logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Cleaning in working class
houses in the 1900s

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Keeping the floors clean

Woman scrubbing on her hands and knees, early 20th century

Woman scrubbing on her hands and knees.

The floor covering in most of the rooms on the Huxley estate of Victorian-style houses was oil-cloth.

My mother swept this oilcloth with a broom. Sometimes she sprinkled damp tea leaves over it first to settle the dust. This was called 'laying the dust'.

My mother washed the oil cloth on her hands and knees using a scrubbing brush and soapy water.

Sunlight carbolic soap used with washing soda for the weekly wash before the age of detergents.

Sunlight carbolic soap, used with hot water and washing soda before the age of detergents.

old scrubbing brush, bristle in wood

Scrubbing brush.

The scrubbing brush was bristle set in a wooden handle. The soap was, as always, Sunlight carbolic soap - the same block that we used to wash ourselves. The water was softened with a few crystals of washing soda, as water where we lived in Edmonton was hard. The hot water came from the copper in the scullery or from a kettle over the kitchener fire.

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Dusting surfaces

There is nothing in my mother's recollections about dusting, although her mother must have done it. My mother may have felt that the process was no different to how women dusted in the 1980s when she wrote her recollections. She certainly mentions her mother using a duster in another context. If you can add any information, please let me know.

Pat Cryer, webmaster, and daughter of the author

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Keeping rugs clean

old carpet beater for beating the dust out of carpets - common in the early 1900s

Carpet beater

There were a few rugs.

Tea leaves were squeezed almost dry and then sprinkled onto them to lay the dust. There were no such things as a vacuum cleaners or carpet sweepers. All the cleaning had to be done by hand with a carpet brush.

In good weather the rugs were cleaned more thoroughly by hanging them on the washing line to let the sun and wind get at them. Sometimes they had a good clean by being beaten while on the line. There were special cane carpet beaters sold specially for the purpose. Clouds of dust came out this way.

In the winter, the rugs were given an extra clean by dragging them over the snow, just quickly enough for them not to get too wet. In the early 1900s when I was a child, it seemed that you could always rely on several snowfalls every winter.

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Cleaning the Venetian blinds

Old wooden venitian blinds in Victorian houses in the early 1900s

Wooden venetian blinds at windows in the early 1900s.

There were no curtains at windows, only the wooden Venetian blinds.

The venetian blinds were made of wooden slats which were heavy and not flexible. So when they were washed, each slat had to be removed separately and washed individually. The copper would seldom have been lit specially, so it was a job which had to be fitted round other jobs that needed hot water, like the Monday wash. Once washed, the slats had to be dried and polished with a clean duster.

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Washing up

Like so much of the other cleaning, washing up was done with hot water, Sunlight soap and a few soda crystals in an enamel bowl. The soda prevented scum forming, but the cups and forks in particular needed a good rinse to wash off the soda, which had a horrible taste.

The washing up was done at the scullery sink. There was a wooden draining board.

There were no non-stick saucepans or cooking pots and no rubber gloves. Women used dishcloths and wire-wool for washing up.

My mother does not say where the hot water came from on hot summer days when it would have been unbearable to light a fire. According to Anne Davey who was evacuated in World War Two, the hot water in the summers of the 1940s came from a primus stove.

Can you imagine what women's hands must have been like with all this washing?

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.