How to Hand Wash Clothes

Learn how to hand wash clothes the old-fashioned way, in a wash tub on laundry day.

| Fall 2014

old timey clothes warshing

Before the modern washing machines, laundry day meant hand washing clothes.

Photo by iStockphoto/ideeone

Several years ago, a grandmother in Alabama gave a new bride a recipe for how to hand wash clothes she found in an old scrapbook. Here is the recipe, printed as it originally appeared — misspellings and all.

Warshing Clothes

Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rainwater.

Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert.

Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin’ water.

Sort things, make 3 piles – 1 pile white, 1 pile colored, 1 pile work britches and rags.

To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boilin’ water.

rita lyons
9/27/2014 10:26:41 AM

This makes me smile. I grew up hearing (and using) "wrench" and "warsh". (And I am only 43.) I miss the old dialect. For those who comment that they are from the south, but haven't used "wrench" I wonder if it is because it is more of an Appalachian dialect not southern? The two overlap, but are not always the same.

8/1/2014 5:10:00 PM

I hear my grandmother's voice in this, and I don't think I ever saw her hand wash clothes, but I have fond memories of helping her hang the "warshin."

8/1/2014 10:59:18 AM

I wasn't born until after my Grandmother got a ringer washer, but she still had the galvanized wash tubs. I'm thankful for my electric Washing Machine. Makes life easier. Also, I was born and raised in the South (Georgia) but I never said "wrench". It was "rinse" I enjoy you e-mails. Thanks for sending them.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!