The struggle to wash clothes easier today than in the past

Published 10:25 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

Bob Ann Breland
Columnist

I was getting ready to wash some clothes when I stopped a minute to appreciate my washer and dryer. I would hate to live without you, I thought. Even though there are some newer models on the market, they have been my good helpers for quite a long time.

In the distant past, I have washed clothes with a wringer washer, but the wringer took care of squeezing them out and that was a blessing. Before dryers became available, I hung all clothes on the line to dry in the sunshine including lines and lines of diapers!

I can’t imagine doing laundry in the same manner as my grandmothers. I never saw them doing wash, but I do remember being at my aunt’s house when she did laundry the old-fashioned way.

Until electricity reached the country areas, washing was done entirely by hand and I don’t mean just rinsing out your undies.  It is hard to imagine doing all your laundry by hand, but that’s what most of our grandmothers were used to.

Every Monday was washday and it was hoped the weather would be fair so the clothes could be washed and then then hung up to be dried, all outside. It was best during fair and warm weather, but on cold winter days it must have been the absolute pits!

Wood had to be chopped for the fire to be built around the cast iron wash pot, a fixture of the early washday area. Water was drawn by hand from the well to fill the big pot, plus more water to place in additional tubs to wash and rinse the clothes. The lighter colored clothes were pre-washed – that is – the stubborn spots were scrubbed on a rub board, and then placed in the pot of boiling water and homemade lye soap to boil.

There was a long paddle-shaped piece of wood that was used exclusively to stir the clothes and then to lift them out of the boiling water. The darker clothes were usually scrubbed on the rub board but not boiled. Heavy work clothes were always boiled to get them clean.

It was an arduous task – rubbing, scrubbing, then wringing out by hand, then rinsing through one water, wringing again by hand, then rinsing through final rinse water, before wringing out by hand again and finally pinning the clean clothes to the line to dry.

After drying, the clothes had to be gathered in and sorted, with some folded and put away and others “sprinkled” for ironing.

Following the washing on Monday, Tuesday was for ironing. All clothes had to be ironed then to make them wearable. Cast iron flat irons were heated on the hot wood stove. Each homemaker had more than one flat iron, one to be heating, while the other one was being used. As it cooled, it was switched with another hot one from the stove.

It was hard work keeping clothes wearable for the family, not to mention the bedclothes and other household items. Although we grumble sometimes, everything is easier for us than it was for our grandmothers. I wonder what they would have thought of our modern conveniences.

Mondays and Tuesdays only started the week for these women. They worked so hard in so many different ways, day after day, that it never seemed to end. I certainly would not want to go back to these “good old days” for washing clothes. I gave my old appliance a little pat as I left the room and it began its job of washing. I feel very blessed.