How Does a Washboard Work?



  • Washboards came in two sizes. The smaller washboard is 18 inches long and 9 inches wide. The larger washboard is 24 inches long and 12 inches wide. Each of these sizes came in different types of materials. Some washboards were made with a zinc coated base metal. Others were made with brass. Galvanized steel was also used for a time. Finally, glass wash was even used on the surface of some old washboards.

Washing Laundry

  • Washing laundry with a washboard can save a home a few hundred dollars per year on electricity. To wash laundry with a washboard, you must get a bucket of hot soapy water. Place the washboard inside the hot soapy water. Take one clothing item at a a time and soak it in the bucket. Then press the clothing up against the metal ridges of the washboard and rub it up and down. The clothing item is then squeezed to dump the dirt off of it. The cycle is repeated a second time to make sure all of the dirt has been removed from the clothing. The clothing is then rinsed out in plain water and hung out to dry.

As a Musical Instrument

  • The washboard became more popular over time as a percussion instrument. The washboard is held upward with the metal ridges facing outward. The washboard player makes music by stroking the metal ridges with their fingers or by stroking another object up against the metal ridges. Spoons and thimbles are popular objects used to stroke the washboard.


  • You can purchase brand new laundry washboards for $10 to $25 from stores like Main St. Supply. See Resources below. If you are looking to save a few dollars, you can find these washboards on eBay. If you have the skill, you can always construct your own washboard out of some wood and metal.

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  • Photo Credit Susann Cavokaz
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