It wasn’t that I’d never done laundry in an automatic washer before, it was that I’d never had to do anyone else’s laundry before. I didn’t care about sorting colors and softeners and soil level when I did my own laundry.
You see, growing up we had a wringer washer for doing laundry. Saturday was wash day because all of us kids were home from school to help. Summer was whatever day field work gave us a chance to do laundry.
We had to start right away after breakfast because we didn’t have a dryer either. We wanted as much to dry outside on the line as possible before having to bring it in to finish drying on the basement lines.
First we sorted all the laundry. Let me tell you, clothes from six people adds up after a week! I knew nothing of sorting by colors. Our piles were: towels, underwear and socks, Sunday clothes, school clothes, school jeans, barn clothes, and barn jeans. And sometimes we had time for sheets.
While we got the clothes sorted upstairs, Mom was in the basement filling all the tubs. The washer got filled with straight hot water and she grated in a bar of homemade soap (truly homemade – not like my “homemade” laundry soap I use now). Next was the first rinse tub with cold water and then a second rinse tub with cold water. The tubs were set up perpendicular to the washer creating an ‘L’ shape.
Us kids brought down the first load which was always towels. When using the same water for all our laundry, we went from cleanest to dirtiest in our washing order. [Umm, oxymoron?!] Towels were used to dry clean bodies and clean dishes so they were considered “cleanest.”
Mom would grab the wooden step stool and use it to reach the wringer washer cord up to the outlet on the bare light fixture. “Wooden” stool is important here because we never knew when there would be shots of electricity jumping around up there!
After plugging it in, she would engage the agitator by pulling out the black button on the side of the vat. While the water was agitating we would put the towels in one at a time so as not to bog down the machine. Mom would stand there with a long clean stick plunging each towel into the steaming water.
The load would agitate for a while and then Mom would slap in the black button on the side to stop the agitator. With the long clean stick she would fish out a towel at a time so as not to scald her hands. A long skinny switch on top of the wringer arm would engage the rollers. Once they were engaged, she would feed a towel at a time through the rollers.
Us kid’s job was on the other side. We had to have a quick hand to guide each towel as it came through the rollers so that it came out into the tub rather than bending down and wrapping around the bottom roller. The first towel was always the trickiest. Mom would skillfully feed the remaining towels in on top of the previous towel so it was one continual slat of towels coming out the rollers on the other side.
Once the whole load was wrung once, we had to lift and dunk each towel in the first cold tub to rinse the soap out. Then we would unlock the wringer arm and swing it into position to feed into the next rinse tub. Here we didn’t need the stick because of hot water so us kids could handle feeding the towels.
Still with someone on the other side guiding and catching any wrap-around towels, the first rinse tub emptied into the second.
We swung the wringer arm again and positioned it this time to feed into a laundry basket we had setting on an overturned five-gallon pail. After lifting and dunking and swishing to rinse a final time, we fed the towels once more through the wringer to land in the dry laundry basket.
All the while we were finishing the two rinsing phases of the first load, Mom had gotten down the second load of laundry (underwear and socks), added more soap to the wash water and begun the agitator as she put the laundry in piece by piece.
Two of us kids would haul the clean laundry up the basement stairs and out the rickety back door to the clothes line outside while the other two helped in the basement. We hung the load, conserving clothespins as Mom had taught us; sharing three pins for two items.
Every load of laundry continued like this, each with its own adjustments. For instance, clothing with buttons must have the buttons folded to the inside so the fabric protects them from being popped off by the rollers. Socks must be fed on top of larger pieces of laundry because by themselves they can wrap easily. Jeans must be fed legs first so as not to jam the rollers with their thick seams. Sweaters must be fed and caught gently to prevent as much stretching as possible. Dress shirts must be fed so the collar does not get wrecked.
After we had finished doing laundry (yes, still in the same water) we unhooked the hoses from each tub and emptied them into five-gallon pails. For us kids, the buckets could only be filled halfway for us to carry them up the stairs and dump them out the back door. The washer would be emptied first so Mom could start cleaning it up. The rinse tubs usually weren’t that dirty.
The empty rinse tubs got turned upside down, the lid set on the washer and then the cord got unplugged from the light fixture. Washing was finished.
After chores that night we would all go out and bring in the damp laundry. It would sit around our living room for a day or so until it was completely dried and able to fold or iron and hang.
All ready to start again in a few days!
Read my natural and affordable laundry routine here. My how times have changed!