Grit Blogs > Country at Heart

Wash Day

Arkansas GirlI've never really liked doing laundry, but it's one of those necessary chores, unless you want to wear dirty clothes. Now, washing today is so simple and easy - not that I'm any more "fonder" of it, but at least it's not as time-consuming and laborious as when I was a child.

Until I was thirteen, we had to either wash our clothes by hand or use my aunt's or Grandmother's old-fashioned, electric washer/wringer machine. Wash day at our house in the 50s and 60s was done by hand. We had at least three methods of cleaning our clothes.

First, color and dark clothing were washed either in cold or warm water. Since they didn't require hot water they were more conveniently washed in a tub. We used a rub board where the wet clothes were rubbed up and down on this tin-wedged board to get the dirt out. Second, in cold weather, smaller items, like socks, were washed by hand and hung inside by the wood burning heater so they would be dry by morning.

Third, white clothing and bed linen (which was all white then) were boiled in hot water. Today, we have a variety of bleaches, but back then, we used a blue powdered bleach called "bluing." That was our Clorox, and it was only used on white fabric.

Fourth, laundry was done in the big, black wash-pot, which is another story. This was the least favored method of washing, because it require time, attention and diligence. Most rural families (without electricity) used this pot. We built a fire under the pot and poured clean water into it. Only white clothes were boiled to bring the dirt up out of them.

This is where the "juking" or "poking" stick came in. Well, that's what we called them, because the act of cleaning the clothes was called "juking" or "poking" them up and down with this stick. Once the pieces were deemed clean, we wrung them by hand, rinsed them in a separate tub with clean water and hung them on the clothes line.

When it was very cold in the winter, our clothes would freeze. They looked like dummies swaying in the breeze. They hung there until the weather warmed and they eventually dried.

Washing near a wash pot was sometimes a fatal chore. A friend that I met later in life told me that his mother's clothes caught fire while working near a wash-pot. Tragically, she lived a while but eventually the accident resulted in her death.

At one point my Grandparents got electricity before we did. Sometimes, we went to her house to wash our laundry. Though this was a step up from the old black wash pot and washing (rub) board, you still had to manually "feed" the clothes (that had washed) into a wringer (two round wheels that rolled). You had to be careful not to get your finger caught in between the roller or you would have a squished finger. It was definitely an art to knowing how to hold the clothes and just how close to put your fingers toward the roller. You had to pay careful attention.