Washing Laundry the Hard Way in the 1950s


My Mum has superbly accepted my challenge to remember her life and how very different it is for modern day housewifes. My parents married in 1950, and their first home was a little thatched cottage – a tied home – with no electricity and an old Victorian range. Here she gives an insight to how the laundry was done.

Their first home in Herriad, Hampshire
Their first home in Weston near Micheldever, Hampshire. The other end of that thatched house belonged to the neighbours who lived in the right side (as you look at it in the photo). The outhouse is out of sight to the left of the photo but looks exactly the same. The thatched cottage and both outhouses have been razed.

Washing was done in an outhouse, summer and winter in a boiler. The boiler had to be emptied by hand when it was cold from the last lot of washing. It needed to be filled with cold water. Then a fire had to be lit underneath it with paper and kindling wood. Then when the wood had ignited the fire was fed with small lumps of coal. When the water was hot, all white stuff was put in to boil. The soap was either Carbolic soap for the mens’ working clothes or Sunlight soap. We bought it in bars and then had to add it grated to the hot water. Hand washing was done with the left over hot water after the sheets, pillowcases and nappies were boiled. It all had to be lifted out with a stout “copper stick” (too hot to touch by hand). It was taken into the kitchen and rinsed two or three times with cold water and all rung by hand unless one was fortunate enough to have a big mangle to pass the clothes through. First roll was to get the hot soapy water out then repeated each time the clothes were rinsed by hand. A long arduous job. If the weather was fine and a good breeze blowing the clothes soon dried. If not, it meant drying the clothes indoors wherever there was room to string lines across the room. Sometimes it took a couple of days to get the clothes dry in the winter and rainy times. Then there was the Primus stove to light to heat up the solid iron irons. Pressing the clothes was a bit dodgy if the irons were too hot. Touching the bottom of the iron with a moist tip of the finger told you if it was just hot enough or too hot. Pressing shirts could be a bit tricky. Not to scorch them and keep them damped to make it easier to iron out all the creases when the weather was hot and the shirts dried too quickly.

A mangle for removing water from laundry (Photo from the website Join Me In The 1900s

Hand washing meant filling up a bucket by hand with the soapy left over water, carried from the outhouse into the kitchen and the sink filled with the soapy water till it was enough. As we only had cold water on tap it could be cooled down. Using the freezing cold water to rinse by hand in the winter played havoc with the hands as they were blue with cold and often badly chapped. A tin of Vaseline was the ideal standby to help with the “chaps” as well as for sore babies bottoms. The washing was hung out on the line if possible, summer and winter. Winter produced freezing weather and cold winds. Then it was better to dry it indoors making it difficult to walk around the only room where the heat was from the Range as it meant having to weave in and out of the washing that was hung up.

When I could afford it I bought a packet of LUX soap flakes for the babies woolies and clothing as it was less harsh. It was used sparingly to make the packet last as long as possible because of the expense.

I will tell you in the next post how much easier life was for doing washing etc in the house were I was brought up in Fareham.

Next post in this series: Using and Cleaning the Kitchen Range

3 thoughts on “Washing Laundry the Hard Way in the 1950s

  1. Akenfield by Blythe had a couple of great bits about household drudgery in it. In particular I remember a harried mama who couldn’t, physically couldn’d change the routine for weather. Washing had to be Monday, drying Tuesday, ironing Wednesday or she felt she would lose her mind. That always sticks with me, especially when I’m throwing a few shirts into the machine with a prepackaged bubble of detergent and a scoop of detergent booster and wandering away to check blogs.

  2. Thanks. Fascinating insight into the hard, hard work involved in every day life not so long ago. Pleased to have found your blog and I’ll return to read more. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (plugged in now).

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