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How to Use a Wringer Washing Machine

Joy has lived the old-fashioned way since 2010, when she and her husband bought a 1928 farm house, without improvements. What a journey!

This wringer washing machine has been going strong for well over 50 years of use.

This wringer washing machine has been going strong for well over 50 years of use.

Building Sweat Equity With a Wringer Washer

Using a wringer washing machine is easy once you understand the functions of your machine and what performance to expect.

I have used a wringer washer for almost two years now and can say I like it better in many ways than the automatic clothes washer I had before. It is energy-, water-, and soap-efficient, takes little time to use, and takes tough loads easily. (My family goes through lots of heavily soiled, outdoor-work clothes.)

There are several makes and models of wringer washing machines available (some are new), and while I have examined several, I have only owned two models. Both are from Maytag. One (shown in the photos here) appears to be a 1940 model (or earlier) and was found in a shed on the farmstead my family acquired.

The evidence left near it in the shed says it was originally gas-powered and has since been through at least two electric motors, with the third (still installed) being not far from needing to be rebuilt. So we concluded this machine probably was the one and only washer the previous resident ever owned. (We know, even at 90-something, that she never had an automatic washer.)

My second washer is a circa-1945 model and hasn't had nearly as many wash loads through it. It has some design differences but performs similarly to the first. It is the same machine my grandmother and mother sometimes used, and now it is my turn.

I will share with you some of the knowledge and tricks I have learned (mostly the hard way) for using a wringer washing machine after I moved into a thoroughly hands-on, rural lifestyle back in 2010, including the following:

  • What to expect
  • Water temperatures and wash times
  • Wringer features
  • Drain problems and other troubleshooting tips
  • More tips on wringer use
  • Using 1 vs. 2 wringer washers at a time
  • Avoid inserting these items
A fine wash day this is on my homestead, with the original settler's house in the background.

A fine wash day this is on my homestead, with the original settler's house in the background.

What to Expect

Using a wringer washer does require more commitment, physical strength, and time carved into blocks (rather than snatches) than an automatic washing machine. I prefer to commit a few hours once or twice a week to doing laundry rather than trying to do the smaller loads many of us have become accustomed to. The Monday Wash Day Blues makes more sense to me now than it did as a child!

What you will need in order to get successfully through a wash day:

  • 14–20 gallons of clean water
  • 2–3 laundry baskets (one large, and two medium or small are ideal)
  • Soap or detergent of your choice (I like to add a small amount of borax with the detergent)
  • A place to dry your clothes. My family of four uses at least 60 feet of clothesline, on average.
  • Stamina, patience, and cheerfulness
  • An easy-to-fix lunch

I have to haul water in buckets to my washer (which has since these photos were taken been placed indoors), so I don't like to use more than I have to. The trick to using only a small amount of water is to know in what order to wash your clothes. This may sound simple, but really, you have to pay attention.

Like this:

  • Whites and the cleanest things go in first
  • Light colors and the medium-dirty items go in next
  • Darkly colored clothes, things with dyes that bleed, and the dirtiest items go in last
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Washing laundry in this order means you can do a whole weeks' worth of laundry in one batch of wash water and one batch of rinse water, should you choose.

Strong springtime sun makes quick work of today's laundry, shining through the just-budding ash trees.

Strong springtime sun makes quick work of today's laundry, shining through the just-budding ash trees.

Water Temperatures and Wash Times

Should you have the luxury of using hot or warm water (I normally don't), starting with the white items is important. That way, by the time you get to the darker colored clothes, your wash water will have cooled enough not to harm them. (Should you be forced to wash in cool winter temperatures, be sure to have ready a place to warm your hands between loads.)

You determine wash times. You can let each load go as long or as short a time as you wish. Experience will tell you how long to let your dirtiest loads wash. While you are rinsing, it is usually not necessary to allow each load to agitate for more than a minute or two. Sometimes I don't bother to turn off the wringer at all but simply grab out items from the still-agitating washer, running them through as fast as the machine will operate. (However, some models don't have enough power to run both the wringer and agitator simultaneously, particularly with heavy loads.)

Wringer Features

There are several things you should know about your wringer. Of course, the first of these is, "Don't insert fingers into wringer!" Some terrible, gross things have happened to people who tried this. (Fancy having the skin peeled back off your whole arm? I don't either.) You should, of course, keep small children away from the washer while it is in motion.

To prevent injuries, and also to release stuck blue jeans and such, you should know how to quickly release (loosen) your wringer. Many models of wringer washing machines have a catch-release of some kind, which will allow you to instantly stop and separate your wringer rollers, to release anything which is stuck.

Some have a pop-up bar across the wringer frame, which, when hit, will cause the rollers to pop apart. Other models have a little bar on a pivot, which, when twisted one way, will allow the rollers to separate, and when twisted the other, will cause them to stay tightly together.

How to re-set your wringer for wringing action is another thing you should know before filling your washer for the first time. Some models have to be re-set by flipping the top half of the wringer frame all the way back, then forward again until it catches and the rollers come together. Others will not re-engage until the pivot bar is twisted in the correct direction. Look your model over until you see exactly what to do—don't wait until you have a disaster on your hands to try to learn.

To start the wringer action, there is typically a lever at one end of the frame which will start and stop the rolling and, when placed in "neutral" (straight up and down), will allow you to re-position your wringer where it will be most convenient. Some washer models allow only three different position settings; others allow you to put the wringer anywhere within a 360* radius.

The entire wringer can be lifted out of its place on the washer for repairs and adjustments. It is heavy!

Your wringer rollers can be adjusted to compress the clothes either more loosely or tightly. You will find the adjustment screws on the underside, and you will probably have to take the wringer off the machine in order to make adjustments. If you get it too tight, you will have trouble with jeans and heavy items; too loose, and smaller items will remain too damp.

Finally, your wringer will need to be oiled from time to time. Beware of drips shortly after having oiled it, and don't let clothes you especially care about touch the ends of the rollers for a while. (Beware of this anyway, as it invites snags.)

Drain Problems and Other Troubleshooting Tips

Most wringer washer drains are designed to both drain into buckets or be attached to a garden hos—whichever is more convenient in your setting. I find buckets to be the more convenient choice most of the time, but if you have a bad back and you can drain the water far enough away from your house not to create problems, the hose may be your better choice.

Many older wringer washers have hoses that have deteriorated some and/or kinked where they attach to the washer underneath. (Appropriate replacement hoses are not always easy to find.) You may have to pinch the kink back into shape at the start of each draining period to get maximum flow.

Also, your hose may sometimes get clogged with fuzz and gunk. (Many wringer washers are very efficient at not letting excess fuzz and "big chunks" down into the hose, but over time, build-up happens.) This is easily solved by cupping your hand around the end of the hose to create a clean seal and blowing hard until you release the clog. (If you don't have enough wind, use an air compressor.)

Finally, the agitator sometimes "pops" loose. In order to fix this, you may have to drain your wash load and then fit the agitator back into place. It may go in somewhat hard but will fit down tightly once you have it positioned correctly.

Just remember, whenever something goes wrong, there probably is a simple solution, which doesn't require a great deal of muscle. After all, while many wringer washing machines were designed by men, they were intended to be used by women, and therefore don't require a grizzly bear and a gorilla to fix.

Even proper wringing of clothes will not get them as dry as will the spin cycle on an automatic washer. Air flow is essential for hanging clothes.

Even proper wringing of clothes will not get them as dry as will the spin cycle on an automatic washer. Air flow is essential for hanging clothes.

More Tips on Wringer Use

Finally, before showing you a typical wash day from early spring/late winter 2010, I will explain a bit about how to insert clothes into your wringer. As mentioned, be careful when wringing out clothes, and keep fingers, hair, and loose clothing clear of the rollers.

Watch carefully as each item comes out the other side to ensure it doesn't get angled down underneath the rollers and wrapped up around them. (If this happens, stop and release the rollers, pull the item out, and start again. Reverse sometimes works, but only if you catch the mistake right away.) Run heavy items through twice when rinsing for faster drying.

  • Button-down shirts: Begin by inserting flattened collar, allowing the shirt to then follow naturally through toward the tail. This will take less time than inserting it sideways or sleeve-first, and will also prevent button damage and excessive wrinkling. For buttons—not snaps—be especially careful to overlap the non-button side of the shirt over the buttons to protect them.
  • T-shirts: Insert collar-first.
  • Blue jeans: Align waistband (no bunching), and start at a slight angle. This will allow the jeans to go through (hopefully) without snagging, bunching, or making you cuss. Larger jeans will naturally require more care than smaller pairs, and you will soon learn exactly how to handle each pair. Some zippers do best laid flat and aligned; others prefer to spread or fold down some. Consider solving the whole problem of crushing or ripping apart zippers by zipping and fastening each pair of jeans before it goes through the wringer.
  • Sheets, blankets, rugs, etc.: For sheets, begin with one corner and untwist out of the washtub as you go. Run through twice, shaking the sheet out the second time to get any bunching or twists free. Rugs and very heavy items should typically be folded lengthwise, if possible. If you find that you can't get something through the wringer, just haul it out in a basket or bucket, and pour or squirt fresh water over it as it hangs on the line to rinse it.
  • Delicates, lingerie, very light items: Run through in bunches, with items of similar weight, so that they get wrung out well. (Blue jeans and underwear aren't compatible!)

Using One vs. Two Wringer Washers at a Time

I have always gotten by with just one wringer washing machine at a time. However, many people prefer to use two—one to wash and one to rinse, as this speeds the process greatly.

If you only have one washing machine, option #1 is this:

First, wash a good, big batch of clothes, and let them all sit in a basket after having gone through the wringer once. Next, empty the wash water, and fill the machine with clear rinse water. Begin as at the first, rinsing and wringing your white/cleaner items and working your way down to the darker, heavier things.

Wring heavy items twice. As each rinse load agitates, you can hang out the previous load, keeping going a continuous cycle of rinsing and hanging until you are finished.

Wash day typically involves, for me, two to three hours of steady work, using no more than one batch of water.

Option #2 is this:

Get a five-gallon bucket 2/3 full of water, and dunk-rinse your clothes, wringing or squeezing them lightly by hand before sending them through the wringer on the machine and into your basket of clothes ready to hang.

Once you get your rhythm down, it is possible to get a week's worth of laundry for four people finished in about an hour. This method is very labor-intensive, but since I am not a fan of housework, this is my preferred method.

You'll want to put a T-shirt or rag under your bucket to keep from dripping on your floor (supposing your washer is indoors). Just wash and rinse the rag last of all your clothes.

Avoid Inserting These Items

  • Extreme delicates and some silks: the agitation motion is frequently too harsh and may stretch or tear the fabric.
  • Wool or denim quilts: usually too heavy and nearly too bulky. These are better washed outdoors in a washtub or in the bathtub.
  • Things with large buttons or other bulky decorations: they may not survive the wringer, and even if you don't mind mending buttons and such, you may never find them again once the wringer has either eaten or tossed them.

A Clean, In-Home Demonstration of a Wringer Washing Machine

A Thor Washer Washing Clothes

The Same Machine for Washing Dishes :-)

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do you remove the agitator of a washing machine? I have turned it counter clockwise, but not too far.

Answer: On the two wringer washers I have owned, the agitators lift straight up, with a bit of wiggling - but can be difficult, and may be stuck if the washer has been sitting a while in a shed or someplace dirty. Even with regular use, I find they're not always easy. It may be easier with some water in the tub to lessen the friction between the agitator and its post.

Question: Does the wringer washing machine go back together easily if it "pops" off with a bang? I can't seem to get the top roller back down again.

Answer: There is probably a reset mechanism. On some, there is a lever or plate on top which twists, bringing the rollers back together. The mechanism may be different on your washer. Sorry, I can't be more specific; I was frustrated by this the first time it happened, too. The roller popping apart is an important safety feature, so no one gets caught bad.

Question: Why won't my wringer washer agitate?

Answer: Supposing the motor is fine, try cleaning out from under the agitator, and reseat it. If it is not down on the post as far as it should be, it won't agitate.

Question: I have been looking all over for a wringer washer. Can you list any places to find them? I live in Ohio.

Answer: E-bay and Etsy seem to be good sources. Also, check out estate sales and old back yards/machinery piles.

Question: How can I get the rollers to match together in my washing machine?

Answer: Many washers have a tension screw or reset lever/plate on top of the roller mechanism. If this doesn't seem to be working, try lifting the top half of the roller frame away from the bottom, and reseat it level. It may lift away hard, especially if it's sitting askew. The rollers usually will have slightly different tensions end to end even when matched correctly, as a hand towel and a pair of jeans require different pressures.

Question: I just purchased a Crosley wringer washer. I turned it on, the pump works and I can hear the motor running but the agitator isn't working. How do I resolve the issues with my new washer?

Answer: Pull it out (wiggle it and lift straight up). Check if there are debris, mouse nests, etc. under it. Once it is clean, try reseating the agitator. If it's not all the way down, it won't engage correctly.

Question: Can I test my washing machine without water, just to see if it runs?

Answer: Yes, it shouldn't really hurt it for a few seconds, though there might be friction from grit under the agitator. If a longer test is required, add water, as there will be excess friction on parts inside.

Question: How can I find information on an early 1930’s Westinghouse Wringer Washer?

Answer: If you can find a type number and/or model number, you can try plugging these into an internet search. Numbers are likely to be located on the lower frame if it is a gas-powered washing machine. But if it is electric, they may be on the motor, stamped into an aluminum tag. Also, look on the side for a paper or paint tag, opposite of the agitator engaging button or rod.

Question: How do you drain the water out of the wringer washing machine? I can't find any kind of lever.

Answer: Typically there is no drain lever. There should be a drain hose. Sometimes this hose works in connection with a pump, sometimes only with gravity. It hooks up out of the way when not in use. If it seems to be clogged, try blowing through it backward using an air compressor or a set of very strong lungs. You may also need to remove the agitator (pull straight up and wiggle), in order to clear debris or lint.

© 2011 Joilene Rasmussen


Joilene Rasmussen (author) from United States on April 30, 2019:

I have never worked with a washer with such a pump before...but I'll ask around and see if a couple people I know have an idea.

barbara hanzuk on April 29, 2019:

i have 2 coranado [macloeds] wringer washers one i got going ok just had to replace the hose the other one which is more deluxe has a pump but i cant seem to get it tp agitate the pump and wringer both work i added gear oil what is your opinion of the problem it moves very little and you can hear the strain on the motor

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from United States on March 01, 2019:

Best of luck, then! If I hear of a suitable parts outlet, I will let you know.

beattywringer on March 01, 2019:

Thanks Joy at home and Joilene

Yes i have to replace a couple of hoses for sure and I got most of the plugged drain but still working on it. :) the washer works but the drain was plugged bad and the hoses to drain the tub are shot cracks and rips so i am going to need to replace :( i am sure i can just buy hose and fit them but would really like to order the drain lint catcher and maybe a few seals if I can and is why i am asking if anyone knows a place I can order from.