Laundry back in the Day … and a Give Away!

 Don’t you just love Western historical romance? We love the heroes and heroines and how they dressed. We also love reading tidbits about how they lived, their customs of the day,  social events, and the simplicity of the time. But there’s one thing most historical authors only touch upon in their novels. Probably because if they went into great detail, it would take up far more words than they want and slow down their story. I’m talking about laundry.

Back in the day doing the laundry wasn’t a matter of tossing your clothes into a washing machine, putting in some detergent, closing the lid, and pushing a button. It was a much more arduous task, one that could take 2 to 3 days depending on the size of one’s family.

We’ve come a long way since the twin tub and the drum washing machine. But before them, of course, was the simple washtub. Before hot and cold running water you had to haul water from a nearby well, creek, or river. To get the job done in a timely manner, you had to enlist the help of everyone in the family to fetch and carry bucket after bucket, because you needed water for both washing and rinsing. Then you had to heat the wash water in an iron kettle or a large metal washtub. This took time and somebody had to tend the fire.  While that was going on someone else sorted the clothes into whites, colors, and that special pile of the extremely dirty. You washed the clothes in that order. White’s first of course. Who wants to wash their whites in disgusting dirty laundry water?

Once put into the hot water, someone had to stir the clothes with a long stick then remove and scrub them on a
washboard with homemade soap. This could take up quite a bit of time in and of itself. For those unlucky enough not to have a washboard, a good-sized rock was the answer. 

Washboards were placed vertically in the washtub after the clothes were removed from the tub and set aside. Then one at a time, each piece of clothing was rubbed briskly on the metal ridges and plunged back into the water regularly. When the water became too dirty they had to heat another batch. Then they rinsed their clothes in cold water to remove the soap, rung the clothes out by hand or used a ringer if they had one. If not, they slapped each piece of clothing against a trusty rock. Then they hung them up to dry. For large families, is it any wonder this took so long? Aren’t you glad for your Maytag?

Though many of us enjoy our washers and dryers, there are also a lot of folks who like to line dry their clothes and bedding. I’m one of them. I love to dry clothes on the line in the summer and get that fresh air scent. What other conveniences are you happy we have now? Has anyone ever cooked on a cookstove? Have you ever used a tub washer? Did you grow up with one?

I’ll pick a random person from the comments below to receive a copy of my upcoming e-book,  dear Mr. Tindle, which will be out on May 31.

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Kit Morgan is the author of over 100 books of historical and contemporary western romance! Her stories are fun, sweet stories full of love, laughter, and just a little bit of mayhem! Kit creates her stories in her little log cabin in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. An avid reader and knitter, when not writing, she can be found with either a book or a pair of knitting needles in her hands! Oh, and the occasional smidge of chocolate!

41 thoughts on “Laundry back in the Day … and a Give Away!”

  1. My grandmother had the tub wringer type washer I remember helping her do laundry in that thing I caught my fingers more than once in that wringer. I would ask her Grams why won’t you get you a new washer and she would say ain’t nothing wrong with this one. Bless be goodness I remember when it finally died she wouldn’t have nothing but another one and the appliance person my grandpa had used for all his appliances was still in business and had a floor sample of one he just keep for a display in his store and my grandpa talked him to to selling it to him for grams. Oh the hours of work she could have saved herself from. I can’t even begin to think of the hard work women did back when you had to do laundry the method you talked about.

    • It wasn’t easy back then, that’s for sure, Glenda! My great grandmother had the tub wringer too. She kept it in her basement. My brother used to tell me it would eat me. Big brothers, ya gotta love ’em. I think I was like five years old.

  2. I didn’t know my maternal grandparents very well but since they lived on a reservation for 20 years I’m guessing that she used a wash tub. Her husband worked for the government for those years going from reservation to reservation. I’m guessing they had few modern things back in the 1920’s to mid 1940’s.

    • Things were getting much more modernized by the 1940’s. I have some old Good Housekeeping magazines from back then that are a hoot to look at!

  3. I’ve heard my grandmother talk about having to wash like this. I just can’t even imagine having a large family and doing laundry.
    I am also thankful for the dishwasher. It truly is another modern saving grace.
    My Granny also used to tell stories of having bath time and how everyone used the same water to bathe. I just cannot even imagine.
    Thanks for such a great blog.

    • I’ve always been happy that I didn’t have to use washtubs, wash boards and haul and heat the water! I can’t imagine doing laundry this way. I can’t imagine. It’s no wonder many a person was in obviously dirty clothes. Air conditioning is my must have. I have MS and I’m heat intolerant. I couldn’t function without air conditioning! Thank you Willis Carrier!

    • My dad tells the stories about using the same bath water and he is one of 8 kids! I can’t imagine either!!

  4. I am so happy for today’s modern conveniences. The one thing I don’t use is a dishwasher. The one in our house has been broke since the day I moved here and I just got used to hand washing them every night.

  5. We always had a regular washer but my grandmother’s house had all the old conveniences. She had an ice box and an old washer as well as a washboard. Find doing laundry time consuming now but I cannot imagine how long it would have taken

  6. I grew up using a wringer washer. We used it for years and it took all day to do the laundry. My mother didn’t want an automatic washer she said they didn’t wash clothes very good. I think I was in my teens before we got the automatic washing machine. I spent a lot of days running clothes through that wringer.

  7. My mother would her laundry in the backyard, but she would set her tub on a ring of rocks and kept a low fire under it so the water stayed hot. I remember she often scraped her knuckles on the ridges of the washboard.

    • Smart woman using a ring of rocks like that! I remember my grandmother had an old washboard and scraping my fingers on it. But I was playing with it, not using it to wash clothes. At the time, I don’t even think I knew what it was!

  8. great blog, I remember we would hang dry our laundry, and if it rained you had to run out and get the clothes off the line, if the line was low from the clothing, i would run into it,ouch. we had a washer and dryer, but i have seen the wash tub and wash boards, my daughter has a portable wash tub, and you have to fill it up with 5 gallons of water when it rains, you have to add more water. to rinse it, and it spin dry the clothing, she lives in an apartment, I am glad for the invention of microwaves, i remember when my mom got one for our house we were all amazed that it heated up a cup of water in 40 seconds,

  9. This point definitely has me counting my blessings, Kit. Sooooo thankful for my washer and dryer! My grandma always had a clothesline in her backyard, and I remember thinking it was awesome when I was a kid. You can hang all kinds of things on a line like that – not just clothes. 😉

  10. I’m exhausted just reading about how they did laundry! Looking forward to reading Dear Mr. Tindle.

  11. Congrats on your book. Such a pretty cover. Would love to read it. I have read a couple of books that talked about doing their laundry. I found it interesting. One was more detailed than the other, but I loved that they shared some of how the women cleaned their laundry. When we lived on the farm, mom would wash the clothes in the washer and we would hang them on the line. Ohhh but I loved the fresh smell of outdoors. My grandmother had a wash board and when I asked her about it, she showed me how it was used. And she used a ringer for taking out excess water, then we hung the clothes outside on the line. Ohhh, I was hooked. Yes now I love my washer and dryer, and I feel spoiled compared to the women of the past. Now at my age I dont thing I would want to go through all what they did to wash clothes. I mean I would, but it would be several days to get it done. LOL For years we cooked out on a fire in dutch ovens. When I married, we went camping and he had his own set of dutch ovens and skillets. So we used these when we went camping. When our son went into scouts, he already knew how to cook like this. And since he like to eat (especially from outdoors) he became the cook for the troop. (the other boys would either over cook or under cook the food) Finally, I suggested when they go out to their camping that he take one or two boys at a time and gently give them lessons. Surprisingly the other boys took to it like a duck to water. He loved it.

    • That’s so cool. My brother is the skilled one with a dutch oven in our family. He brings it camping every year and makes all kinds of yummy things with it!

  12. When I was a teenager my parents moved us to a remote piece of land with no electricity we would wash clothes by hand and hang them to dry. When my sister got her driver’s license we would drive 30 minutes into town and do the laundry. I LOVE my washer and dryer!

    • I’m super grateful for our water heater. When I was in college, our water heater didn’t have much capacity, so just like in days of old, I heated water on the stovetop in order to take a relaxing bath. When I got married, I told my husband I never, ever wanted to do that again!

  13. Beautiful cover of your new book! I remember my dad having to carry the waste pail outside from a chemical toilet! Our grandparents saved old newspapers for firewood starter, split wood in preparation for winter, boiled turkey and chicken carcasses to get every ounce of meat off the bird, made their own soap, sewed their own clothes, harvested all produce from their garden and fruit trees, and so much more. I treasure these memories and if/when I feel sorry for myself … I get over it. Maybe part of me loves western historical books because I can relate. It is by far my favorite genre to read.

    Thank you Kit for the numerous ways your books reach out to us readers.

    • Ah, heck, Kathy. We still cut and put wood up for winter, save newspapers for fire starter, harvest from the garden, the fruit tress and all that. But then we are way out in the country and a lot of folks live like that around here. But you can bet they all have washers and dryers!

      I’m glad you enjoy my little stories!

  14. Kit, Congratulations on your upcoming release! I’m grateful for modern conveniences. I can’t imagine doing laundry outside in Texas heat/humidity.

  15. Both of my grandmas washed clothes, at times, in tubs and used a washboard. My Tennessee grandma also had a wringer washer in the dugout basement. It’s still there. Dad has her washboard. My Pennsylvania grandma’s washtub on a stand was bought by an Amish man. I remember watching my Tennessee grandma make lye soap.

    It was so nice when my Tennessee grandparents had indoor plumbing installed. One of the bedrooms became a bathroom/laundry combo. An addition was put on the front of the house with another bedroom. They never had central heat. Always had a woodstove to heat the entire house, later they had an oil stove installed. Let’s just say, a pile of quilts in winter was what really kept you warm at night.

    • Sound like my house now! LOL! We’ve got a wood stove in the kitchen, a pellet stove in the living room. No air conditioning. I live in a summer cabin. Wasn’t exactly meant to be lived in year round. But I don’t mind. We DO have a washer and dryer! LOL!

  16. Fun post, Kit, and I love the cover of your upcoming release! 🙂
    When I was five, our pipes froze so hard in our house, Mom spent three months doing laundry with an old wringer washer that was set up in the tank room of our milk barn. That’s an experience I’ll never forget. So happy for our modern conveniences that make every day chores seem easy!

    • I had one winter where the dryer broke so was trying to dry clothes on some lines I stretched betweet posts on the back porch. Darn clothes kept freezing solid! Needless to say that didn’t work very well! So started drying them in the house.

  17. My grandmother had a double tub washer and I wish we could have gotten it when her things were being distributed. I remember the wringer washer we used when I was younger. We did hang our clothes outside to dry, even in winter. I can remember bringing in clothes and sheets frozen stiff. I did wash a few things on rocks, pounding with other rocks when I was in middle school. I got a bit carried away and pretty much destroyed them. My mom placed whites flat on the grass to dry. She said it made them whiter. Don’t know if that is true or an old wives’ tale.

    I used a scrub board to do the laundry for three years when I was in the Peace Corps. I did send my clothes out initially to support the local laundry women. They did the laundry at the river on rocks. Let’s just say underwire bras and being pounded by rocks to not go together well. After getting my bras back looking like odd metal sculptures, I kept them and other clothing items that didn’t need ironing and washed them myself then line dried them.

    I wish we could hang our clothing out to dry where we now live, but there is so much dirt in the air it wouldn’t work well. I hope you are doing well. Stay safe and healthy.

  18. My Mother had a tub washer when I was very young. Hung the clothes out to dry. Loved that smell. I used one in 1968 and hung them out to dry when renting in Mississippi. I have a washboard I never had to use. I am grateful to never use a wood cookstove.
    In Bachelors and Babies Series, Zach worked with a fort laundress to care for the baby. Hebby Roman’s book #11 in the series.

  19. My mom in Australia always hung the clothes out on the clothes line. When I would go to visit I always did it for her because I found it very relaxing.

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