Ode to a Wringer Washer

genuine Kenmore wringer on tub
Genuine Kenmore Wringer on Tub

The second-most-viewed post on my site. I cannot figure this, but have loved seeing nearly every week, someone else coming to read this.

Have fun.

My gramma had a laundry wringer. And for a while, so did my mom. I always loved these machines that squeezed the water out of clothing so graphically and intriguingly.

click to view water running off
Click to View Water Running Off

Back then, washing used only one load of soapy water, beginning clean, with white clothing, and proceeded to gradually dirtier and darker clothing and water, until the last thing washed was the dingy dungarees worn to protect the good clothing from animal chores.

no longer dripping
No Longer Dripping

After washing came rinsing, or some said, “wrenching,” which surely they thought referred to the old way of removing extra water, by hand wringing, making the arms and hands feel nearly wrenched out of socket. My gramma put bluing in rinse water to make whites look whiter. I never could understand this substance, bluer than a computer screen, that made things white.

Gramma used homemade soap on clothes. I mean: natural lye made from last winter’s wood ash combined with natural trimmings from natural meat, and yes, she made it herself, on the wood stove in her woodshed, and stacked it everywhere in there to cure. Then she grated it for flakes. It all smelled so fresh and good.

To this day, aroma from homemade soap makes me think of birds calling and locusts scritching combined with comfy sloshy sounds of laundry done during warm laundry days. And my gramma’s voice explaining . . .

The washer, and its accompanying rinse tubs on platforms, rolled creaking out onto the bumpy concrete porch around Gramma’s woodshed. A hose ran first to fill rinse tubs, and later to empty them onto the enormous strawberry patch.

Only large pots of scalding water went into the washer, itself, and yes, heated on that wood stove. All the concrete porches got a scrub-down with used laundry water splashed on, pure and natural.

There were manual and electric versions of the wringer. My gramma had the kind she had to crank and disdained the electric, which could swallow up an arm or break off buttons. She fished clothes out with a stick; the water was that hot. My auntie had one and I didn’t like the noise of it. Besides, cranking the wringer was an honored chore because you had to be old enough to reach and strong enough turn it without let-up.

The wringer and its tray were rotatable to provide also for two tubs of rinse water. Every article of clothing went through the agitation in soapy water, wringing, pouring and dribbling, to kerplunk into the first rinse, and then into the second, before finally being wrung into a laundry basket for hanging on the line.

It seems like so much work, and it was. No wonder laundering was an event with its own day set aside. Imagine dragging all that production outdoors on a daily basis for just one load! Yet, all this was such an improvement over lugging all the laundry to a stream, or boiling it in a huge pot over an open fire.

Yes, it was good, honest work, but that woodshed and that porch were my gramma’s gym and she stayed fit, even into old age. And although she belonged to a gene pool that proved a tendency to plumpness, she always remained trim.

Unlike me.

Published by Katharine

Katharine is a writer, speaker, women's counselor, and professional mom. Happily married over 50 years to the same gorgeous guy. She loves cooking amazing homegrown food, celebrating grandbabies, her golden-egg-laying hennies, and watching old movies with popcorn. Her writing appears at Medium, Arkansas Women Bloggers, Contently, The Testimony Train, Taste Arkansas, Only in Arkansas, and in several professional magazines and one anthology.

18 thoughts on “Ode to a Wringer Washer

    1. 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 ever get anything caught in a wringer?or ruined a couple of shirts?

      1. Thank you for this comment, Julie, and Welcome to Home’s Cool!
        My grandmother was the main one in my life who used this type of wringer and she was very careful about letting her granddaughters help. We never ruined anything, but when she tried the electric type, she did ruin a shirt because the buttons could catch crooked in the rollers and they could rip from the fabric. We girls only had permission to wring flat things like linens or hankies through it.
        When my mother used a wringer for several years, she was even MORE careful: we never helped her with it because she was afraid we’d be hurt or ruin clothing.
        I can imagine a pair of plastic pants, though — I would have been excited to see that, as a child, but as a mom, I would have been appalled. 😉
        Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you visit again soon!

  1. Well of course people come to read this! It’s great! You really paint a picture here and make me wish for simpler times. I’m intrigued by how things were made “way back when” such as Gramma’s soap. It makes me appreciate how accessible everything is today, but at the same time it makes me long for things that are not so processed with so many chemicals. Love, LOVE this post!

    1. Thanks, ever so much, Rhonda, for these kind words! Making soap is tricky, but not impossible. Also, when it includes the ash-type of lye, it is not very white — more like tan, but it smells so wholesome. Mice love to eat it. 😉

  2. We had one of those briefly and I was fascinated to watch it carry the clothes through and squeeze them out. We also had clothes lines 🙂 Think I’ll stick with my modern washer and dryer 😀

    1. Oh, yes, the clothesline: Happy ranks of diapers saluting through the window. Nothing like it to give you a sense of total command. 😉
      Oh, also, actual diapers. The good ol’ days! 😆

  3. What a great reminder of days on my Grandparent’s Wisconsin farm where soap was made, the cat slept on the open oven door of the woodstove, a button jar held treasures from extinct or worn garments, berry boxes were made by hand with a magnetic tack hammer, hollyhocks, pansies….ah, a long list of long-ago memories. Sweet.
    Thanks again for a look back to happy and simpler times.

    1. Thanks so much for this encouraging comment, Nancy, and Welcome to Home’s Cool! 🙂
      You brought back so much to think about, for me. My grandmother grew petunias that smelled wonderful, not like the new scentless ones, and my cousin and I would sniff the fragile petals up onto our nostrils and have contests holding our breath. Ha! Also, we turned them upside-down and pretended they were ladies dancing in elegant ball gowns. Children! The best fun, though, was using her porch furniture to play “house” or “store”.
      I’m glad you stopped by and I hope you return soon. 🙂

  4. I still have one of those electric wringers in my backyard holding a garden hose in its innards, but knowing my propensity for getting hurt, I’d probably smash a finger in the rollers. I hung out clothes to dry when I lived in our first two duplexes. Had a washing machine that I received as a wedding present from my grandmother, but no dryer. Having had the experience of taking my dirty clothes to a laundrymat before getting married, I was so thankful to have the washing machine. It lasted for many years. Thanks for the memories, but I like my dryer too now.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lady! 🙂 I know how handy it all can be, but wish I could afford a real wringer for days when the electricity goes out in the middle of a wash load. THAT is not so convenient! 🙂

  5. My memories are not so good of the wringer washer days. As a five year old, sneaking into the unattended college apartment wash house (my father, a student), touching something my mother had warned me about time and again, the rollers grabbing my fingers, then my hand, grinding at my elbow clear to the bone then rolling on up to my shoulder before miraculously (divine intervention, I believe) I was told to take hold of the cord and pull out the plug (on the other side of the machine, by the way). 2 surgeries, extensive skin grafts and a childhood and teenage years of embarrassing questions about the 8″ long x 4″ wide jagged scar I carry to this day (age 58). I happened upon this site today as I was trying to explain to my 5 year old granddaughter what a wringer washer is and why she should always obey her mother. What a trip down memory lane.

    1. Thanks for this input, Cindy, although I simply am sad you had such an experience during your childhood. Nevertheless, WELCOME to Home’s Cool!
      Your story certainly would be a good one for teaching obedience, and I do think it must have been some sort of miracle that you could have known what to do and been able to do it. Amazing story, blood-bought lesson.
      Thanks for gracing us with it. 🙂

  6. My Aunt Marie had a wringer washer in the basement of their home in Des Moines. We’d drive to see them many summers. I especially remember the smell of the warm soapy water as it sloshed the clothes around (there was no lid on top). My Mom never liked using the wringer because buttons would get pulled off or broken. So anything with buttons, she hand-squeezed before hanging out on the line to dry.

    1. Oooh! Evie, I had family in Des Moines, when I was very little. Distant relatives, I’m sure, since we never traveled there, but the grown ups spoke about it often. And the smell of the real soap is still a charge to me. I sometimes make soap and sometimes use it in the wash, just for fun. No lid—I do not remember a lid, either, but I think ours had one, but only for keeping things out of it when not in use? I don’t know! 🙂
      Hand squeezing is a huge chore, but replacing buttons is huger! 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to this conversation! ❤

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