History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 October 2011

Home Sweet Home

As I write this, the exterior of my house is being power-washed. Streams of water are flushing down the cobwebs from under the eves, washing away insect trails, swooshing away ten years’ accumulation of dust that muddies the pristine blue paint. Yesterday, my housekeeper scrubbed the sinks, vacuumed the carpets, dusted the bookshelves, and generally blew a cleansing air through the place. She does this once a month, and inbetween times I am careful not to stain the kitchen sink with blueberry juice or let grease accumulate around my gas stove burners.

I have an easy life. My mother, however, and my grandmother and my great-grandmother worked like slaves to keep their houses clean. This wasn’t easy on ranches and farms, and even in town there was always cleaning to be done. Each year in the Fall, the cleaning got serious.

Mrs. Caroline Dunwoody was the cleaning expert of the 19th century, and this is what she recommends for Fall Cleaning:

1. Clean and clear out cellar and attic.
2. Wash all blankets and sun the heavy quilts.
3. Clean, mend, and put by furs, thick clothes, winter hats, and


winter bedding.
4. Remove, clean, and store summer slipcovers.
5. Wax the furniture.
6. Clean lamps and shades.
7. Hang carpets outside for a good beating and sun them for a day.
8. Sun and air mattresses and pillows.
9. Turn mattresses.

Fall was also the time for whitewashing the kitchen. Here is one recipe for whitewash: dissolve a pound of potash in a gallon of water, then add a pound of alum. When that dissolves, make a paste by stirring in a little flour until 10 pounds of flour are added. Slake [crumble] a bushel of lime. When cold, incorporate it with the first preparation. (The lime prevents fermentation.)

A cheaper “whitewash” combines 2 quarts of skimmed milk with 2 ounces of fresh lime which you stir until it resembles cream. Then you sprinkle 5 pounds of whiting [calcium carbonate] over the top, mix well, and apply with a paintbrush.

Washing blankets and woolens in the 1800s was real work. First, you put 2 heaping tablespoons of borax and 1 pint of soft soap [probably made at home from lye, lard, and wood ashes] into a large tub of cold water. Let the blankets soak for about 9 hours. Then rub and rinse, but do not wring out – that will ruin them. Hang in the sunshine to dry.

For mildew, rub the article with white vinegar and lemon juice; saturate the stain, then sprinkle salt on the area and scrub. Place in the sun to dry. Mrs. Dunwoody advises that “this may need a few treatments, but it does work; eventually the mildew will come out, but you must be patient.”

You know, I think I’ll buy some stock in corporations that manufacture washing machines . . .

Source: Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping.

1 Comments:

Blogger Lil said...

I had an aunt whose spring cleaning regimen included polishing the screens, and I once knew a man whose mother had him disconnect and remove all the huge cast-iron radiators twice a year so she could clean behind them.

I'm exhausted thinking about this. I fear I must lie down.

6:06 AM  

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