol substances even when a distance away from actual working area. In the clip above the housewife leaves that jug of gasoline open the entire time she is "dry cleaning".

Benzene IIRC was worse because the fumes actually move along the ground/floor and can travel some distance.

All this doesn't even touch the cancer causing properties of these substances. Benzene has no question about it; the stuff causes cancer which is why you don't see it on offer much in pure form as in days gone by. It is found in petrol fumes however and even tobacco smoke (cigars, cigarettes, etc...) which his a good reason to avoid "second hand smoke".

Some but not all of these risks were reduced or whatever when Mr. Fels came up with a way to bind Naptha to a soap, giving the world Fels Naptha-Soap. The rest as they say is history.

In essence naptha soaps were the first petrol derived "detergents" in that the aromatic hydrocarbon bound to soap did away with much of the problems in using solvents in water. The addition of a solvent meant you got the powerful oil removing cleaner that worked without hard rubbing and even high temperatures.

Using any naptha soap in very hot to boiling water will cause the solvent portion to evaporate faster into the air. So you could use warm or even just "hot" water on wash day. Because the solvent was in the soap just rubbing the bar over a spot or stain often did the trick in terms of removal.

Post# 940681 , Reply# 4   5/28/2017 at 17:07 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
How Home "Dry Cleaning" Got Started.

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In 1885 a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Jolly noticed a soiled tablecloth was cleaner after his maid had knocked over a kerosene lamp on the thing. M. Jolly owned a dye works plant and soon began offering nettoyage à sec (dry cleaning) as a service. Prior to this woolens, silks and other textiles that couldn't (or shouldn't) be laundered with soap and water were rarely if ever cleaned. You just brushed them, used absorbents like Fuller's earth, aired, or whatever.

Since a the process was invented in France for years immediately afterwards "French cleaning" became linked to "dry cleaning", with persons (who could afford it), sending their garments to France to be dry cleaned. Right through the 1950's and beyond you found "French Dry Cleaners" all over North America, which meant truly nothing by that time, well except customers were being charged more.

Gradually as word got out about "dry cleaning" others jumped onto the bandwagon using gasoline, kerosene, turpentine, etc... this included those who couldn't afford to send their clothing to France, much less a dry cleaner locally. That was if there was one locally. In rural or other low population areas there often was not such a business locally. So you either had to send things "into town" or do them at home.

By early part of the last century an American named William Joseph Stoddard who owned a dry cleaner in Atlanta was concerned about using such flammable substances. Working with a chemist he came up with a type of white spirit that was less flammable and called "Stoddard Solvent".

Post WWI at least in the USA both federal and local governments became alarmed at the high number of explosions, fires and other adverse incidents involving dry cleaning. Laws were passed which included a mandate to less flammable substances, and the industry moved to using chlorinated solvents ( dichloromethane, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride).

By the 1930's the industry moved to tetrachloroethylene/perchloroethylene (aka PERC) which was less flammable, cleaned better and being more stable could be recycled.

The last bit is what the film clip above alludes to as the difference between the woman using gasoline at home and the professional dry cleaner. The latter likely was using PERC (since the fluid was recycled), and a host of other safety measures that housewife did not have.

Post# 940741 , Reply# 5   5/29/2017 at 00:27 by Supersuds (Knoxville, Tenn.)        
Lead in fuels

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Unleaded gasoline in the 1930s was called "white gasoline." I think the name came about because leaded "ethyl" gasoline was dyed red or blue (see the many period ads for "New Blue Sunoco," for instance.)

The owners manual of our 1940 Packard advised using white gasoline to clean the element of the oil bath air cleaner. So, I'd conclude that it must have been widely available, although few people likely heeded the precaution.

Post# 940747 , Reply# 6   5/29/2017 at 01:23 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Of course for those of us who are "Boomer Kids"

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"Ethyl" was one of the types of gasoline offered in cartoon filling stations. That and in old films. Don't ever remember Dad ever asking for "Ethyl" when getting any of our cars filled up at the pump. It was either "regular" or "premium".

By the way; leaded gasoline is one of the most harmful substances around. This was discovered back in the 1920's by a leading forensic scientist here in NYC. As per Standard Oil and other large industry got their way and stopped all and any bans on tetraethyl lead. It would not be until nearly fifty years late (the 1980's) that the federal government finally saw sense. But by then the damage had been done in cost of lives (deaths) and illnesses brought about by lead poisoning, this included children.

Post# 940757 , Reply# 7   5/29/2017 at 03:54 by arbilab (Ft Worth TX (Ridglea))        
miles off laundry, sorry

The same guy who invented tetraethyl lead later invented another environmental disaster, though at the time it seemed like a good idea...... freon.  Until satellites revealed that chlorine ate ozone so Dupont took the chlorine out and lobbied 134a into mandatory existence.  But refrigerant wars are far from over and the same thing is already in motion to happen again.


Fluorine is (something on the order of) 1000 times worse at greenhousing than carbon dioxide and 134a is on the way out.  There's a substitute and again you can only buy it from a Dupont licensee.  This mixes two unreacted gases with different vapor points and the charge becomes very critical. 


If any leaks out performance drops drastically.  Not only that but you have to completely evacuate and refill the entire system because the components leak at different rates.  Buy hearing protection; the Dupont cash register ringing will be deafening.  Then standby for the NEXT substitute substitute because one of the components of the blend is flammable.  One of the properties freon was invented to get around, the other being poisonous (ammonia, sulfur dioxide).



Post# 940776 , Reply# 8   5/29/2017 at 08:59 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Carbona like Persil is a brand name derived from product components. In this case CARbon tetrachloride.

Pity these two didn't read the memo:

Post# 940845 , Reply# 9   5/29/2017 at 19:20 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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It would not be until nearly fifty years late (the 1980's) that the federal government finally saw sense.


I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing the government "saw sense" before the 1980s. But there was probably a realization that there were plenty of cars that required leaded gas due to engine valve design. So there was a phase out period...


I can remember the time when leaded gas was still available. It seemed like gas stations had "Premium" "Regular" and "Unleaded" ca. 1980 IIRC. (My mother had a car that burned leaded until 1982, and so I remember her pulling into gas stations and asking for $5 of Regular.)

Post# 940847 , Reply# 10   5/29/2017 at 19:28 by Frigilux (The Minnesota Prairie)        

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Love these old educational films. Thanks for posting it, Launderess.

Also: I'm old enough to remember when the gas station attendant would ask, "Regular or ethyl?" Enjoyed watching the uniformed attendant clean every window, then check the oil and top off the washer fluid.

Post# 940852 , Reply# 11   5/29/2017 at 19:44 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Standard Oil knew very well of the health effects caused by leaded gasoline. Much as with tobacco and smoking however they actively suppressed, lied and or did whatever else was necessary to keep sales going.

"other, safer antiknock additives–used to increase gasoline octane and counter engine “knock”–were known and available to oil companies and the makers of lead antiknocks before the lead additive was discovered, but they were covered up and denied, then fought, suppressed and unfairly maligned for decades to follow; "

Post# 940853 , Reply# 12   5/29/2017 at 19:47 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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Standard Oil knew very well of the heath effects caused by leaded gasoline. Much as with tobacco and smoking however they actively suppressed, lied and or did whatever else was necessary to keep sales going.


Somehow, I'm not surprised...

Post# 940856 , Reply# 13   5/29/2017 at 20:05 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Ironically the man who invented TEL

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Thomas Midgley Jr. suffered from lead poisoning as a direct result of his involvement with TEL.

There is a great book on birth of modern forensic science in the United States, and its founder, Dr. Gettler. The book's name is "The Poisoner's Handbook", and it was also covered in a PBS program of same name.

As mentioned in links upthread, New York and New Jersey were one of the early states that early on tried to ban and or regulate leaded gasoline, only to be undone by Standard Oil's dirty work.

Post# 940934 , Reply# 14   5/30/2017 at 00:28 by Supersuds (Knoxville, Tenn.)        

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Couldn't find the Packard owner's manual, but here is a scan from the 1938 Buick manual, which discusses the use of "white gasoline" and warns that Ethyl fuel is poisonous and should not be used for washing parts.

The next scan is the section regarding upholstery cleaning, which also warns against using gasoline containing tetraethyl lead.

I remember cleaning engine parts in gasoline back in the Seventies. It almost certainly had lead in it -- hope there aren't any delayed-action consequences!

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Post# 940951 , Reply# 15   5/30/2017 at 06:09 by tolivac (greenville nc)        

Even unleaded gas is considered toxic to inhale or swallow-and much less get on your skin.Gas should ONLY be used as a motor fuel and NOT a cleaning agent!!!!The extreme flammability is what makes gas a good motor fuel!

Post# 940953 , Reply# 16   5/30/2017 at 06:12 by tolivac (greenville nc)        

Oh yes-remember reading about Tetraethyl Lead in the Merck Chemestry Handbook----This stuff is so toxic even if spilled on you and absorbed thru your skin the dose can be lethal.Merck Handbooks are a staple in chem labs and pharmecuetical labs.

Post# 941143 , Reply# 17   5/31/2017 at 12:47 by Volvoguy87 (Cincinnati, OH)        
Leaded gas.

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Leaded gas has been banned in the US since 1996. It was last sold in New Mexico, a state with low humidity, little vehicular rust, and a populace without a ton of extra money. In other words, since cars last longer there, drivers in NM keep their cars longer because it makes economic sense. There was a market for leaded gas due to the older cars in service, so regular gas was sold until banned in 1996.


Post# 941160 , Reply# 18   5/31/2017 at 15:26 by Iheartmaytag (Wichita, Kansas)        
I like so many used to think that Ethyl

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Was named for the addition of Tetraethyl Lead, I was half correct.


My parents ran gas station.  Up until 1975 all grades of fuel contained Lead and/or phosphorus.  Some bore the names Regular and Ethyl.  Regionally the higher grade known as Ethyl was also called Premium and the Ethyl grade also included ethanol (alcohol) as it increased the octane of the gasoline. 


After the advent of catalytic converters on the automobile in 1975, most stations dropped the Premium or Ethyl grade in place of the mandated Unleaded grade.  Much halla-poo-poo was given that without lead the valves in the engines would burn away, fuel lines would degrade, and life on the planet would surely end. 


Quite the opposite happened,  engines are able to last longer due to the removal of the corrosive lead.  Air is cleaner, and catalytic converters are able to last the life of the vehicle in most cases due to the absence of the fouling lead.   Up until the total ban of  leaded fuel January 1, 1996, lead was systematically decreased each year,  and ethanol was increased to maintain the same octane.  More uprisal from the driving public, but now we have flex fuel vehicles.  We've come a long way baby.



Back in the early 50s my uncle was badly burned when he was working at a gas station and the owner instructed him to clean the garage floor with gasoline.  As he was cleaning the water heater came on and the burner ignited the fumes causing third degree burns over his arms, chest and hands.  There are better, safer ways to clean a garage floor.


Post# 941247 , Reply# 19   6/1/2017 at 07:31 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        
Now send support to YOUR local PBS!!!!

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It took ten-hours to watch a merely near-two-hour video, as there were that many parts I wanted to replay!


I also looked up & did what research/reading on Dr.s Charles Norris and Alex Gettler...


Not to mention the one person helping document the documentary along, Debbie Blum, author of THE POISON'S HANDBOOK...


Glad that I got to watch this...



-- Dave

Post# 941343 , Reply# 20   6/1/2017 at 19:34 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Really sad thing is

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How long it took for Americans to accept forensic science as "fact" and catch up to Europe in many areas including homicide by poison.

Bumping off people by poison had long been common in Europe, going back to the Medici family and even before. As such doctors and others began to develop a body of science to detect poisoning post mortem, and later control access to such substances.

Anyone who watches enough PBS/British programming, in particular "Mystery" knows Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and other detectives along with Scotland Yard long had a poisoners number. If the corner's inquest didn't turn up something fishy, often later on someone got the scent and bodies were exhumed.

As the book and PBS program "the Poisoner's Handbook makes clear even late as the 1910's and into 1920's American law enforcement and judicial system often discounted science that proved poisoning, leaving all sorts of homicides gotten away with.

Mary Frances Creighton (mentioned in book and PBS show) is one who went a bit too far and finally got caught. She was only run to ground after killing her brother, in-laws, and several others.

Large part of the problem is that unlike much of Europe, common poisons were largely unregulated. In England, France, Germany or wherever you could get say arsenic, cyanide, or whatever but by around 1800's or so the sale was recorded in a book kept by all local shops/chemists. So if you purchased say arsenic to deal with rats in your kitchen, or cyanide to kill pests in the rose garden, but later your husband or someone else turned up dead *and* the inquest showed death by poison, guess who LE looked at first?

OTHO such substances were largely unregulated in the USA and could be found in all sorts of over the counter products. Arsenic, lead, thallium, cocaine, morphine, etc...

Arsenic was everywhere because rodents were as well and people wanted to rid their homes/gardens/businesses of the varmints. Rough on Rats was a best selling rodenticide at the time. It also was highly popular for homicide and suicide.

Post# 941357 , Reply# 21   6/1/2017 at 22:14 by Stan (Napa CA)        

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Great grandmother used cyanide to kill ants!
Did think twice about it then

Post# 941375 , Reply# 22   6/2/2017 at 01:52 by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden)        

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I remember many years ago asking my Mom what dry cleaning was. She wasn't real specific, and said that they used to use gasoline... she said that with that Mom expression that meant "And don't you dare ever try it either!". LOL.

Gasoline is so malodorous I find it hard to believe anybody would use it.

However in a former life (like in my 30's) I remember using stuff like spray Brake Cleaner (chlorinated hydrocarbons back then) to get rid of stubborn black grease stains on some clothing. Nowadays they've got rid of the chlorinated stuff and brake cleaner is mostly acetone. Which of course is flammable. Carb cleaner may still have chlorinated hydrocarbons but it general really stinks too.

Post# 941376 , Reply# 23   6/2/2017 at 01:58 by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden)        
Leaded gas and car engines

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Actually lead did help car engine valves last longer. As I understand it, it acted as a sort of cushion for when the valves closed tightly on the valve seats. Some car engines had "hardened" valve seats that didn't need the lead cushion. Chrysler products, for example. Others, like Ford, used softer seats and could be damaged by lead-free gas. An engine rebuilder could simply replace the soft seats with hardened ones, but of course it's a big job to pull a motor just for that. In due course (probably in the 80's) I believe all mfg's switched over to hardened valve seats so the problem went away.

If motors last longer it's not because the gas no longer has lead. It's because they are made of more durable alloys, and more precise fuel and ignition systems that don't leave as much soot and such in the cylinders. And, also, engine oils have steadily improved over the decades.

Post# 941410 , Reply# 24   6/2/2017 at 08:11 by Iheartmaytag (Wichita, Kansas)        
Engines lasting longer

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Yes, Lead did protect engines with softer exhaust valves, however, leaded Regular remained on the market for those engines until the presumed end of their life cycle.


However, the engines that used Unleaded fuel from the start do/did last longer because of the reduced ash and metal deposits.  Oil change intervals were extended because of the cleaner running engine, also as a by-product (actually the goal) cleaner air, reduced emissions. 


Removal of Lead was the proper thing to do.

Post# 941414 , Reply# 25   6/2/2017 at 08:45 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
"Great grandmother used cyanide to kill ants! "

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Talk about the proverbial use of a sledgehammer to swat a fly.


Post# 941430 , Reply# 26   6/2/2017 at 11:08 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        
White gas

When I used to go to Scout camp in the summer we used kerosene lanterns ad flashlights in the campsite at night. I remember walking past another troop's campsite one night and saw a lantern with a funny flame, like it was flaring much higher on one side than the other, unlike our kerosene lantern which had a flame that was of uniform height. Somebody said that they were burning white gas in the lantern which was not a good thing to do, because of the low flash point as discussed in this Wikipedia article:


"Generic lamp oil is available clear or in a choice of several colors and in scented and unscented forms. Although more expensive, lamp oil is highly refined and burns more cleanly and with less odor than kerosene. "Lamp oil" must not be liquid paraffin. "Water clear" K-1 kerosene is the next grade of preferred fuel for kerosene wick lamps. In some locations "">red kerosene" is sold, which is dyed red and is slightly less expensive than K-1 kerosene, as no">motor-fuel taxes are collected on it. Red kerosene is not recommended because the dye will gradually clog the lantern wick causing odor and reduced performance. "Klean-Heat" brand is another highly refined, cleaner-burning, nicer-smelling[">citation needed] kerosene substitute sold at many">hardware stores during winter. Citronella-scented lamp oil containing">lemongrass oil is sold for its">insect repellent properties. Citronella fuels should only be used outdoors. Liquid paraffin based "lamp oil" should only be used in round-wick lamps with a wick diameter of less than ⅝". Used in larger wicks, this fuel causes the wicks to clog.[">citation needed]

Flat wick kerosene wick lamps should only be operated with kerosene, lamp oil or Klean-Heat, but alternative fuels can be used in an emergency. Such fuels may produce additional smoke and odor and may not be usable indoors.">Tractor vaporizing oil is made from kerosene with some additive to make a">motor fuel for tractors. No. 1">diesel fuel (also called winter diesel) is about the same as">kerosene but with the additives to make it a">motor fuel.">Jet A jet-engine fuel is essentially kerosene with a few additives.">RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1) is a highly refined form of kerosene outwardly similar to jet fuel, used as rocket fuel.

Round wick, center draft lamps, must only burn either Klean-Heat or low odor mineral spirits.

Any liquid with a low">flash point presents a high risk of fire or explosion if used in a kerosene wick lamp. Such liquids are dangerous and should not be used in a kerosene lamp or lantern. Examples include:



Post# 941623 , Reply# 27   6/3/2017 at 18:52 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
As per!

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Anyone want to guess age of this lot?

Post# 941676 , Reply# 28   6/4/2017 at 02:04 by Stan (Napa CA)        

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Looks like the first machine I worked with when I was in dry cleaning.
I'd guess at 1940s. It's not the same brand.. Ours was a "Prosperity"
These machines where called transfer units.. being that the operator transferred the garments into a reclaimer. (We didn't used gloves) Both reclaimer and cleaning machines where vented. Later came Dry to Dry units, also vented, then later sealed Dry to vents..
Some of those of old machines didn't not have filter cartridge's. We use filter powder ( diatomaceous earth ) and or Darko.
Used solvent or filter cartridges where drained into a cooker where the solvent was cooked off (distilled) Talk about sink! Then the pure distilled solvent was caught and went back into a tank to be re used. The distilled solvent had to be "charged" in order to used in the main working tank.
What I remember about the old machine.. Like then one pictured, Was that it did a better job at cleaning silks.

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