Victorian-era cleaning methods still work today
Long before organizational guru Marie Kondo was espousing her popular KonMari method and TV shows such as “Hoarders: Buried Alive” were entertaining audiences (exploiting mental illness?) with tales of unchecked accumulation, British households of the Victorian and Edwardian eras (circa 1837-1910) and beyond were already hip to the life-changing magic of tidying up.
“By the 1920s, advice manuals were urging readers to jettison clutter for streamlined furniture,” writes author Lucy Lethbridge in the recently released “Mind Your Manors: Tried-and-True British Household Cleaning Tips.” “Extravagant decorative details were out because they so easily became ‘dust nets.’” Easy-wipe surfaces made of industrial materials — steel, chrome, enamel — became the norm in kitchens and bathrooms, and in the early 1900s, the domestic vacuum cleaner came along to better deal with dust, thus upping the standards for household cleanliness.
Chalk it up to “Downton Abbey” fever, but we find it fascinating to learn that — before the invention of everyday cleaning products like Windex, Lysol and Pine-Sol — British estates maintained what Lethbridge calls “their white-glove perfection.” Even more interesting, many of the cleaning methods she unearthed from servants’ memoirs and housekeeping guides feel super modern in their eco-friendliness and simplicity. For instance, Brits way back when were using basic ingredients such as lemon juice, white vinegar and baking soda to clean just about anything. And while few people these days use stewed rhubarb or boiled figs to treat rust, or a mixture of gin and water to clean mirrors, the more eco-conscious among us do keep drains free of gunk with a combo of baking soda, white vinegar and boiling water (versus the harsh chemicals of, say, Drano). There are other books and Real Simple articles that contain much more info on cheap, natural cleaning methods, but “Mind Your Manors” does a nice job of mixing quirky historical facts with timetested tips.
W.W. NORTON & COMPANY “Mind Your Manors: Triedand-True British Household Cleaning Tips,” by Lucy Lethbridge.