I’ve long had a fascination with the old wringer washers. I can still recall the sounds of our upstairs neighbor’s machine, whirr, clunk, brrrrr and the fresh smells of washing powder and soap on wash day. Hers was electric but the idea of hand powered is gaining popularity among off-the-grid folks.
According to Consumer Reports, your standard washing machine uses 40-45 gallons of water per load. An old wringer washer uses 8 to 10 plus two smaller tubs of rinse water. So…I began gathering a few facts about wringer washers that I’d like to share:
- Folks who use them swear the clothes get cleaner. I’ve seen this in every blog post, every website and have heard it from actual users.
- Load size is only slightly less but the coolest thing is you reuse the soapy water for several loads; just change the rinse water.
- You can save even more water by using the old rinse water when you are ready to change your soapy water. And, old rinse water could be put on your lawn or in the rainbarrel if you are using mild soap. In fact, I hear it can be good for your grass/garden because it will get rid of certain pests and won’t hurt the plants.
- You can save energy even with the electric or gas-powered models because you wash the clothes in less time.
- If you opt to, you can get a hand-wringer and burn some calories, and if you go with hand-powered all the way, you can burn even more in the washing process! Check out this clever fellow’s bike-powered washing machine!
How to use a wringer washer
Hand-powered models use your elbow grease and a big plunger or agitator arm to churn the water, but here’s how to use an electric or gas-powered one:
- Set up your washer near a water source and leave room for two tubs of rinse water nearby.
- You will need access to a drain. The small portable hand-powered models I found such as the little Wonder Washer could use the bathtub drain but for normal-size electric washers, just use the basement sink or drain.
- Separate your clothes to wash them in loads lightest (whites) to darkest colors. Make sure any zippers are zipped and buttoned and turn them inside out so they don’t damage or get caught in your wringer later.
- Put in your soap and fill your machine with water (hot for whites, warm or cold for others). Fill your two rinse tubs with cold water. Add a half-cup vinegar to the first rinse tub to help get all the soap out.
- Turn your wringer washer on and add clothes one at a time. Fill it just enough so that the clothes have room to swish. You don’t want to overfill so that they just sit there.
- Let them agitate for about 15 minutes. Really dirty stuff can go for about 20 minutes, but that’s all the time you need.
- Turn off the washer. Make sure zippers are still zipped. Position your rinse bucket or a basket near the wringer to catch the clothes. Be careful not to get your fingers in the ringer. Modern wringers have safety mechanisms but the old ones can really hurt you!
- Swish the wrung clothes in the rinse water and wring them again into a basket or put the next rinse bucket there for the second rinse. Repeat the wringing into a basket and then hang your freshly cleaned clothes on a clothesline.
- Do your next loads just like that. No need to change the soapy water. Change rinse water as needed.
- Lehman’s sells electric and gas-powered Home Queen wringer washers and refurbished Maytag models. And, the mighty little Wonder Washer is good for small loads and travel, but it is plastic and, well, I hate plastic. The Mean Green Washing Machine offers a completely hand-powered agitator and wringer and has a metal body.
How much do wringer washers cost?
Ebay and Craig’s list are other options for finding wringer washers. The Home Queens from Lehman’s cost the most, more than $900 if you get everything (washer and wringer). The mean green machine sells for $500 for the whole kit and kaboodle (washer and wringer). The little Wonder Washer fits anywhere and only costs about $50.
I found several wringer washer videos on the web, but my favorite is this grandpa showing his grandson how it used to be.