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)

26 thoughts on “Directions for Making Old-time Cleaners

  1. Bellows and Pearlash? I need to get to the market. I asked someone the other day, “What isle are the serviettes (dinner napkins). They had no idea what I was asking for. I guess language changes every generation and words get lost in the past.

    1. It’s sad that they don’t sell those nice thick, but soft, paper dinner napkins any more. In some ways it seems sad that language changes from generation to generation.

    1. I’m often amazed how people a hundred years ago apparently mixed up their own cleaning agents, as well as some of their own medicines. I’ve seen numerous “recipes” that list various chemicals as ingredients. Stores must have sold random chemicals back then

  2. I thought the same that as KerryCan: I’ve never heard of some of those ingredients! I echo the first comment: thank goodness for our modern day cleaners!

  3. All that turpentine makes me think of Pinesol cleaner.

    The bucket reminded me of our first showering arrangement. Dad put a shower head onto a calf feeding bucket. Worked well. No long showers, tho.

    1. Does Pinesol contain turpentine? It sure has a strong smell.

      Thanks for sharing the story about the improvised shower. It sounds like your dad enjoyed inventing useful things.

    1. It does sound time-consuming to have to mix up these cleaners. It seems like people would have been tired before they ever started actually cleaning.

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