What is a Ringer Washer?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

The wringer, or ringer washer, is a precursor to the modern washing machine. Introduced in the early years of the 20th century, the typical ringer washer included a vat for washing clothing, a simple agitating system recessed in the vat, and a washboard and ringer combination. Considered to be an innovative appliance at the time, this type of clothes washer made the process of cleaning clothing a much easier task for many households.

One function of a ringer washer is to remove as much water from items before they are hung on a clothesline.
One function of a ringer washer is to remove as much water from items before they are hung on a clothesline.

In appearance, the ringer washer featured a body that was composed of a vat mounted on four legs. Many models included rollers or caster wheels on each leg, making it possible to move the washer from storage when needed. Built into the vat was a simple agitating device, located in the middle area. The agitator normally had two extended flaps that would move the clothing around during the operation of the washer. At the base of the machine was a drainage valve that made it possible to remove water from the vat once the washing process was completed.

The early ringer washer also included handy tools that were attached to the top of the vat, normally on one side. A sturdy washboard provided the ideal place to scrub stubborn stains on shirts and other garments before immersing them in the wash water. In order to wring as much water from the clothing as possible before hanging them on an outdoor clothesline, a wringer composed of two sturdy rollers and a crank handle was provided. After the clothing was washed, it was ran through the rollers, effectively squeezing out the excess water, which dropped back into the vat.

Original designs for the ringer washer used the newly harnessed electricity in order to operate. A single power cord with equipped with a wall plug ran from the washer to the power source. Once the vat was filled and the clothing immersed in the water, washing soap was added and the device was turned on. The agitator moved the clothing back and forth in the filled vat, helping to remove dirt and grime from the clothing.

Later designs mechanized the wringers, eliminating the hand crank. By flipping a switch, it was possible to start the motion of the ringers and run the wet clothing through with relative ease. Due to some accidents involving the electrical rollers, a hand guard was added to the last generation of these types of washers.

Draining water from a ringer washer involved opening the drain located near the base of the unit. Many models include a fixture where a hose could be attached, making it possible to control the flow of the water as it left the vat. Other models were set up to allow the water to drain into a bucket, which could then be dumped into the sink or out of doors.

Over time, the ringer washer was replaced by the modern washing machines of today with their multiple washing cycles and spin technology. However, it is still possible to purchase replica editions of the ringer washer from a few select vendors. The replicas are fully operational devices to clean clothes and may be ideal for use at a lake cabin or other location where plumbing or space restraints make the installation of a modern clothes washer impractical.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I remember some ringer washers actually had gas engines instead of electrical plugs. My grandmother still used a ringer washer when I was a child, and I remember the clothes ringer would scare me to death. it was two long wooden rollers with very little space between them. Grandma would crank the rollers with one hand and feed clothes between the rollers with the other. They came out flat as a board at the other end. We all got our fingers pinched in that device at least once.

My mother used one of the last ringer washers available during the late 60s or early 70s. The rollers were made out of rubber, and they turned by electric motor. There was a metal guard that kept up from sticking our fingers too close to the ringers. I still think the ringers did a better job of removing excess water than the new spinning drums.

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