Growing up in the 70s, I have seen a wringer washer work, first-hand. There was a large handle on the side that my mother would crank with vigor, as her Sears cotton sheets would slide through the tight opening, purging them of excess water for the clothesline.

This begs the question: how can you- or I-  wring clothes without a wringer? The obvious answer is to look at how it was done before the inception of the wringer washer when a little elbow grease and a swift stream were all that was needed to get clothes clean. While times have changed, the benefits as well as the drawbacks of this routine process merit mention.

So, how can you wring clothes without a Wringer?

If you do not have an actual wringer, you do have the option of wringing out clothes by hand, which is how it was done for generations prior to the invention of the first wringer washers. Stomping on clothes was an effective way of scrubbing stains and wringing out the excess water before hanging in the sun to dry. Hand wringing is the most pragmatic alternative to using a wringer machine, followed by a few hours on a clothesline in the sun and breeze.

What You Should Know About Wringer Washers?

Let’s put old wringer washers in some historical context: years ago, people used water primarily to get their clothing clean. The apparel was soaked and pounded by rocks or stamped by their feet to remove stains, and then, to remove the water when they were finished. It wasn’t until later that these same folks realized the benefits of adding other elements to the water, primarily detergent or soap. It bears mention that the Romans took this a bit further when they added lye, whitewash, and human urine to their ‘laundry’ to clean and sanitize the wash.

The earliest wringers were not wringers at all but typically paddles and sticks that were used to beat their clothing into submission- and to remove the excess water from the garments. Washboards came next and these were used to vigorously rub the clothing clean- as the washing machine would not be invented until later, around 1700s, by a British ingenue.

Eventually, this washer was replaced by a machine in the 1800s that squeezed each article of clothing between two boards or rollers, which would scrub the item clean. The problem was that this process could be damaging to the fibers in the fabric due to the harsh agitation and sweat equity of whoever was using it. Plus, it was hard work!

It was very physically rigorous and could take up to 15 hours to soak, wash, and wring garments for the clothesline. Wringers became essential due to the arduous nature of doing laundry and how labor-intensive the task could be, particularly for large families or households during winter months or inclement weather.

How to Wring your Laundry?

When considering the best approach and technique for wringing clothes, it helps to consider the process before machines. Think about the earliest settlers going down to the river to trample and beat their laundry, utilizing rocks and other hard surfaces to scrub and then wring clothes dry.  In early manual wringer washer models, clothing and laundry are fed through two rollers using a hand-crank, and later, with gas or electricity.

Many users would utilize a plunger to agitate and create a wash-cycle, if you will, to complete the task and get their wash clean. These hand-operated wringers often slid on the sides of a washtub, creating an all-in-one device to get laundry clean and wrung-dry.

This made simpler work of large items like bed sheets or towels, which could be challenging to remove water from when squeezing each garment using just your hands.

Today, if you are not using a traditional or contemporary wringer, you likely will wring clothing out by-hand. This is achieved by squeezing as much moisture as possible from the garments, fabrics, or textiles with a twisting, wringing motion, and done to prepare the laundry for the next phase in the process: drying. Can this be hard on your hands? Most definitely, and depending on the detergent or additives you use in the wash, it could be irritating and aggravate skin sensitivities.

Pros and Cons of Wringing Out Laundry

It makes sense to remove water from the wash in order for it to dry more quickly; plus, removing the excess moisture makes the laundry significantly lighter and less heavy to handle, hang, and deal with, overall. Wringing out the excess moisture can be done by hand but will require some physical effort, which could be considered a drawback by some.

Many people circumvent the labor intensity by coming up with short-cuts that can remove moisture without as much work or potential damage to delicate fibers and fabrics. Here are some tips and suggestions:

  • Keep your laundry loads small. Remember the heft and weight of these items when they are saturated with water.
  • Remember those wringing items like knits and jerseys can cause stretching. Do any of your clothes appear misshapen or stretched-out? This may be from how you are laundering them.
  • Lay your apparel flat and wring the water by pressing firmly on each section of each garment. This will prevent stretching or damage that can occur from the act of wringing out water from the items.
  • Another method is to roll the wet garment into a log-shaped object that you can then twist in either direction to wring-out excess water. This may also apply pressure and agitation to stubborn stains or spots, possibly removing them from your garment.

Note that not all fabrics should be laundered in this manner, and if you have delicate garments, it may make the most sense to have them professionally cleaned if you lack modern washing utilities, like a washing machine.

Ready to Dry?

Remember: Wringing does not dry your clothing but merely removes excess moisture to expedite the drying process. For this reason, a solid and sturdy clothesline is prudent.

Sure, most contemporary homes have some access to an electric or gas clothes dryer- and yes, these machines are extraordinary. First, they cut down the drying time to a mere fraction of what it could take blowing on a line in the breeze, and second, they remove the influence that weather can have over whether your clothes dry or not.

Oddly enough, though, many people with their own laundry dryers choose to hang clothing on a line for the fresh smell and tactile experience that outdoor air drying brings to their apparel, linens, or other fabrics.

Naturally, if you live next door to a fast-food franchise or have a firepit positioned near your clothesline, the fresh and pleasant smell afforded your laundry may not be as prevalent.

Laundry hung outside to dry is going to take on the smells and environmental influences of what is around the clothesline; keep this in mind when planning and positioning your line.

Wringing out the excess water from garments before they are hung makes them dry a lot faster, changes the way the clothes feel after they are dried, and reduces the heft or weight of the laundry, making it a lot easier to manage.