Could you do laundry as your great grandmother did?
I only have one memory of my great grandmother. It was her standing in an upstairs window watching me play in the yard of my grandmother’s house. I don’t remember talking to her, but I can still see her standing at that window.
As she was facing the last years of her life, I was a little girl full of life with no cares about what tomorrow would bring. I often wonder what she was thinking as she was watched me play. Was she reminiscing about a time when she watched her own children play, or was she remembering her own childhood? Maybe she was dreading making her homemade laundry detergent and starting wash.
How I wish, I would have taken time to get to know her better. To learn how she spent her days, what she did to pass the time, and what she dreamed of for her own children.
What I am sure of is her days would have been filled with taking care of her home and children. Not so different than what we do today, other than the modern conveniences we’re privy too now.
Today as I stared at a mound of laundry I couldn’t help but think how laundry day in my great grandmother’s time would have been so much different than the buttons I push today.
How spoiled we have become. Before the days of electricity and washing machines, wash day would have been an all-day ordeal. It would’ve been filled with multiple tubs of water, scrubbing boards, and handmade soaps. The water would have been hauled from the well and heated over open fires and the chore would have been back-breaking, to say the least.
I’d love to say I have what it takes to live as my great grandmother did — but probably not.
I finally found heavy duty clothespins.
I’ve been line drying clothes for years, and have gone through many different styles of clothespins. From plastic, to peg, to cheaply made China pins, and no matter which ones I bought, I never could find any heavy duty clothespins that would hold up to the wind we get here on the farm. My clothes would always end up on the ground. Since I was introduced to these hand-made heavy duty clothes pins I don’t have to worry about anything ending up on the ground!
With the trend toward simplicity, many of us are looking for ways to return to our roots and live much as our ancestors did.
Am I ready to give up my washing machine…no, I think not! But I certainly can be a bit more self-sufficient by saving money on our electricity by line drying and relying on an old fashion laundry detergent recipe that my great grandmother may have used.
Old Fashion Homemade Laundry Detergent
- 12 cups Borax
- 8 cups baking soda
- 8 cups washing soda
- 8 cups finely grated Fels-naptha Soap
Mix all ingredients well and store in a sealed tub. Use 1/4 cup of powder per full load.
I wonder what she’d think if she knew her great-granddaughter was more inspired to live in her time than her own — I think she’d tell me I was crazy.
How about you? Could you work as hard and live as your great grandmother did even on wash day?
LOVE your blog! Especially the simple living and “old time” ways. Quick question, does the above laundry recipe dissolve in cold water?
Robi make sure you grate the soap super fine and you will not have any trouble.
Thank you, so much!
With five youngins I have no idea how they kept up with laundry if they limited it to one day! Honestly my kids dirty clothes up so fast and we have a closet full whereas they probably only had a couple of outfits each. Throw cloth diapers onto that and I just see don’t see how one day washing was done. I have two in diapers and with line drying them I have to do a load every day in order to have enough. I desire simplicity with my washer machine still intact 🙂 Thanks for sharing the recipe. I need to make a batch up.
Need to make another batch of laundry soap. My best ‘hack’ for it is to use an old food processor (cheap from the thriftshop) to grate the hard bar of soap. Not sure what my great grandmother would say about that, but it was my grandmother that wore pantyhose before I switched to them (many years ago)!! My grandmothers knew a good thing, and were more modern in their homemaking than I tend to be!
What a great idea about picking up a food processor at the thrift shop…I need to be on the look out for one. I have an old grater I use to grate my soap each month.
I watched my grandmother do wash in a wringer washer. How she heated the water on stove and carried the water to the washer on the porch. My grand father painted and they had a huge big pot outside on a camp fire and they were boiling his paint clothes to get the paint off.
I remember her large long clothes line with sheets in front and personable’s in back so not seen from the road. Behind the clothes line was a huge garden she did every year. She lived on the edge of town. Had an outhouse out the back door a little rock cement walk to it. It was the cleanest outhouse I have ever seen. She made the best large sugar cookies I ever ate. But today I can still see those sheets blowing in the breeze and the garden and the strawberry patch-all in the back yard. You could see the rail road from the house and I once saw her feed a hobo a plate of food placed outside the back door. He had come and asked for some food. Memories I cherish.
Some of my fondest memories are playing hide-n-seek with my sisters between the lines of clothes hanging in my grandmothers yard. Sweet memories!
I used a ringer washer and line dried up until 1978. A washer board for the heavy soiled socks and there was NO hot water. Heck there was no wash room! The ringer washer was kept on the porch under a tarp. Winter washing was on days above 32 degrees and everything was hung in the house and dried by the wood stove. I had a baby then, washed & dried all her cotton cloth diapers this way and there were a few times (more than a few) I ran short on fabric softener. But I wasn’t as “bad” as my mom, she washed and line dried everything. Then all the clothes had to be re-sprinkled with water, rolled up and put into a bag for next days “Ironing day”. Everything was ironed and all dresses, shirts, hankies and dad’s Navy dress whites were starched and ironed. I remember when “polyester” clothes came out. Mom thought she had died and gone to heaven.
My mom washed all her clothes with a ringer washer and we lined dried everything as well…even in the winter where the clothes freeze dried. I remember the day my dad bought her an automatic washing machine…she cried!
I had to hand wash for 4 months. I can’t lie, it was rough because I accidentally packed my wringer and had to do it by hand. That was the most challenging! Love your posts as always Tracy! Thank you for linking up with us at the Art of Home-Making Mondays! 🙂
Hand washing! I am impressed…not sure I could do it!
Nice article, thank you so much for the share
I very often think about this! I’m fascinated by the old ways of doing things. But I agree, I won’t be getting rid of my washing machine any time soon.
Jamie I have learned to do without a lot of things in my quest to live a simpler life, but the washing machine isn’t one I could give up:)
Tracy I enjoy reading your articles. I have washed clothes by hand. I watched a video on Youtube. It was hard. I only did my undies, shirts, washcloths and a pair of pants. It was a challenge. I could not imagine doing a blanket or sheet. Your website has been an inspiration for me. I am a widow and life alone. So I CHOOSE to live a simple life. I am challenged in getting a routine going. Plus cutting off the cable television. But I find myself watching television and not getting anything done. Thank you for articles and encouragement.
I remember it would take two sets of hands when we had to wash blankets and sheets in my mothers ringer washer…my sisters and I would argue on who had to hold them up while the other fed them through the ringer. I can’t image washing them totally by hand!
Oh I wanted to add my favorite memory with my Grandparents. My grandmother had a garden next to the house and I remember picking the vegetables and fruit and canning them. I remember milking the cows and taking it inside. My grandmother would separate the cream and I would use the butter churn to make butter. Everything was homemade. I would gather the eggs from the chickens and I would scare them out of the laying place to get the eggs. My grandmother would get so made at me. I that we were total self sufficient. She had a wring out washing the machine It was an all day chore. I loved the simple, hard work but accomplished feeling afterwards.
I couldn’t agree more…the felling of accomplishment makes all the hard work so worth it! What sweet memories you have of your grandmother. I hope I can create those sweet memories for my grandchildren.
I seriously want to hand wash clothes for the fun of it if I could! I live in an apartment. I would do it outdoors if I had a garden hose hook up 🙂 Found you via the Motivation Monday link up. Subscribing to you.
I spent many days of my youth washing clothes in a wringer washer outside on the porch. At the time I hated it but now as I look back I treasure those memories. I hope some day you get to experience washing your clothes by hand!
People used to want to get out of the country and move to the city where they had electricity and life was easier. My great grandmother did just that. Out in the country they froze and starved. In the city there was food at the store and heat in a house. My Dad talks about living in a tar paper shack and waking up with ice on his face.
My great grandmother despised the country so much that she wouldn’t even be buried in the family cemetery but had to be buried “in town”.
But I love it, I have farming in my blood and I definitely love to work hard. I put the laundry on the line, make everything from scratch, grow from seed, wear only homemade clothes, and generally try to do without spending because there is no money.
We romanticize doing without only because we have so much.
Kathy I think your comment about “Romanticizing doing without because we have so much” is so true! Thanks for you thought out comment!
Thanks Miss Tracy, you have a super website. I’m reading through it all.
Keep Rural and Carry On.
Thank you and am glad you are enjoying it.read on….
Kathy thank you for sharing your grandmothers story. My own mother doesn’t understand my desire to live this way. She was a product of the depression and despises what I find appealing.
As I sit here at my work desk after having spent close to an hour commuting, and I anticipate the coming meetings I don’t want to attend…all to earn a paycheck that goes toward mortgage, taxes, insurance, electric, phones, internet…I think I would prefer the tangible work of laundry. Even an 8-hour day of laundry might be preferable. At least in the end, I have the results I can see, touch, smell. Versus the intangible of finishing my day at my job, feeling mentally drained and knowing I still have a long drive home and the work at home to do. For an invisible paycheck deposited into my account.
*Not to sound too negative, I do enjoy aspects of my career/work (other than the salary/benefits), but this has decreased over the years, and I miss being at home.
Thank you for sharing this Tracy. I never knew either my grandparents or great-grandparents as they had all passed by the time I was old enough to remember them.
Michelle I spent many years right where you are. I was miserable! My heart goes out to you and that some day you can enjoy the simple pleasure of doing laundry.
Thank you Tracy, we are moving in the right direction, and I will be reducing my hours this August.
I AM SURE I COULDN’T! MY FATHER TALKS ABOUT HIS GRANDMA “TURNING COLLARS” ON WORN WORK SHIRTS, AMONG OTHER THINGS. SHE WAS ONE TOUGH LADY.
People didn’t have as many clothes then–a couple of outfits for school, old clothes for play, and one, maybe two, for church. Mama often told stories of her mother boiling their clothes outside (southern Georgia) in a large kettle, then everything was line dried. One story was of the time she left the clothes out overnight. Everything was stolen except some old “raggetty” diapers. When neighbors learn, they called Salvation Army with details of the number and sizes of all the children (7 or 8). SA sent plenty of clothes for all the boys and girls. This was the reason Mama always supported the Salvation Army.
My grandmother was born in 1889 and died (in our home) at the age of 102. As a child, I would spend summers with her (until I was 16 and discovered dating!). She didn’t get hot water in her house (and a bathroom – she still had an outhouse which she made us use in the summer months – which my kids HATED) until I was 16 yrs old (I’m 68 now). I remember her boiling BIG pots of water, when she was doing bedding and large items, for her wringer washer. Smaller everyday items were done on a scrub board outside. Everything was hung on clothes lines outside. That was my job and I LOVED it. To this day, I still like to hang clothes on the line (during the warmer months, though).
That same wringer washer she used is now a flower planter outside my kitchen door. I’m sorry I never brought it in the house and used it. We had a wringer washer (Maytag – my grandmother’s was an Easy) when I was growing up and I miss it. I remember hanging clothes in the basement on lines or outside during the summer. We also had a rack set up in the bathtub to dry everyday hand washed items. I often think about getting rid of my new front loading HE washer and dryer and getting a wringer washer!
Scrubbing clothes on the scrub board as a kid was OK, but the closest I want to get to those now is the collection of them I have hanging on the wall in my laundry room! I also have my grandmothers wringer sitting on the sink in the laundry room. I’m pretty sure she did most of the crank turning on that old wooden antique!
I use my clothes line 99% of the time, hanging clothes with tips that my Oma taught me, like pulling jean pockets inside out so they dry faster. I think jeans actually dry faster in the Colorado sunshine than they do in a dryer. Love it ❤
What a great idea about pulling the pockets out…thanks for sharing that with us!