Laundry in the Old Days

Images from Smithsonian collection

When she first married in 1946, Mother washed on a rub board. By the time I was born, they’d come up enough in the world to acquire a second wringer-washing machine. It cut her work tremendously. Wash days were so much more pleasant and relaxing. All she had to do was sort the laundry into whites, colors, towels, and work clothes.

She  manually filled the machine with hot water from a connection on the back porch as well as several pans of water boiled on the stove for her whites. Adding plenty of Clorox and laundry soap, she turned on the agitator and loaded her whites. The machine agitated the wash vigorously till she turned it off. When she was satisfied the whites were clean, the water was was usually still steaming hot. She’d turn the agitator off. While the clothes were washing, she’d fill two big galvanized tubs with rinse water, using the hose

After  switching the wringer on, she’d fish the whites out of the scalding water with a stick and carefully run them through the wringer, allowing the wash water to drain back into the washing machine tank. The flattened clothes fed from the wringer into the first rinse tub. She worked them up and down with a plunger to rinse, then swiveled the wringer into position between the galvanized tubs, to wring the wash before the second rinse, plunging and wringing again and winding into a basket for the line.

Water had to be added to the the washer and tubs after each load, since a great deal of water remained in the clothes and ended up on the floor. Between loading, agitating, and rinsing, the laundry not requiring starch had to go on the line. The washer had to be manually switched into drain. Since the washer was on wheels many times the drain hose ended up on the floor, instead of the drain, ensuring plenty of excitement and extra mop up.

Now the good part, starching. Using powdered starch, Mother cooked up a thick batch of starch on the stove. Refilling the washing machine with hot water, she mixed the cooked starch in, making sure to stir till the mixture was absolutely smooth Our good cotton dresses, pants, shirts, and Daddy’s work clothes went back in to agitate, then were run through the wringer, into the laundry basket for the line. Of course, they were very hot. As the family got bigger, Mother had to starch two or three loads.

The floors were a dirty, sloppy mess by the end of laundry day, necessitating a thorough scrubbing. The greatest hazard was getting caught in the wringer, hence the phrase, putting you through the wringer.”

Tuesday was ironing day, another treat.

My Dirty Laundry

Bud says I am stubborn.  It’s true.  Once an idea occurs to me, I can’t get rid of it! Since the kids are long gone, I decided to treat myself to some white fluffy towels a couple of years ago. No problem since I would be totally in control.  These towels would never languish on the floor, under the bed, or touch mascara or muddy shoes.  They’d never wash a car or wipe spaghetti sauce off the sofa.  Time passed.  They got dingy.  I didn’t like them anymore.  I started sneaking into Bud’s bathroom to get his luscious green ones, but  I couldn’t get the white ones off my mind.  Surely, I could fix them. They couldn’t be bleached, so I tried non-chlorine bleach.  That didn’t brighten them at all, so I decided to bleach them, anyway.  What did I have to lose?

So I bleached them. They went from dingy gray to a dull hen poo poo muffledy dun.  Those towels were disgusting, sort of like they had been wiping shoes, smearing mascara, washing the car, and wiping up dog vomit with.  I tolerated them for a while, then checked the internet for a solution.  I needed to boil them in a solution of dishwasher detergent, vinegar, borax and detergent.  Sounded like a lot of trouble, but I really wanted them white again. I mixed the concoction right up and put my towels on to boil.  I boiled them for about thirty minutes, frequently punching them down.  I believe this was the high-tech method used up until folks got washing machines.  The water turned an ugly brown.  It must be working!



Eventually, I finished them up in the washer.  Meanwhile, I’d made a real mess of the kitchen.  The sink was full of pots, the stove a sloppy mess, and the floor tracked up.  It didn’t look like I’d done a deep cleaning just yesterday.  It only took an hour to get back to where it was.  My back still hurts.


In the picture on the right, you can see the result of all my hard work.  Aren’t those colors bizarre?  Some of the towels remained plain dingy gray.  Others took on an ugly, rusty hue.  The big surprise was, some turned a pale pink. I am partial to dingy gray, but that’s just me.  Does anybody out there need some ugly towels?  They’ll be perfect to  wash the car and wipe mud off the dog.

Wait!  I just saw two more things to try.  Laundry bluing is supposed to brighten dingy clothes up.  Sunshine bleaches!  Bud is going to have to put up a clothes line!