How to Succeed in Laundry, Without Any Modern Conveniences

Setting: Dirt floor basement at the bottom of a steep set of stairs.   Sunny breezy day.  Clothesline supported by 2 rusty iron bars. Circa 1960


Props: wringer washer, extension cord, buckets, clothes line and clothes pins, wooden dowel rod, a cut off piece of garden hose about 6 feet long, 2 galvanized wash tubs, homemade laundry soap, dirty clothes for a family of 4


Characters: Mother, age 37  daugher, age 10


Conflict: Clothes were dirty.  Needed to be clean.


When I was a kid laundry was done once a week, and it wasn’t called laundry.  It was called “Doing the Washing”  in fact, in our neck of the woods it was called “Doing the Warshing”.

Large baskets of dirty clothes were carried down the basement steps and sorted.  There were delicates (underwear, good socks, hankies, tablecloths, nylon hose, good blouses and shirts)  There were towels (bath towels, wash rags, dish towels, dish rags, bed sheets, and pillowcases)  There were school clothes (dresses, shirts, blouses, skirts, good overalls) and then there were the barn clothes.  (Dirty overalls, work shirts, kids work clothes, corduroy pants, work socks)  Clothes were sorted according to type and of course according to color as well.   It made for Many Loads of Clothes.


The washer was pulled out of the corner of the basement.  Buckets of hot  water were filled at the spigot and dumped into the washer.  A garden hose attached to the cold water spigot was used to add cold water.   When the temperature of the water was correct (determined by Mom) we added the laundry soap and let it dissolve.  When the soap was dissolved, we started with the delicates.  Clothing was added one piece at a time until Mom determined there were enough clothes in the washer.  While the washer agitated the delicate load, buckets of hot and cold water were filled at the spigot again and dumped into the galvanized tubs nearby.  These were the rinse waters.


Mom would check the clothes after about 20 minutes of washing, then remove each piece of clothing with a wooden dowel rod (the water was HOT) run each piece through the wringer to squeeze out the excess water.  Then I would take each piece, shake it out and place it into the first rinse water tub and swish it around.  After clothes were sufficiently rinsed, again they would go through the wringer and then into the second rinse tub.  Again I would swish them around, take them out, and run them through the ringer again.   This time they were placed in the clothes basket ready to go outside to dry.   Of course while all of this was going on, Mom would be starting the next load.

Each load of clothing was washed, run through the ringer, rinsed, run through the ringer, rinsed again, and run through the ringer.  Whew!  Of course after a couple of loads the rinse water was no longer rinse water… it was pretty soapy.  So it was dumped into the floor drain and you guessed it.  More buckets were filled to create a fresh tub full of rinse water.  And after a couple of loads of washing, the wash water needed to be changed as well.  So the washer was drained, wiped clean with a damp rag, and filled again with cold water from the hose and hot water from the buckets!

When the second load of clothes was washing, Mom and I would carry the first load outside and hang them on the clothes line.  Up a different set of steep stairs that led outside. 

Time involved drying the clothes varied.  It depended on the weather.  In the winter a clothes line was installed upstairs and clothes were hung back and across the extra bedroom. 


What a lot of work!  No wonder one day a week was set aside for laundry. It literally took all day.

 But wait! We’re not done yet.  There was no permapress yet, so pretty much everything needed to be ironed.  When the clothes were dry – towels, socks, and underwear were folded and put away.  But the rest of it was dampened, rolled up in a clean bath towel, and placed in the refrigerator awaiting the iron.

  Ironing often got put off until the next day.  We were just too tired to iron after doing all the laundry!


I wish there were an easier way…..




About Life in the 50's and beyond...

Welcome to Life in the 50's and 60's and beyond .... where I write about my childhood memories, music of the 60's and about life in the country. I am a mother, grandmother, farmer's wife, business owner, and retired teacher.
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14 Responses to How to Succeed in Laundry, Without Any Modern Conveniences

  1. You used a Pepsi bottle to sprinkle your clothes in preparation for ironing? We used a 7-Up bottle with the same “sprinkle” gadget on top. My mom (are you ready for this?) washed all the clothes in the washtub (even though she had a washing machine.) We were on the top floor in an apt. house. She didn’t want to disturb the neighbors living downstairs with the shaking motion of the washing machine. I don’t know how I survived living there! I enjoyed your post. I got the Bridesmaids video and I’m going to watch it tonight!


    • My mom never wanted to bother anyone either! In fact she spent way too much time in her life worrying about bothering others! I do the same thing. 😦 Hope you enjoy the movie… let me know.


      • Here’s where I cracked up in Bridesmaids: Wiig on top of the garage door leaving John Hamm’s house (not to mention the two of them going at it.) The friend with the 3 teenage boys who talks about the blanket she cracked in half. The tennis match where they are aiming and hitting each other. (I took notes but I can’t read them because I was laughing.) Not sure what this means: F.O. Helen. Bathroom scene after they ate lunch at the Brazilian restaurant. The Air Marshall. I loved that scene especially because he kept denying it so believably and I bought it! Wiig, when she’s watching Tom Hanks calling for Wilson. I love that movie & I love Wilson. I can’t make this out: error coder. Does that mean anything to you? What is this? Runner error. Have any idea? I have no idea. Wait a minute. That might be when I was having computer problems the other day. I wrote all these notes on a Parks Seed Catalog. Did you watch all the bonus material? Some of it was good: when Wiig tells the guy to punch the big baby’s cut finger. (When they’ve been ice skating.) Then when Wiig is trying to get the attention of the police officer. She’s doing all those illegal things: drinking a beer while driving, texting while driving, and allesbay. What the heck allesbay is I don’t know but that’s what I wrote. Good cast. They must have had a blast making this.I liked the police officer. Wiig co-wrote it. Thanks for the tip!


  2. You described my house when I grew up…But, being a kid…I loved putting things through the wringer…that is after Mom felt I was old enough…Lots of hard work…but, the smell of those clean clothes was awesome…maybe a little stiff at times…but, good…


  3. I remember those days with my mom – but not fondly – I hated wash day–it was such a workaday day with no fun


  4. Jullie B. says:

    I do remember how wringer washer and put rubber diapers through that wringer diapers and explodes and I ruined a couple of shirts
    Did you jams and untangling clothes or ruined a couple of shirts?


  5. Good post! I remember catching the clothes coming through the wringer. Socks were easy. Watch that those buttons are folded inside the fabric so that they don’t pop off. We have it so easy now.


  6. Amy says:

    Grandma Helen had a wringer washer, but she’d not trust the kids around it. She was afraid we’d get our fingers caught.


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