Clothes wringing alternatives and doing washing the old fashioned way

Feb 04, 2023
The joys and struggles of doing laundry the old fashioned way. Source: Getty

My earliest laundry memories are of the washhouse.

A sinister, cold damp building beside our old weatherboard house. There was a copper washer cemented into the corner that mum would fill with boiling water from buckets before she did our washing.

Whites first, then the coloured, then the dark work clothes that belonged to my dad. There was a double concrete sink (or trough) where the rinsing was done before it was squeezed through a mangle and carried outside in a cane basket.

But it was outside, in our grassy tree-lined backyard where lengths of rope with wooden props, where the magic really happened. 

Mum would lower the props to peg up the washing with wooden pegs. When the line was full, she would sit it up higher so that the wind would billow through the freshly cleaned sheets and towels– that was my favourite part. 

She would continue filling up the lines and wait for them to dry, keeping an eye on the sky for any rain clouds. I can still remember the smell of soap and sunlight, and mum setting up the old wooden ironing board to iron out the fancy stuff.

Later on, we used a new-fangled electric wringer washing machine. It was a bit of a bugger to use, when I tried to force too much fabric through the wringer it would snap open and hit me in the chest. One time, I leaned over with my long hair and nearly scalped myself! Luckily there was an emergency button. 

And then there was the twin tub, some people loved them but I found them tedious and not user-friendly. 

Our family moved house and there was a rotary clothesline in the backyard. Mum was so happy, no more propping up the old wooden one. We, kids, loved hanging from it and swinging around really fast, but would have to keep an eye out for adults intent on ruining our fun. 

When I became a newly married mum with small kids, I was given an old wringer washing machine which I hated. Nappies would wind around and it would snap open. Overall, it was a painful experience. 

Then finally came the day when I got my very first automatic machine from Fisher and Paykel, it was very basic but it was miraculous and I loved it.

Back then we had no such thing as clothes driers, so wire racks with damp washing festooned the house on cold winter days. I remember the brief accomplishment of three dozen snowy white flannelette nappies billowing on the line on a cold winter’s day. They smelled fresh and clean as I folded them into the shape required to be ready for my little ones. Along with safety pins, that sat waiting to be used in the children’s room. 

There was a sense of accomplishment as the last item was packed away in each of their rooms, the days when fresh cotton sheets lined their cots and I dried them after the bath with towels that smelt of wind and sunshine.

No synthetic fabric softener in those days. Then dress them up for bed in freshly washed pyjamas that had warmed in the hot water cylinder cupboard.

Sweet but simple memories of a quieter time. What are your memories of washing day when growing up?

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