Prior to the invention of the washing machine, rural residents of Eastern Europe developed a way to wash bulky wool items like blankets, rugs and carpets. Water would be diverted from a nearby source into a roughly-made conical tub that was intentionally not made watertight.
Because the channel feeding the tub is aligned tangentially with the circumference, the water flowing into it runs around the edges and creates a whirlpool, agitating the items within. No detergent is needed, and as gravity does its thing, the dirty water runs out from between the slats.
This invention is called, in Romania at least, a vâltoare (Romanian for "whirlpool"). Here's what it looks like in action:
To control the speed and force of the flow, an attendant works a series of gates. These are just vertically-placed pieces of wood interrupting the incoming flow:
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To be clear, these were not something every family would own, and they were typically not used for everyday clothing. Rather, an enterprising villager or family would build and maintain a vâltoare—for profit—with residents traveling from far and wide in springtime for an annual cleaning of bulky fabric items like bedspreads and rugs. "Especially those made of sheep's wool," a housewife from Sugag, Romania told Romanian newspaper Adevarul. Said housewife currently uses a vâltoare in the nearby village of Dobra.
"All these [items] are left here in the whirlpool for up to half a day, and the whirlpool of the water cleans them of all the dirt. No detergent or electricity is needed. The whirlpool of water that flows very quickly does everything."
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