SURVIVAL SKILLS

Washboard for Laundry Preparedness – What’s Best?

What’s a Washboard?

Quite a few years ago we purchased a washboard. It’s a simple device for washing clothes. It’s typically made with a wooden frame that’s attached with a metal scrub board. The scrub board is lined with ridges (ruffles, ribs – whatever you call it). The ridges help loosen the dirt while washing clothes against it.

I don’t know if any of you have ever used a washboard or if you have one in your supplies. But it’s a device that our ancestors used before advent of the washing machine. Don’t get me wrong, we love our front-loading HE washing machine! However, a good ‘ol washboard will always get the job done (without electricity), albeit by hand…

Think about the “what if”. What if we had to survive for a period of time without the conveniences of modern appliances? Like, a washing machine for example. Yes, I know, washing your clothes will not be one of your high concerns if and when the grid goes down for an extended time. But assuming that you survive the follow-on chaos, and are able to successfully homestead somewhere, among the many tasks you’ll face will be keeping clean – including your clothes. How will you do it?

How to use a Washboard

A good old-fashioned washboard. Just a few scrubs (or more) take out the ground-in dirt (your scrubbing will be directly proportional to the dirt involved!

Many parts of the world still use washboards for washing clothes. Clothes are soaked in hot soapy water in a washtub, bathtub, or sink. Then they’re squeezed and rubbed against the ridged surface of the washboard to force the wash liquid through the cloth to carry away dirt. A bit of scrubbing together with a soap bar of Zote or Fels Naptha will get the job done.

Washboards can be used in a sink or bucket, or can also be used for washing in a river or any body of water, with or without soap.

Best Washboard for Laundry

This washboard is very sturdily built, the ribs of the board are just deep enough…not so deeply ribbed that even the ‘finest of fabrics’ can be cleaned of spots and stains.

This is the one I bought years ago…

>> Columbus Washboard Family Size
(view on amzn)

Washboard Soap

Both ‘Fels Naptha’ and Zote have been popular laundry soaps for many years. When I bought my washboard I also picked up a case of soap:

>> Fels Naptha (24 bars)
(view on amzn)

When you are thinking about your prep items and what you may need during a worst-case-scenario (extended grid-down), don’t forget about how you will wash your clothes!

[ Read: How To Do Laundry & Clothes Washing Without Electricity ]

[ Read: 20+ Other Uses For Soap ]

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41 Comments

  1. Honestly never even thought of laundry in my preps, other than a few extra gallons of detergent for the machine. Definitely getting a wash board! Do you have any experience with the barrel type off grid washers where you rotate the barrel and a gallon or so of water by hand?

  2. Don’t forget a tub to wash in and one for rinsing, clothes pins and a clothes line. You can get all fancy and buy a hand powered ringer!

  3. There are hand crank machines that wash clothes, does 1 pr pants at a time…Also helps to have a wringer…I used my washboard one winter when my septic froze up and hand wringing killed my hands.

      1. Lauren, some people have purchased those rolling mop buckets with the mop wringer for doing their laundry if shft. I went ahead and purchased the hand wringer from Lehmans years ago. It’s put away on the shelf with a few bars of Fels Naptha. I should consider a washboard to go along with it.

  4. I have two Wonder Washers and a Lavario washer. Need to add a washboard too, incase parts would break on the others. Have clothes pins and line. Buy laundry bar soaps when I see them. Would be hard on these older hands to wring and scrub. If budget allows Lehman’s sells the double wash tubs with wringer. There is a handle that swishes the clothes back and forth.

  5. 2 plastic 55 gallon drums cut in half for wash tubs and either a wash board or wash drum (I like drums) and you’re all set.

  6. Have a washboard. Used one as a kid when we’d spend a month each summer camping and fishing in the Rockies. I remember lots of painful barked knuckles. So also have the plunger type apparatus for agitating clothes.
    . . . . . .
    Plunger Portable Washer
    . . . . .
    Picked up an old fashioned hand-crank clothes wringer at a yard sale. Also purchased a janitorial mop bucket with a press wringer.
    . . . . .
    Since the lower body muscles are bigger and stronger than upper, I also have a couple very sturdy large relatively shallow tubs and plan to agitate clothes via stomping them like grapes.

  7. Here is a query, Ken.
    The washboard ya purchased. Does it have those open holes that were kinda like barnacles? Just curious. The clothes made years ago could stand up to those. I am not sure the fabrics of today would. I remember my Levi’s were so thick back in the day. Now not so much.
    Thanks.
    Peace
    MadFab

    1. Madfab,
      good point. those old Levi 501s (button up the front no less) were made of cotton sail cloth weight material. sometime in the 90s they went to a cotton poly blend, and out went the durability. Have not bought a pair since. I wonder how long these modern clothes will hold up to figorous scrubbing on a real wash board??? (we may have to revert back to deerskin sooner than we realize).

  8. I maybe need to look into a wash board. If we got into a shtf situation, I would be helping the Italian DW do the laundry. (if it was just miner-me, i would walk into the irrigation canal with my cloths on with a bar of soap. that won’t fly with DW though, LOL)

    1. I have one of those things that look a lot like a toilet plunger. If I needed to actually use it I would cut a hole in the lid of a 5 gallon bucket for the handle to go through.

  9. The washboard is great for taking out stains. Rub some zote soap on the stain then scrub on the washboard and you will be surprised how much of the stain is removed. It’s more frugal than the expensive stain removers and works better.

  10. My SIL backed into one of the greasy joints of the back hoe and his favorite jeans were covered with a thick black paste. We scraped off as much muck as we could and threw them is the washer. The pants came out with ugly black stains where the grease was. He threw them into the trash, but I fished them out and pulled the washboard off the laundry shed wall and went to work with Dawn dish detergent. It worked! In no time the stains were gone and the pants were saved. The wash board provided enough resistance and friction to really get the soap into the thick fibers of the denim. Along with regular laundry detergent and back up Zote, we always have a bottle of Dawn in our laundry supplies.

    1. With stains on clothes that won’t come out I dyed them a darker color or got creative with tie dye for a trip back to the 60’s when I had bleach accidents.

  11. We have a couple washboard from my mom’s homestead.
    One is a wall decoration in the laundry room and the other is in the storage shed.

    I was looking for what we had for detergents.
    Borax
    Fells
    But I know we have one other, that mom had used and i can’t recall the name of it….
    uhg
    I can still see it on her laundry counter.

    1. -Maybe bluing, we used to use Mrs. Stewart’s to combat white clothes turning yellow?
      -Papa

    2. Joe C,

      Maybe washing soda? Borax, washing soda, and fields naptha or zote together make a good laundry detergent.

      1. Well, thanks for the help, fellas, but not what I recall.
        It was a bar soap. Seems as if it was in a black and white wrapper.

        I even ran to the local covenants store, because they used to sell it….nope out of it.
        The store owner new what I was talking about and he couldn’t remember either. And the product is no longer available.

        1. Joe c,

          Bar soap? I know that years ago folks would use P&G bar soap as an all purpose for baths, dishes and would shave off slivers into the wash pot for clothes. I came in single bars wrapped, or could be bought in slabs of 24 bars grooved to be broken off into single bars.

          1. ….P&G was Proctor & Gamble…the soap I speak of was their lowest cost soap….sort of a generic. Rumor was it was same formula as Ivory soap which supposedly came about as an accidental overcooking of the cheap P&G soap.

    3. From a quick search, the following 3 brands had black and white wrappers: Octagon, TAG, and Pears. Was it one of those? “Images” on a google search under “old soap with black and white wrapper” will show each brand.

      1. Desert,
        I’ve been searching, too.

        This is driving me nuts….more so than I already am.
        I’m going to have to do a house search…’cause I can’t stand it.

        Boraxo comes to mind, but that’s not it either.
        Maybe I’m thinking of a saddle soap….maybe I’m nuts….maybe I’m…..gonna have to give it up.

        1. Joe C,
          Boraxo used to come in a black and white, tall, oval tin can, with a red metal cap you would spin the top on to an opening. Of course that was many, many dirty jobs ago. Late 50s?

          1. Minerjim,
            Yep, I remember that canister, sitting by the laundry room sink, next to dad’s fuddy, duddy bins of nuts and bolts, nails.
            Black, white, red cap.

            This is a bar. Dang nab it!

            We both saw it at the convenience store years ago.

            Mom used that.
            My mom, too.

            But neither of us can remember.
            I thought we had purchased some????
            If so, I haven’t found it.

            I know you old timers would say,
            Yeah, I remember that.

            Lol

    4. Fels Naptha also has a black and white wrapper for some varieties. Octagon? Zote? P and G?

      1. Joe c
        I don’t know if it helps, but here is my childhood experience. if we didn’t use Ivory we used Lava. I don’t remember the package for either. Hope you find the name you are looking for.

  12. – Three different washboards, smallest one will work in a bathroom sink. Half-a-dozen bars of Zote soap, and I would have to say that they do work, but they are a pain in the knuckles to use. 550 cord makes a good clothesline, and if you are going to use clothespins be sure and get the old-fashioned wooden ones with the spring and soak them in salt water before you use them. Keeps them from freezing up in winter.

    – Papa S.

  13. I wonder if the barrels used to turn compost would be a little sturdier to use as a washer.

    1. That might be a good idea. i bought one of those and don’t use it as I have a much bigger compost pile I turn by hand

    2. Getting a water tight seal seems the big problem with such rolling barrels style “Washing Machines”.

      A screw top barrel on a set of rollers slightly canted for best draining works well. The side hatch seen on most compost barrels will be hard to seal properly if at all. Can be VERY hard to get soaking wet items out of bottom of that barrel.

      Open top see saw style dual plunger units have worked well for folks. Allows for agitation, easy to set up hose bib style drainage and filling. Can be run by two seniors or children. Seen such used in “Professional” Laundry Services all over the 3rd world.

      REMEMBER water weighs 8 Pounds Per GALLON. A 1/3dr full 30 gallon “Compost Barrel” as an example would have 80 plus gallons of sloshing water from all the torque your using to slosh it. WILL Loosen nailed together structures so use real bolts and lock nuts.

      In the sandbox we used a Rubbermaid two bucket MOP Bucket with a plunger and Mop Squeezer with great success. Twisted 550 cord under tension can replace clothes pins as our were always falling apart in the desert conditions and general GI behaviors. Removing wheels and screwing it on a table prevented back pain.

  14. I’m getting a cement mixer from HF and swapping out the 120 v ac motor for a 12 v dc one…as soon as the budget allows.

    1. Lauren I’ve found from using a hand cranked wringer from Lemans and a Rubbermaid mop squeezer that they both work well. However I’ve never broken buttons, or destroyed zippers using a mop squeezer.

      Price wise the mop squeezer is far cheaper and mine lasted the abuse of many GI’s over a year in the sandbox before we gifted it to our replacements as we left that dusty land.

      Both items do best when well secured as a wobbly wringer or mop squeezer is a pain to use in a hard day doing laundry.

      BTW we used Ivory Bar Soap as our primary laundry soap because we could get it and needed less rinse water than “Normal Clothing Detergents”.

      If your planning on recycling the wash water for fruit trees and such make sure your soap doesn’t say SODIUM based cleaners. Rome Salted Carthage to make sure that city would never rise again after they defeated them. Also plan on rotating that wash water to give each tree at least 2 weeks or a natural rain shower before reusing that grey water. Never reuse oily or greasy water, if you see a oil sheen it’s NOT irrigation water.

      Also BE CAREFUL not to use Borax Soaps, see Borax Comments for garden use.

  15. I saw a freestanding utility sink at Home Depot that has the ridges of a washboard built into the front. It’s definitely on my wish list! I wash several outer layer items by hand with Nikwax to preserve the waterproofing. A big utility sink with the built-in washboard would make it so much easier!

  16. Joe C,
    One more soap suggestion- was the bar soap ” White King Bleaching Soap”? It came in a black and white wrapper also. The soap was apparently made in Los Angeles or the Los Angeles area.