Directions for Making Old-time Cleaners

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, April 23, 1914: Ditto—Also went up to McEwensville this evening.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:


Are you still doing the spring housecleaning? At least you got to go to town in the evening. Did you visit one of your friends?

A hundred years ago people often made their own cleaning solutions rather than buying commercial products. Here are the directions in an old book:

Carpets, to Clean

Ingredients—1/2 pound of washing soda, 1 pound of yellow soap, 1 ounce of nitric acid, 1 gallon of water

Mode—Melt the soap and soda in the oven; then mix with the water and add the acid; with a clean scrubbing brush wash the carpet from seam to seam with this, doing only a small piece at a time, and rinsing and drying it as quickly as possible.

Floor Cloth (Linoleum), to Clean

Ingredients- 1/2 ounce of beeswax, turpentine

Mode- Shred the beeswax into a saucer, pour ever enough turpentine to cover it, and set in the oven until melted. Wash the floor cloth in the ordinary way, wait till dry, and rub lightly over with the wax and turpentine, then with a dry cloth.

Another way in which linoleum or floor cloth may be cleaned is by rubbing it over with milk when dried after washing.

Furniture, Polished, to Clean

Ingredients—1 ounce of white wax, 3 ounces of beeswax, 1 ounce of curd soap, 1 pint of turpentine, 1 pint of water boiled and allowed to get cold again.

Mode—Mix all the ingredients together, bottle, shake often, and do not use for two days. Dust the furniture well, rub the mixture on with a flannel, then polish with a duster and afterwards with an old silk handkerchief. A good furniture cream brought ready for use may be found to save trouble.

 Looking-Glass, to Clean

First take off fly stains or any other soils with a sponge damped with spirits of wine, or any other spirit, then dust over the glass with fine sifted powder blue and polish with an old silk handkerchief or very soft dry cloth.

Paint, to Clean

Dirty paint should have the dust removed first with the bellows, afterwards with a brush; it should never be wiped with a cloth, and the great secrets in cleaning paint are not to use much water and to dry quickly.

The water used should have a little soda or pearlash dissolved in it; and after dipping the flannel used in this, it should be wrung almost dry before being applied to the paint. Directly this is done (a small piece only being done at a time, unless two are at work, and one can rinse as the other washes) it must be rinsed with clean water and dried with a clean cloth.

Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book (1902)

Hundred-Year-Old Labor-Saving Cleaning Equipment and Devices

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 22, 1914:  Spent part of the day on my knees. Now I don’t mean I was trying to be good. I was cleaning house.

1914-12-28-aFor Wiping Up Wood or Tile Floors

This long handle has a row of rubber teeth on the crossbar at the end. When a wet cloth is laid on any floor this handle is used to push it, as the rubber teeth grip the cloth, and guide it over the surface. It makes the wiping up of many floors a very simple matter, as it is light, easily pushed and forces the cloth close to baseboards.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:


Whew, spring housecleaning can be hard work. Maybe you need some of the new labor-saving cleaning equipment featured in the December, 1914 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

According to the article these are “the newest labor-savers for women—and not one of them costs more than fifty cents.”

1914-12-28-bA Dustpan that Saves Sweeping

No need for a housekeeper to stoop for every paper and match provided she has this long-handled sanitary dustpan. The pan opens as it is set down, and closes as it is lifted. The sweepings need not be emptied until the pan is full. It can be carried, full, on one arm while both hands carry other articles.

1914-12-28-cWashes the Windows Faster

In this device are combined water pail, sponge, and drying cloth. There is a shallow reservoir of metal, with a sponge on one side and a rubber “squee-gee” on the other. The whole is mounted on a convenient handle and is especially useful for outside window cleaning.

Mailed Some Packages

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 16, 1914: Went up to town this afternoon to mail some parcel post packages. Oh dear me, and it cost eleven cents. Called on a friend and quite a sociable chat. Went to a lecture this evening in Watsontown.

Old postcard, circa 1914

Old postcard, circa 1914

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Seriously Grandma. . . You’re annoyed that it costs 11¢ to mail a package? . . .

Hmmm. . Now that I’m re-reading your diary entry, I almost think that you mailed several packages for 11¢. . . sound like a bargain to me.

A hundred years ago parcel post was the cool new thing. According to Wikipedia parcel post begin in the US in 1913.

You may also enjoy several previous posts that I did on parcel post:

Parcel Post Began in 1913

Getting Eggs and Butter in the Mail

Broke a “Relic”

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, April 13, 1914: Blue Monday. Yes it was. I broke one of Ma’s relics, and things got bluer yet. Made me feel real miserable.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:


Ouch. . . it’s no fun to break a family “relic.”

Was Ma really mad? . . . and then what happened then that made things even bluer?

Arbutus Still Not Blooming

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, April 12, 1914: Went to Sunday School this morning. A whole gang of us went for arbutus this afternoon. Didn’t get any though, for it’s just in bud. We had quite a walk in the bargain.


 Maybe the “gang” walked at this same spot a hundred years ago today. These woods and fields are across the road from the house where the Muffly’s lived.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma—names please. . . Who went with you? How many people? . . . all girls? . . . or were there some guys, too? . . .

What did you talk about? Did you joke and tease each other?

This was Easter Sunday. Two days prior to this entry you mentioned Easter hats, but when Easter actually arrived you didn’t mention it.  Why?


The previous Sunday (April 5) Grandma, her sister Ruth, and their friend Carrie Stout also searched for trailing arbutus:

We went for arbutus this afternoon, but only managed to find the buds. It is late this spring.

1914 must have been a late spring—just like 2014 has been a late spring.

Trailing Arbutus

Trailing Arbutus

A Pleasant Spring Evening

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, April 9, 1914:  Ruth and I have returned home after escorting Carrie back from where she came from. It’s awful nice out. The moon light makes it almost as light as evening.


Source: Wikipedia

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

A moonlit walk on a pleasant spring evening. . . What a lovely way to end the day!

Carrie Stout was a friend of Grandma and her sister Ruth who lived on a nearby farm.

Something doesn’t seem worded quite right with this diary entry. Grandma wrote that it was “almost as light as evening”–though she must have meant the daylight hours.


Popular Sheet Music a Hundred Years Ago

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 8, 1914: Nothing much. Don’t seem to have so much to do. My music lesson is easy for one thing.

Picture Source: Wikipedia

Picture Source: Wikipedia

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What songs was Grandma learning how to play? Maybe she had sheet music for some popular songs.

Sheet music published between 1911 and 1914 that I recognized included:


  • Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl that Married Dear Old Dad)


  • When Irish Eyes are Smiling


  • Peg O My Heart


  • By the Beautiful Sea
  • When You Wore A Rose and I Wore a Big Red Tulip

You can find the lyrics and recordings for these songs (and many more) on the Public Domain site, as well as on YouTube.


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