The Richmond Register

January 7, 2014

‛Wash Day’ was once an ordeal

By Carol Prewitt


I was in my laundry room doing the wash when I got to thinking how easy it is today, even if it is time consuming.

My husband’s great-grandmother, born in the 1800s, told of the days before the system of locks were added to the Kentucky River. It was not much more than a small stream then.

Some of the Valley View women would get together and go down to the river to do their wash. They found a rock, wet the clothes in the river, scraped some lye soap lose on it and then beat it on the rock. That was real pioneer living.

In the early days, wash day was a real chore. Drawing water from the well to fill the wash tub. Bringing it to a boil.

White clothes were added to the hot water, and a stick or paddle was used to stir it around. Colored clothes went in warm water to soak a while, then stirred for the washing.

To rinse, the water had to be changed several times. The whites got a final rinse with some granules from the “blue bag” added to the water to make them extra bright. (The Blue Bag product could be used to sooth bee stings, too).

Tongs were used to remove the clothes from the water. We had a wringer washer that removed most of the water but some of our neighbors had to wring theirs out by hand.

I sometimes fed the clothes into the wringer as a child but was always warned to watch I didn’t get my arm caught in it.

Usually, your outer clothes were washed only when they got so dirty they couldn’t be sponge-cleaned any more. Underwear more often. Blankets usually once a year, when the warm weather returned.

For drying the clothes on nice days, you had ropes strung between two poles or trees. In bad weather, lines were usually strung around the kitchen and the clothes dried by the stove.

Sometimes they were hung outside and a frost would hit. That’s when you brought them in, and they’d be so stiff they could stand on there own by the stove.

Things that needed ironing were rolled up while still damp and put aside. If they dried before you had time to get to them, they would be sprinkled with water, rolled up and kept in the refrigerator until you had time for that chore. Since permanent press came along, I think the art of ironing clothes is about lost.

From the days of using a rock at the creek, to the washboard, to the washing machine has been a long journey. I’m glad I have a nice room to do mine in with running hot and cold water and electric power!