Tuesday, May 28, 2013
From The Archives: Tales From The Washboard
(from winter 2011)
Ah the washboard, the musical instrument, the washing machine for generations, and my friend. So so many callouses have I gained from this little wooden and metal piece. But, callouses aside, this little wooden item is a frugal housewife's friend. Seriously! I didn't give a remote thought to handwashing laundry until this summer. Our family doesn't have a washer and dryer--no real room for them, nor a spare couple thousand dollars for a decent set. When finances turned south this summer, not allowing for me to take our seemingly hundreds of pieces of laundry (for a family of 5) to the laundrymat, Momma (me) got inventive. Seeing a mountain of clothes threatening the lives of myself and the pets, I took a trip to the local antique shop/flea market/computer shop/vac repair building. I found a Columbus Washboard Co washboard for $4, in nearly new condition! Ok, so you aren't as enthusiastic as I am about it, but if you look at the prices of these new (yes, they are still manufactured), they are $30+. So, a savings of $26 made me happy. When I got back home, the mountain, by then named Mt. Wash-Me, was growling. I first started with the soap I had on hand, just simple store bought liquid and softener. But, after looking around on the net, I started gaining serious interest into making my own soap as well. Hey if I could save a bit of money, I was interested! I'll get to my recipe in a bit... I started my washing outside. Why? I have a concrete slab within literally 2 feet of my clothes line. The slab goes over the basement, and it is the perfect height for standing and washing in a tub. So I brought out my clear Sterilite tubs, filled up one with wash water, one with rinse water, and a bucket with rinse water (I didn't have a 3rd tub at the time so I improvised). I kept another bucket on hand for collecting the washed pieces to take to the line. The water was cold, but heated fast in the summer sun (July), and the washed laundry dried very fast, as it was around 110 to 120 during that part of the year (very very hot even for SE Kansas!) I am not so good at explaining how I use the washboard, but I did find a YouTube video that explains well. It's more pioneer style, but overall shows a pretty good idea.
I read some various blogs as well about how to use a washboard that were very informative. I found that the clothes washed on the board even with the store bought soap was much cleaner. Why? I was able to warm up the fibers first, soak the clothes in the wash water, and rather than having the agitating paddle in the middle and swish clothes around, each piece was scrubbed (agitated) against the raised metal on the washboard, pushing the dirt and *cough* other items through the fibers and into the water, leaving the clothes cleaner. I was able to get stains out I thought were totally set in...and that was my first time using the board!! To get that nasty dirt and grime out, I go in first up and down scrubbing, then in a diagonal way across the metal. It seems quite effective! My particular board is called a Dubl Handi and it has a "softer" side as well--if you flip it over and look, there's ridges without the raised ridges. This is for silks, nylon, softer fabrics, etc, and one I like to use for "unmentionables". :) During the summer and fall months, I worked outside under a simple market tent. It was a nice reprieve from the beating down sun! As the months have gotten cooler (it's December and in the 40's and 50's during the day), I've moved my tubs and board inside--they now live by the kitchen sink and get lots of attention. It's freezing overnight, but thus far I've been able to get my wash nice and dry, even if it takes a couple days hanging. The rains of the season are to me a free rinse--the clothes are softer and smell fresher after a rain! No commercial softener can beat that! :) For my soap, I have made my own and I LOVE it! I did some searching for recipes, and used the same basic ingredients as many other folks, and messed with the amounts to get the concoction that I like best. Since I use a lot of soap--handwashing for 5 will take a lot over time--I make a lot at a time. I shredded down Fels Naptha first, and then mixed it with half of a stock pot of water. It melts, and then I add in a cup or so of Arm and Hammer Wash Soda and a cup or so of 20 Mule Team Borax. All 3 ingredients can be found in the laundry soap aisle of your grocery store, Walmart, and other fine establishments. :) For me, this made a thick gooey goop that hardened into about 5 gallons. Not liquified--hardened. I'd poured the solution into the bucket, added water to near the top, and let it set...and it turned into a bucket full of nice concentrated soap. So, for 3 or 4 months, I simply spooned out about 1/4 cup of the mix for a large wash (about the equivelent of 4 regular sized wash loads). This melts in warm water, and all is well. I will admit, I get funny looks while outside washing, hanging up, and taking down clothes. I live in the city limits, and am the oddball. But that's fine--being the oddball has saved our family many hundreds of dollars, which is making better use of the finances the Lord gives us.
It's the middle of December, and I really am getting odd looks when I'm out putting clothes on the line. Sure, the clothes take a couple days to dry--and when it's freezing they still dry if the humidity isn't too high and the sun comes out. I have a rack in the bathroom to hang some on hangers to dry with a small heater to assist--this I do for the clothing we need done more urgently. Something I noticed early on with this soap recipe and also have heard from others over the past months--the Fels Naptha mix whitens your whites better than bleach! I haven't had to use a drop of bleach in months since starting the Fels soap. My whites more often than not look brand new! No yellowing from bleach, no holes, no burns, etc. My colors are brighter as well, and there's no lint (line drying doesn't pill fleece or create the lint that dryers do).
Even if you don't go the route of handwashing (I admit, it's not for everyone), you may want to consider line drying your clothing. You save on electricity, and you keep more of your clothing longer. Think about it...the lint in the lint trap is fibers from your clothing! To get your clothes soft when on the line, use vinegar, softener, or extra rinses. My towels come out soft, as do our jeans! You may want to try making your own soaps as well--it is a real money saver, and you get the benefits of the whitening, and using so much less per load than with commercially made soaps. If you have allergies to many commerical soaps, this may be a route that could work for you. With our own family, I've noticed my stepdaughter with lots of skin allergies has had a much better time with the Fels mix vs the commerical brands.
I hope this has been a little helpful! :)