Vic­to­rian-era clean­ing meth­ods still work to­day

The Daily Herald - - HOME & GARDEN - By Laura Pear­son Chicago Tri­bune

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.

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