Ode to a Wringer Washer

genuine Kenmore wringer on tub

Genuine Kenmore Wringer on Tub

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 combined with natural trimmings from natural meat, and yes, she made it herself, on the woodstove 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 explaning . . .

The washer, and its accompanying rinse tubs on platforms, rolled out onto the 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, 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. Cranking the wringer was an honored chore because you had to be old enough to reach and turn it without letup.

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 into the first rinse, and then into the second, before finally being wrung into a laundry basket for hanging on the line.

It sounds 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.


11 thoughts on “Ode to a Wringer Washer

  1. Karen Gilmore says:

    BOY, am I ever thankful, since I have 9 blessings and a wonderful man, for my electric washing machine to wash their clothes in. But after hurricane Katrina, we attempted to wash clothes on the front porch in a few wash tubs. Not fun!!! These wringers would have worked just fine and dandy though.

    Thanks for the fun post.

    • katharinetrauger says:

      “Don’t it always seem to go . . . you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone!”
      But in the case of wringers, I think we don’t know what we HAD until everything is gone. I hope to get a larger one someday, because it helps keep hands from chapping in laundry water.
      Nine blessings would make a lot of laundry!
      And after Katrina, much of the nation returned to older ways. I remember folks being kinder on the highways, of all things. But I would remember laundry for 11 by hand, too, if I’d had that!
      Thanks for your comments. Keep ’em coming! 🙂

  2. sanstorm says:

    We call it a ‘mangle’ rather than a wringer. I only ever used one when I was catering for a canvas camp. We used it to wring out the tea-towels. (I am interested to see that we didn’t ‘mangle’ them – the mangle was used to wring, yet was still a mangle…)

    • katharinetrauger says:

      Fascinating! And thanks!
      Over here, I think a mangle refers more to ironing than to laundering, but the word, itself, may come from the Latin for “sleeve”. And over here, anything that is mangled is crumpled or torn. Hmm. Every culture has its oddities, I suppose.

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