My uncle remarked recently that the first purchase my grandparents made as a married couple was a washboard. While this would not have been unusual in their parents’ generation, by 1949 the era of the automatic washer was in full swing and their washboard purchase was an indicator of their extreme thriftiness. After our recent washing machine breakdown, my curiosity and trying to imagine how we’d handle laundry in a longer-term power outage got the better of me and I researched and finally purchased a washboard.
It turns out that this 1797 invention is still manufactured in the US by one company, Columbus Washboard Company, and so it is possible to get a “patina”-less washboard that won’t need to have rust removed before you try it out on a load of t-shirts. As of today the family-size Maid Rite boards are available through Ace Hardware and on the Amazon Marketplace for around $26. I also purchased a smaller Dubl Handi for about $20. You’ll find a whole range of old and new washboards on ebay—useable-ness and prices vary widely.
To use your washboard, fill a sink or washtub with warm or hot water, place board feet-downward with the scrubbing surface facing away from you and lean it back against your waist or the sink edge. Place the items to be washed into the sink to soak as you work. Rub your laundry soap (Fels Naptha is the old standby, but Ivory works as well) onto your first item and rub it up and down, rotating every couple of scrubs to clean all sides. After all items are washed, drain, rinse and wring laundry (see the August 2103 newsletter for a solution for large items and batches) and hang to dry. Finally, give your washboard a rinse and set it somewhere it can dry thoroughly.
Notes and observations:
- A washboard is a great thing to have if you have a baby. The washing machine alone is often inadequate, scrub brushes tear up and deform the fabric and rubbing the fabric against itself is a pain and only moderately effective. On hard days I would end up leaving all the stuff in need of prewashing next to my sink “for later”. Bad. My Dubl Handi has a permanent spot next to my sink now. Most things take literally a minute, no stains, no fabric damage, no “later”.
- A couple of people have commented that if you have a large load of laundry, you need to watch your hand position. Repeated rubbing with your knuckles against the board is a bad idea. Work with an open hand instead.
See here for written notes on washboard (and clothesline) use.
And here for a video.