Forget The Wash Board

La Lavandaja

Washboards With Ridges

The old timey ridged washboard was not used to do laundry until the 19th century. Bucking, clapping and heating laundry is very effective when laundering linens.   Wash boards with ridges are something that came to the United States long after the Revolutionary War.

In France and Italy there are painting’s of women using smooth boards when doing their laundry and a couple examples of the boards. (Le arti per via / La Lavandaja and Les blanchisseuses italiennes), but no records, documents, images, or artifacts have been found that show the existence of ridged wash boards anywhere other than Scandinavia prior to the 19th Century.

Rubbing to Remove Dirt

The use of  rubbing to remove dirt, whether it be by scrub brushes or ridged boards, can harm the fibers.   Women’s and servants’ guides throughout the 18th century warn against using anything to scrub other than one’s hands because it could harm the fabric.

Scrub brushes are mentioned occasionally, but only in the context of admonishing servants NOT to use them on linens.( Chambers, Amelia. The Ladies Best Companion; Or, a Golden Treasure for the Fair Sex. No. 17, Pater-Noster-Row: J. Cooke, 1775. Print.)


There were boards that had ridges being used during the 18th century, however these boards were being used for fulling.  Waulking is the process of rubbing fabric on a board until it is fulled. In the print below you can see Scottish women fulling cloth in this manner using their hands, legs and feet on a ridged board (A link to information on the engraving here showing Scottish Walking. Waulking played such a strong role in Scottish culture that Scottish literature and music are littered with references. Songs were made just to help pass the time in fulling, these songs are called Waulking Songs.)

Walking Boards

In Germany, Austria and Hungary there are hand held ridged boards. The German name for them is”Walking Bord”. Tradition is that they were being used for fulling as well. The process was similar to that of using a mangle to smooth, but the ridges felted and fulled the wool. Some are two sided, and appear to be duel use; one side to smooth, the other side with ridges for fulling. These do not appear to be intended for scrubbing laundry.

Images of Walking Boards

(This is an article from the History Department at University of Insbruck in Austria. I have written requesting additional information.)

(Image of the Walking Bord on the left of this page is that of B. Nutz, Institute of Archaeologies, University of Insbruck, it was resized to fit the page. To see more of the Universities beautiful collection, please follow the link.)

Ridged Board Patent

When it comes to that ridged wash board the first evidence I have seen is a US Patent. Stephen Rust of Manlius, NY patented a “Wash Board” with “fluted tin, sheet iron, copper or zink” on the 9th of February 1833.Wash-Board Patent

Sources Include:

“Laundry Maid -Every Woman Her Own House-keeper; Or, The Ladies’ Library, Containing the Cheapest and Most Extensive System of Cookery Ever Offered to the Public. … Also, The Family Physician; Or, A Complete Body of Domestic Medicine”

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