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4 June 2010 23 Comments

Years ago an Alabama grandmother gave the new bride the following recipe. This is an exact copy as written and found in an old scrapbook, complete with spelling errors (For you non-southerners, wrench means, rinse)



Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin water.

Sort things, make 3 piles

1 pile white,

1 pile colored,

1 pile work britches and rags.

To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boiling water.

Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard, and boil, then rub colored don’t boil just wrench and starch.

Take things out of kettle with broom stick handle, then wrench, and starch. 

Hang old rags on fence.

Spread tea towels on grass.

Pore wrench water in flower bed. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.

Turn tubs upside down.

Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.


I remember my grandmother used a hand wrung wringer washer with a galvanized tub like in the photo above. She was of a different generation, and no matter how many times my father and uncle offered to take on the task, she refused to have indoor plumbing installed (which is why I didn’t like staying overnight in the cold Minnesota winters—that trek to the outhouse before bed was bad enough in the summer). She did have a clothes line out behind the house though, no tea towels drying on the grass!

What about you, do you have any memories of “the old days”, or do you have any old diaries or recipes for cleaning and laundry? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.



  • Aislinn said:

    I wouldn’t want to live it, but the advice about scrubbing the porch with the leftover wash water made me smile. They didn’t waste a thing in those days, did they?

    My mother used to have an old wringer washer, and I can still recall her trotting it out on days when our regular washer was on the fritz. She used to warn me to stay away from it, because once my older brother got his arm caught in the wringer. Yikes!

  • Tess said:

    God put me in the century for a reason…

    Our Sable, a housekeeper we had for years, also ironed…she would use a mixture of cornstarch and water, run the clothes that needed starching through it and then put it in the freezer…hours later she took it out of the freezer and ironed it…the cloth could stand on it’s own when she was finished with it!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Oh, Aislinn, your brother’s arm in the ringer brought back the memory of me at 4 or 5 watching my mother with an old electric wringer washer and she would use the end of a wooden spoon to coax the clothes through and one day the spoon got stuck and the wringer was flying around and Mom was yelling at us to all get back as the machine danced across the floor. Dad came home from work and that weekend we got a new washing machine! Those things were dangerous.

    And dare I say this, Tess: there was a time when pointy bras were in. There were five girls in our family and one boy. We gals used to starch our bras and put them in the freezer, then take them out and iron them to a point…gawd!

  • Paisley Kirkpatrick said:

    My friend had a wringer washer. I used to help her do washing of diapers because she had twins and it was a handful. One day the tie on my robe got caught in the wringers and I started screaming. Luckily for me, Trudy came running and pulled me loose before I was pulled through the wringer. I would definitely have been flattened. 🙂 I don’t think she ever forgot and had lots of snickers at my clumsy self.

  • Mary McCall said:

    I never could have survived. I do good to put mine in the maytag and set it to run. wonderful and helpful info for me though.
    thanks, Kathleen!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Paisley, those wringers were ferocious! I’m glad someone else remembers them. lol. By the way, that’s a great visual you gave me!

    Mary, My washer is three and a half years old. Runs great…like it’s not used much…ahem! I would’ve been in big trouble back then if I can’t remember to throw a load in and push a button now!

  • Hans said:

    The good old days were a lot of fun, but…
    I do prefer using a modern washing machine!

  • marylou anderson said:

    “warshing” is such a regional pronunciation….from my region of the country(!) SW Pa– where people STILL say warsh instead of wash.
    My grannie made lye soap, and used rain water for clothes and on her hair! She claimed the rainwater was “softer” than the water in the well.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Oh, Marylou, My grandmother had a rain barrel for the same reason. She had beautiful red hair she never cut and coiled it atop her head like a crown. Rainwater was THE only way to go and we loved washing our hair at Grandma’s. I was surprised when I visited Pennsylvania and heard what I thought was a definite leaning toward a southern accent, so I am not surprised about the pronunciatation of warsh. lol

  • Lyvonne Burleson said:

    My grandmother used a “battling block” (a tree trunk stripped of bark, flattened and smoothed on the top). Overalls and other work clothes were boiled in a cast iron pot over the outdoor fire. They were picked up by an oar-shaped paddle and flung over the battling block and then beaten on one side, turned over and beaten some more, and returned to the pot.
    My grandfather and their five sons were Alabama farmers. An older son helped on wash days until my
    mother, the oldest daughter, was old enough to help. I remember my mother saying they had to wear the same clothes to school all week long! It is a blessing to live with our modern conveniences.

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