How to Use a Washboard

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Washboards are a great way to clean.
Image Credit: Iurii Malaschenko/iStock/GettyImages

Although it seems like an outdated way to do laundry, using a washboard is an effective way to hand-wash clothing. These boards have ridged surfaces on them that are not abrasive. Washboards conserve energy and are less expensive than running a washing machine. Believe it or not, washboards are back in vogue for people who like doing chores in a natural, eco-friendly way.


The History of Washboards

Washboards were invented around 1797 and were initially called scrubbing boards. Before that, people would wash clothing in tubs with wood ash added to the water. They would then beat the clothing with wooden bats or trample them until they were clean. A more straightforward method was washing clothes in streams and rivers where the natural water agitation could clean them. Many also banged clothing against rocks!


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In their earliest days, ridged washboards were made from wood only. In the 19th century, zinc and steel ridges replaced the wood ridges, with the wooden frames still intact.

Using a Washboard

You can use a working washboard to wash clothes. You may use it indoors or outdoors, but you will need two basins. A bathtub can work as one, though you should use basins made from galvanized metal since they are sturdy, strong and do not rust. There are different kinds of laundry soap bars to try but make sure you use more concentrated ones for things like towels and sheets and use gentle laundry soaps for clothing and other delicate items. You can also use liquid laundry detergent.


Pretreat any stained items if needed and let them sit for five to 10 minutes. Fill one of the basins with warm water and add liquid detergent if you are using that. Place the clothes in the soapy water and let them soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, stand the washboard in the water. Scrub the items against the washboard, creating physical agitation that pushes the water, soap and dirt through the cloth. You can keep rinsing the items in the soapy water while working.


Ways to Use Washboards

If you're still unsure about using a washboard, you can refer to information about how they have been used historically. Using this tool to clean clothes is still a common practice in many parts of the world, but there is only one manufacturer in the United States today: the Columbus Washboard Company. With these newer products, a laundry soap bar may be the more old-fashioned way to go, but it can get your clothes really nice and clean. Instead of using your hands against the washboard, you use the soap bar. It's a good idea to wear kitchen gloves when using a washboard because all that water can dry out your hands.


Nowadays, washboards are widely used as decorative items, and if you find one at an antique store, you are in luck. They work well as garden accents, and you can even plant climbing greenery that grows over it. Use them in your holiday decorating too.

In the past, musicians have also used washboards as musical instruments. In the 1920s, jug bands used washboards. Many genres still incorporate washboard sounds, such as folk, jazz, skiffle and zydeco music.



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