Sandy Erdman: Laundry tools have come a long way

May 13, 2019

Growing up one thing I did with my mother was the laundry. We had a wringer and a box of Rinso and clotheslines. I wasn’t too tall as a little helper, so we had a little bench for me. My mother and I also had matching aprons that had big pockets to hold some of our clothespins that made a trip to the bag a little easier.

Soon that changed. We moved to a new home and my mother got an electric Maytag washer and dryer. Oh we still used the soap in the box, had the clothesline, clothespins and the bag for some outside laundry, such as the bed sheets. With the sprinkle bottle came the spray starch can to help make the ironing easier and take out those stubborn wrinkles. My mother always had my dad and I looking clean and crisp and smelling nice.

Today homes still have the washer and dryer, albeit high-speed efficiency models. Washboards hang on the walls as collectible decor. And air freshners come in scents of clean linen.

Collectible laundry items

Today, old boxes of detergent (much sought after for the advertising) can sell for around $20. Clothespin bags made from cotton cloth (flour sacks from the 1930s and ’40s) and are found today in fairly good condition, selling from $10 to $40. If you happen to have a vintage Gothamware plastic laundry sprinkler, they can sell, if not damaged, for around $18.

Laundry ads and brochures are also great collectibles and can be framed for the laundry room walls. Collectors are always on the hunt for these. Vintage magazines, such as Ladies Home Journal and the Woman’s Home Companion, often contain these ads.

Joan Thilges, owner of New Generations of Harmony, said, “I don’t remember Mom ever using a washboard, but I remember her using a wringer washer in the basement and standing over a galvanized tub with a wooden pole rinsing our clothes. Then she’d hang them on clotheslines in the basement to dry. I remember running my tricycle through the wet clothes. That’s a few years ago.”

Where to find

Clothespin bags and aprons can possibly be found in Grandma’s kitchen or laundry room drawers, at some estate and garage sales, auctions, flea markets, antique and second-hand thrift stores and websites. New clothespin bags are now being made by crafty gals using reproduction flour sack fabric, as are the aprons that hold the clothespins. If you do find some genuine vintage clothespin bags that don’t look like the kids dress, the price range is around $8 to $15. Some aprons that were half aprons were considered clothespin aprons and sold as such, but any full-size or half apron with large pockets can work just as well and even better.

Thilges said, “We were surprised how many items we had related to doing laundry at New Generations of Harmony. From laundry benches, tubs, stompers (laundry agitator), to a drying rack and wash board, we have so many things used for washing clothing. Irons, clothespin bags, copper boilers, even the starch and soap are scattered throughout the antique mall. Whether you use the tubs for planters and the clothespins to hang cards, you will find many useful items from earlier eras, even the clothespin bags for storing plastic bags.”

Shayna Dais, owner of Rusty Bucket, Winona, said, “I do wear aprons, mainly when I’m cooking something that splatters. I own three, all of them purchased at garage sales. Two are full aprons and one is a half apron. Of course we do sell several at the Rusty Bucket.”

Laurie Hanson Zoellner, of LaCrosse, Wis., said, “I like aprons, as they remind me of my childhood when all the ladies wore them. I miss those days. I have three aprons I have purchased mainly from Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona. They are two full and one half-apron.”