The Filthy Job of Fullers: How Medieval Clothes Were Cleaned and Thickened

The Filthy Job of Fullers: How Medieval Clothes Were Cleaned and Thickened


Laundry day is never a fun task, but imagine doing laundry in medieval times without modern washing machines or detergents. The job of cleaning clothes fell to a group of workers known as fullers, who spent their days stomping on newly woven cloth in vats of stale urine. This may sound shocking, but it was a necessary process for creating clean and usable garments. This article delves into the laborious task of doing laundry in medieval times, particularly the role of fullers in the process.

Doing Laundry in Medieval Times: An Overview

Fullers were responsible for cleaning newly woven cloth using a combination of water, soap, and stale urine. This task was physically demanding and required fullers to stomp on the cloth for hours on end. Fullers were also responsible for creating a smooth texture on the cloth by pounding and stretching it repeatedly, giving the finished product a more attractive and refined appearance. Despite its unpleasant nature, the job of a fuller was vital to the textile industry of the time. This article explores the history and significance of this often-overlooked occupation.

Another important aspect of the fulling process was the use of fuller’s earth, a type of clay that helped to absorb grease and dirt from the cloth. This step was crucial in achieving a clean and finished product, but it also meant that fullers were constantly exposed to harmful chemicals and dust. Despite the grueling and dangerous nature of their work, fullers played a vital role in medieval society, as their finished product was essential for clothing and other household items.

The Process of Fulling

Fulling was a process that involved cleaning and thickening newly woven cloth. The process was done by soaking the cloth in water and then stomping on it to remove any impurities. Fullers would then soak the cloth in stale urine, which was collected from the local community and stored in large vats. The urine helped to break down any remaining dirt and grease in the cloth.

After the cloth was fulled, it would be rinsed and then hung to dry, ready for the next stage in its journey. Despite the less than pleasant conditions that fullers worked in, the work was necessary and valued, with the finished product being used for clothing, bedding, and even sails for ships.

The Job of Fullers

The fulling process was a labor-intensive job that required a great deal of physical strength. Fullers would begin by soaking the newly woven cloth in water to loosen any dirt or debris. They would then lay the cloth out on a table and pound it with a wooden mallet to further remove any impurities. Once the cloth was thoroughly cleaned, fullers would then step into a vat filled with stale urine and begin stomping on the cloth.

The urine acted as a natural detergent, breaking down any remaining dirt and grease. The stomping motion of the fullers helped to agitate the cloth and force the urine through the fibers. This process was repeated several times until the cloth was clean and thickened to the desired level. Once the fulling process was complete, the cloth was rinsed in clean water and hung out to dry.

The Life as a Fuller

The life of fullers was not an easy one. They were often paid very little for their hard work and had to endure long hours of physical labor. The smell of stale urine was overwhelming and caused health problems for many fullers. In addition, they were often looked down upon by other members of society because of their unpleasant work.

Fulling was a difficult and often unpleasant job, but it was also an important one that helped to ensure the production of high-quality textiles in medieval times. Despite the hardships, fullers played a vital role in medieval society. The clothes they cleaned and thickened were used by people from all walks of life, from the nobility to the common folk. Without their hard work, many people would have been left with dirty and unusable clothing.

The Role of Women in Medieval Laundry

Medieval laundry was not just the domain of male fullers as women also played a significant role in the process. While male fullers were responsible for cleaning and thickening the cloth, women were tasked with the day-to-day washing of clothing and linens. This was a labor-intensive task that required women to spend hours scrubbing and beating the fabric by hand.

In some cases, women would also be responsible for preparing the urine used in the fulling process. Despite the challenging nature of their work, women’s contributions to medieval laundry were essential in keeping clothing and linens clean and in good condition. Despite the challenging and unpleasant nature of the laundry process in medieval times, women laundry workers also played an essential role in maintaining hygiene and cleanliness in society, ensuring that clothing and household items were safe and free from harmful bacteria.


The work of fullers in medieval times was a dirty and hazardous job, but it was an important one that played a crucial role in the production of clean and finished cloth for clothing and household items. Moreover, the process of fulling may seem shocking and unpleasant by modern standards, but it was a necessary task in medieval times. Fullers worked hard to ensure that people had clean and usable clothing, and their contributions to society should not be overlooked.

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