Dateline: 12 September 2014

Years ago, I received a long, handwritten letter from a woman reader of this blog whose washing machine was breaking down. She wanted to know if I thought she should buy another machine or start doing the family laundry by hand. 

I showed the letter to Marlene and she said, "Well, I hope you're going to tell her to buy another washing machine!"

Unfortunately, I don't think I ever answered that letter. If you're still reading this blog, ma'am, I apologize. I sure did put some thought into it but, if I recall correctly, I had a lot of hay down at the time. Hopefully, you bought another washing machine.

If there is a woman out there reading this who does your whole family's laundry by hand, and you recommend against having a washing machine, your perspective would be appreciated in the comments below.

From my point of view, there are two problems with electric washing machines. First, they break. I understand the newer machines tend to break down a whole lot faster than the old ones. Our washing machine (a Kenmore) is at least 25 years old. It still works, though I have had to come up with some unconventional repair strategies (literally, in part, using baling wire) to keep it going. I don't want to buy a new washing machine because the one we have still works, and it gets worked almost every day. Our three boys are out of the house, but they still bring their laundry home to wash it.

The second problem with washing machines is that they need electricity. When the grid goes down someday, an electric washing machine isn't going to work. That reality will probably be the least of most people's problems, but it's something that is on my mind. I'd like to have the ability to wash clothes without electricity when the electricity is gone.

Thus, over the years, I have been acquiring the tools necessary for post-electricity clothes washing. They are the same tools that were used in the pre-electrical era. I have galvanized wash tubs and a vintage, fold-up,  two-tub wash stand with a center section to clamp a wringer on. I have a hand wringer from Lehmans. I have a Rapid Laundry Washer (but maybe I should have a Breathing Mobile Washer). I have Fels-Naptha soap. All I lack is a washboard.

So I did a Google search and was amazed to find that there is still a washboard maker in America. The Columbus Washboard Company in Logan, Ohio, has been making washboards since 1895. According to their web site they are the only washboard company left in America. 

It was a delight to peruse the web site and learn about the history of the company. And I bought me one of their washboards. Well, actually, I bought it for Marlene. :-)

(photo link, with article)


Anonymous said...

I love the fact that you are becoming prepared for a non-electric life! But in the case that your Kenmore finally breathes its last before then, I would stongly recommend that you check into Speed Queen washers. No fancy electronic touchpads or components, just a solid mechanical washer made in the USA with a galvanized steel tub and a non-locking top load door. Mine replaced my 20-yr-old Kenmore (which had had its motor replaced at least once by my husband, as well as its agitator baffles) and I can safely say that I love it. It is not as "energy efficient" as the new front loading models, but for ease of use, the basic features I wanted, and the quality of the construction I don't think I could have done better. (You won't find them at a home improvement store though, they are only sold through appliance dealers. Their website will locate a dealer in your area.) When I went to look at them they happened to be on sale, so my cost was significantly less than I expected. I'm sure Marlene would love it!

jean said...

When my washing machine broke down, I had no choice but to wash the laundry by hand. While clothing and small linens are not too cumbersome, blankets, bath towels and such can be and don't fit through a wringer so easily. I handwashed for almost a month and I must admit, when the machine was finally fixed, I was appreciative. I can understand why in the pre-machine days, women had a laundry day set aside during the week for doing just that. It's an all day job laundering by hand.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I know a guy who got rid of a perfectly good old style washing machine and bought the new energy star approved models so that he would save energy and be green. He has had nothing but trouble with it and I think he is less green as far as money goes. I tried to tell him that people submitted bricks and other objects to the energy star place which approved them. If you pay them, you get to use the energy star, hopefully they have changed that but it was a real money maker at one time. So these guys should submit their wash boards and get an energy start logo.

Anonymous said...

Honestly there are pros and cons to both. We had a Speed Queen winger washer that did an awesome job washing clothes. Sadly the motor just blew up. We are buying a new to us washing machine but only because we have 7 kids and I spend half a day doing laundry every other day . So I would say it depends on your situation. I do have a wash board though that I love. It is fantastic for getting stains out of everyone's clothes. I think every home should have a washboard :-)

RonC said...

New Washing Machines are a sore subject at our house. A Whirlpool Cabrio lasted 3 years and the frontload before that lasted 5 years and then a major rebuild got me three more years out of it. When the Cabrio died, I researched on the Internet to see who made the best washing machine and it looked like ALL of them were junk. I was so disappointed that I looked on Craig's list and happened to find a topload Sears Kennmore that had been owned by an elderly couple for 8 years that they had bought used. It was being sold because the matching dryer had died. I figured for $100 that I could buy some time until a manufacturer woke up and got their act together. Yes, we run through more water now, but I'm not working on washing machines and the house isn't getting vibrated to pieces by a failing washing machine either.

SheilaG said...

Yes, I have enough laundry equipment, to help a lot of people do their wash, and not even have to borrow any of mine.
However, I would not give up my washing machine, unless Moses himself came down, and told me to. I would still use my washer by finding a way to get it to agitate using whatever I had to, to get it to clean the clothes.
The only other solution would be, that my children did the wash, or live dirty. I have been there, done that, and I will never do it again. No, I am not worried about hard work, I have done THAT all my life, and THAT is why I will not do it again. I have decided that at my age, the kids help, or I stay dirty too.
I DARE YOU TO WASH ALL YOUR CLOTHES FOR ONE SOLID MONTH, and see if your heart and soul isn't convicted to owning a washing machine for the rest of your life.

SheilaG said...

I forgot! Thank you for the link, I always wanted one a certain size, and they have it.

SharonR said...

I suppose without electricity, they won't be making 22,000 washboards a year. And with only 40% of them being made for washing clothes anyway, there'll be a long wait or we'll have to use plain wooden washing boards without the washboard agitator. (I saw one in a Big Valley episode once).

On making the decision to buy or not to buy a washing machine, it made me remember an old woman's comment back in the 80s. She said that clothes just don't get as clean with machines as they did with the hand washing. I'm sure she used a wringer to aid her washing, but she could remember the whiter, cleaner clothes before machine days. Just like my grandmother, who was glad to have an electric stove and oven, still remembered the better tasting baked goods that were cooked with wood heat. So, the answer is to ask yourself, do you want speed or quality?

odiie said...

So, I'm not the only crazy one? I try to buy one electric and one manual of all my appliance...One electric grain grinder, one manual, same for meat grinder, clothes washers, carpet cleaners, heat source (furnace, woodstove), water source (electric pump, hand pump).
We have power outages at least twice a year and it's rather fun to play pioneer. Not sure if I'd like it full time. :)

Pam Baker said...

I would like this:

But I find the price tag decidedly difficult to swallow. Anyone got any ideas besides ebay/craigslist?


Mrs. V said...

Well Sheila G I've unknowingly taken your dare & have been hand washing in the sink for the last 4 years, to include 2 children through cloth diapers. Diapers are washed every other day (& you bet I start toilet training early)my 8 year old washes his on Tues. (because I agree w/ you)& we do keep house clothes separate from town clothes to not look too ragamuffiny. But I wouldn't give up my board & wringer. Laundry time is prayer time. It's time away from the computer where the children know I'll be there to listen or think things out w/ them. I get some of that out in the garden but that's more of a family job. If someone knows I'm at the sink & they really want me they'll seek me out. It sounds silly, but I feel like a queen when my husband takes a smoke break on the back deck where he can talk to me instead of the shaded porch. My main gripe is that clothes don't last as long on the board w/ a scrub brush & fall to pieces faster but as fast as children grow some one is always giving us some nice out growns so it's not hard to look decent.

Eric said...

I hand-washed all my clothes, towels and bed-linens for 2 years while I was in Brasil. I used 5-gallon buckets (pre-soak) that I dumped into a large concrete sink to wash. The washing wasn't the hard was the wringing. When wringing out towels and sheets, the best plan is to have a friend to hold the other end while you twist and pull.
I saw a roller wringer in action a little over a year ago. I bought one soon thereafter because I recognized the incredible help this would have been to me and may be to me if I'm ever washing clothes by hand again.
My other recommendations for hand-washing clothes are having a covered place to hang-dry (in case it starts raining after you already committed to washing) and a clean patio area to wash where your clothes don't get filthy when (eventually) you drop them.

Anonymous said...


Let me start by saying I have been thoroughly enjoying your blog. I found it about 3 weeks ago and have been reading it non-stop at my night shift job. The lifestyle you live and talk about is exactly what the Lord has been leading my husband and me into since we married 3.5 years ago. We now raise all our own meat (chicken, duck, pork), eggs, milk (dairy goats), and hopefully soon, all our own veggies. Started an orchard last year, so eventually we will have our own fruit too.

We've been seeing where the economy is headed, where the nation is headed and are preparing to live off grid when necessary. Wood heat and cookstove. Growing our own animal feed. Means to hand pump water. An old treadle sewing machine. And most recently a ringer and breathing mobile washer. We found a double galvanized wash basin & frame in our barn (an antique selling for $200+ on ebay!) in near perfect condition. While I've haven't used my dryer in 10months, I'm not quite ready to give up the washer... but when I have no choice, I'll be prepared.