A red washcloth is practical if you're living an active life. But the symbolism is just as important to me.

The Red Washcloth

Do you have a red washcloth?

When I was a kid, there was always a red washcloth hanging on the back of the bathroom door.

You see, my mom realized that if you lead an active life, cuts and scrapes come with the territory. Hence the red washcloth — if there was blood, you were supposed to use the red washcloth and not one of the pretty white or yellow ones. Any stains would just blend in with the red washcloth.

I don’t want to make her out as uncaring (or abusive) but mom believed that a parent’s duty was to raise kids with the necessary skills to be independent — and that happened as early as possible.

And to her (me too!) there are far worse things in life than a few cuts and scrapes or even broken bones.

Being afraid to try something new, being afraid of being hurt, being afraid of failure.

You certainly wouldn’t call her (or my dad, for that matter) overprotective — and I mean that in a good way. Instead, they gave me the skills to cope with problems on my own.

At a very early age — I forget just when but probably around kindergarten age — Mom taught me to treat my own cuts and scrapes as well as how to tell when I needed help. If Mom saw me coming home with a bloody knee or hopping to keep a cut foot out of the dirt (there were lots of clam shells in the lake and small cuts were common) she wouldn’t come running and make a fuss over me. She’d just remind me to go in the back door (where there was linoleum from there to the bathroom) and “use the red washcloth.”

Funny as it sounds, that red washcloth probably plays a big role in my adventurous spirit today. I learned that while you might get injured doing something, it wasn’t necessarily a disaster — Mom’s calm hands-off approach made me realize I could deal with an awful lot on my own. Overwhelmingly, the end result has been worth the risk — or reality — of injury. I’ve had all sort of wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I wanted to be safe.

And one of the first things that I laid out to take to Barefoot Gal, our new boat?

A red washcloth is practical if you're living an active life. But the symbolism is just as important to me.

A red washcloth is practical if you're living an active life. But the symbolism is just as important to me.

I'd like to know about...

Explore more

Want weekly tidbits of cruising information? Sign up for The Boat Galley's free weekly newsletter. You'll get the newest articles and podcasts as well as a few relevant older articles that you may have missed.

Do you find The Boat Galley useful? You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost for you!

48 Comments
  • Ruth
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Fantastic idea for the house, especially now with grandkids, but I’ll be sure to bring one to the boat, too! Thanks.

  • Lavinia Maggs
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    I thought this was going to be some new product that you found (maybe with antibacterial qualities?). Instead, it was a glimpse into something personal about you – something very special. Thank you for sharing this- I still learned something new- but enjoyed the way it was delivered!

  • Janine
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Funnily enough, I don’t have a red washcloth, but for similar reasons I grew up with white. Mum’s theory was….use the white ones because they could be bleached! To this day, I have white sheets and shorts etc. And plenty of scars to go with it.

  • Chris
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Your Mom was a wise woman.

  • Ann Capehart
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Thanks or sharing! We will be cruising in Florida next winter on our 26 foot cabin cruiser and I hope that we can meet you. I have read probably 200 of your amazing articles. Thank you thank you!

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Love this idea and the symbolism behind it,. Thanks for sharing.

  • Page Escallier
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    What a great story! I have it on my purchase list along with many things you’ve recommended! 😀

  • Steve A
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Beautiful post. One of my favorites so far.

  • S/V Dos Libras
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Love it!

  • Anne Ellingsen
    Posted at 02 June 2014 Reply

    Good tip!

  • D and Don svsoutherncross
    Posted at 03 June 2014 Reply

    CAROLYN – thanks so much for giving all of us a glimpse into your childhood , which made up the real you. What a good idea. Makes me wonder why my Mom didn’t think of it. She had all sorts of wise ideas.
    Example: on a clothes line if you hang out any shirts with buttons; hang from the bottom (hem side) up on the line. When attaching the three clothes pins, of course attach two of the pins on either side at the side seam first. Then for the middle pin, take the side of the shirt that has the buttons on it and lap it over the placket side (where the button holes are) so the that pin marks will be hidden when you wear the shirt.

  • Jason
    Posted at 05 June 2014 Reply

    Green would be equally as good for cuts a scrapes..

    After all it is why scrubs are green as blood does not show up as red on green.

    Kind regards

    • Gwendolyn Webster
      Posted at 14 November 2015 Reply

      Wow! I had no idea. Thanks for the tidbit 🙂

  • Elizabeth
    Posted at 06 June 2014 Reply

    I love this story Carolyn. Mom’s are awesome!
    Thank you in case you did not see my response to you on my site for catching my big typo on Propane. Sometimes my brain and my hands are in two different arenas. Thank you so much for letting me know!

  • Ruth Golden
    Posted at 06 June 2014 Reply

    Because of this post, I bought four red washcloths; two for the boat and one for each grand child’s family. Good advice and a good read.

  • Carolyn Shearlock
    Posted at 06 June 2014 Reply

    Ruth — how wonderful!

  • Wilma Jones
    Posted at 07 June 2014 Reply

    Great idea! My sons are almost grown now, but it’s good tip for me. I am always hurting something at kickball or something. Visiting from the SITS girls.

    http://www.LivingHappierAfter.com

  • Nicola
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    This is great and I know that you are a tough cookie, so it worked well. What color washcloth do you use for broken bones?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

      Any color. In the freezer to use as an ice pack. Frozen peas also work, or just a cold beer and a roll of duct tape. It’s a good idea to put another cold beer IN the patient, although maybe not for kids!

  • Diana K Weigel
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    Too many parents have forgotten that the primary mission of their job is to raise independent and self reliant kids so they are independent and self reliant adults.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

      And unfortunately, too many think that if you are raising an independent and self-reliant kid, you’re being a neglectful parent. C’mon, kids can’t walk a block or two by themselves?

    • Diana K Weigel
      Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

      Completely backwards! No wonder so many young adults are living with their parents.

  • Hazel Peterson
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    Well done Your Mum. I expect she also taught you that clean clothes don’t grow on trees – and that meals don’t appear by magic three times a day. I’m with your mum – helping kids to learn skills so they can cope with life is a great gift that parents can give.

  • Georgi Wellington
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    Wonderful idea!

  • Georgi Wellington
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    Wonderful idea!

  • Terri Zorn
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    Gee we must be related. 🙂 my mother’s was red also; sometimes navy blue. The lessons were the same as yours and I have tried to pass the legacy to my children. I totally agree with Hazel PetersonPeterson and Diana K Weigel…..must be a generational thing. 🙂

  • Roger Johnson
    Posted at 16 April 2015 Reply

    I’m getting one for our daughter, Christine Johnson!!

  • Christine Kaineg
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    I love this so much. My was the same way and I learned so much about being a strong, self sufficient woman from her approach to cuts and bruises!

  • Juli Russell
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    Great story! Love it!

  • Barbara Garter
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    I agree one hundred pecent

  • Barbara Garter
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    I agree one hundred pecent

  • Kat Lundquist
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    I like this Levey Peterson.

  • Dan Stiens
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    Nathaniel Mitchell

  • Needlegirl
    Posted at 26 April 2015 Reply

    I had always heard the reason for a red washcloth was that when washing a minor wound that was oozing blood, the blood wouldn’t show up as much, and the injured child would be less anxious and upset because he/she wouldn’t see all that bright red blood. It could actually be a very caring, sensitive thing to do for a child, not just a concern about blood stains on a light-colored “good” washcloth……

  • Fred Christoffel
    Posted at 14 November 2015 Reply

    I was a college professor for over 30 years and you could see the difference from when I began teaching to the year I retired. You could also see the difference in those students who were allowed to fail, who when they scrape their knee were told to rub some grass on it and take a lap instead of being rushed to the doctor. I would watch students leave college level classes and call mommy or daddy to say how unfair heir professor was. As a former department chairman I fielded
    calls from angry parents who were just sure heir Timmy or Susie was being treated unfairly. Give me a break, not everyone is an A student and not everyone gets a trophy in the real world; whatever that is.

    It’s hard as a parent to not want to protect your children and fight their battles but you’re setting them up for failur, or worse a life living in your basement.

    Oops sorry went off on a bit of a rant. I guess I deserve a juice box and some gram crackers..

  • Cynthia
    Posted at 14 November 2015 Reply

    When I was about 10, living in a well-to-do neighbourhood, I used to grab my machete and go off with my chums & siblings for the day to build tunnels & forts in the brambles across the street. Nowadays I’d probably be shot.

  • Gwendolyn Webster
    Posted at 14 November 2015 Reply

    Thank you, Carolyn! We just got back from that harbor after a 2 week Keys trip. What a blast! And, I’m picking up a red washcloth for my grandkids on the boat 🙂

  • Cindy Wallach
    Posted at 14 November 2015 Reply

    Love it! We just have a bunch of blood stained light blue towels. Haha! Your mom was very wise in many ways.

  • Candy Ann Williams
    Posted at 14 November 2015 Reply

    Thanks for sharing!! I feel fortunate to have been raised that way too… But we didn’t have a red washcloth…we needed one though… Lol!

  • Rox Adams
    Posted at 15 November 2015 Reply

    Have a red wascloth, hand towel and bath towel from my brother’s

    • Rox Adams
      Posted at 15 November 2015 Reply

      Navy day. Are great for the dog and her variety of ailments.

  • Oh Sail Yes
    Posted at 15 November 2015 Reply

    Whoo Hoo! I couldn’t agree more! The adventures that my kids have gotten up to over the years is crazy 🙂 They made it through thus far with only one set of stitches, so we must be doing okay!

  • Anne Whiting Richardson
    Posted at 15 November 2015 Reply

    This is the perfect article for me this morning. I needed someone to say toughen up and you did it perfectly. Thanks.

  • Ruth Golden
    Posted at 11 March 2016 Reply

    I love this idea; we have them on our boat.

  • Dan N Jaye
    Posted at 11 March 2016 Reply

    Sweet story, Carolyn!

Post A Comment