Dusting Through the Decades

Timeless suggestions for spring cleaning

Jeff Amberg

And this mess is so big 

And so deep and so tall, 

We cannot pick it up. 

There is no way at all!

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

The antics described by Dr. Seuss in The Cat in the Hat was a fantasy all homeowners dared not  dream of in the 1960s — the possibility that maybe, just maybe, one day their housework would be done by a nine-armed robot! While people around the world are still hoping that an octopus-like robot will glide through their homes and restore them to a glistening showplace, for now bagless vacuum cleaners, quiet dishwashers and disposable, pop-up sanitizing cloths will have to do. Fortunately, homemakers today have the advantage of gleaning insight from reliable wisdom about the trade as well as modern cleaning techniques. For this year’s spring cleaning, try some of the following timeless tips as well as newer discoveries. 

While modern products and gadgets have significantly eased the workload, there was a time not long ago when cleaning meant putting some muscle into the work. “My mother kept heavy rugs on the floors,” explains 92-year-old Brooksie Mays. “In the spring, we took them outside, spread them across the clothesline and beat them with the rug beater. Then, we would roll up the rugs and store them in the basement or attic. Sometimes we would put down rattan rugs –– or no rugs at all –– for summer.”

Vinegar has been a popular cleaning agent through the ages. Frances Tupper, fellow nonagenarian, says, “We always used vinegar to clean the faucets and surrounding tile. Likewise, we used newsprint and vinegar to clean the windows.” 

Vinegar is also popular for cleaning ovens. Beulah Fordham, master home cleaner for about 70 years, avoids commercial oven cleaners for health reasons. “I make a paste of baking soda and vinegar; then I paint the inside of the oven. I let it sit overnight. The next morning, I wipe it off. No scrubbing needed,” she says.

Marlo Kanipe, owner of Deserved Comfort professional housekeeping services, offers a modern caution about vinegar. “Vinegar is the number one enemy of natural stone, marble and hardwood floors; it acts as an acid and will eat through polyurethane, so be sure to use products made specifically for these surfaces,” she advises.

Earlier in the 20th century, consumers often used other products for more than the intended purpose. “Sometimes, we used baking soda for toothpaste,” mentions Brooksie. “And we always had boric acid on hand to keep critters out of the house. If one of us had pink eye, my mother diluted a little boric acid with water and applied it to the pink eye, and we were well within a few days. When the sweat from a glass left a ring on a piece of furniture, we treated the ring with mayonnaise or shoe polish. If we had a tooth ache, we put a little bourbon on it!” 

When presented with the cleaning challenges of removing red wine from white linen, Brooksie explains that they put salt on the spot to draw out the wine. “If hot wax dripped on linen, we placed a soft cloth or paper on top and pressed it with a warm iron. This warmth drew the wax from the linen and into the top cloth,” she shares.

Brooksie and Frances remember some of the products they used: Ivory® and Luxe® dish detergent, Ipana® toothpaste, Bon Ami® and Dutch Cleanser® for tubs and basins, peroxide for cuts and scrapes, ammonia for combs and brushes, cedar chip sachets in closets and talcum powder for deodorant.

They also created ways to minimize their cleaning routines. “We used an antimacassar on our furniture,” Brooksie explains. “It was a small cloth placed over the backs and arms of upholstered chairs to prevent the fabric from becoming soiled from body oils and men’s hair tonics.”

Frances remembers people using bureau scarves. “This was a long piece of fabric draped over the bureau from side to side. The purpose was to keep clean and protect the beautiful wood of the bureau,” she says.

Beulah finds Dawn® dish soap is one of her “go to” products as it really does cut grease — from fabrics to dirty dishes. “It takes spots out of clothes and carpets. When I need to remove a spot on the carpet, I squeeze a very small amount of Dawn onto a damp terry cloth towel, then dab at the spot until it comes out. I also wash the inside of the refrigerator with Dawn infused water. In the bathroom, I clean with Comet® and Mr. Clean®. My final rinse is with Dawn and water,” Beulah shares.

Beulah puts her confidence in Clorox® when it comes to linen. “If I need to clean spots from white linen, I dab the spot with Clorox. Then I soak the entire napkin or table cloth in a weakened Clorox water for a very long time,” she says. “I have also worked on eyelet curtains and christening gowns that have been handed down for several generations. I treat them all very, very carefully with weakened Clorox water,” she says.

When it comes to starching and ironing, Beulah has her own method of dipping the napkins and placemats in diluted Argo© starch, then putting them in a plastic bag and placing them in the freezer. The next day, she takes them out and irons them. “They turn out beautifully,” she says. “And, I always use my own iron. It’s a Black and Decker Steam and Dry Iron®. It’s a heavy iron, not a plastic iron,” she discloses.

In the end, it comes down to one thing: a job well done. “Once I’m through cleaning, I stand back and take a good look. I want to make sure everything is just right. If it’s not, that is my opportunity to correct it,” Beulah reveals. 

Beulah has pointers for cleaning quickly for when guests arrive unexpectedly or at short notice. She recommends that if there are extraneous items in the room, put them under the bed or in a closet. Dust surfaces without moving decorative objects. Finally, vacuum only the well traveled paths.

Marlo is proud of the company she and her mother established 31 years ago. “We consider our business to be the first line of defense in healthcare for our clients. We don’t just clean homes; we sanitize them,” she says.

Most Deserved Comfort technicians are certified by the Institute of Cleaning, Restoration and Certification Association (IICRCA). “They have graduated from a class that teaches proper ways to clean,” explains Marlo. “This class is especially helpful in teaching technicians how to clean high-end home products, such as marble, granite and hardwood surfaces. If improperly cleaned over time, these surfaces can become damaged.”

Marlo shares that some of her favorite products include Pine-Sol® for disinfecting a variety of surfaces, as well as Spic and Span® disinfect all-purpose spray and Bar Keepers Friend® all purpose for removing stains, soap scum and rust.

The best way to clean is to clean one room at a time. Marlo divulges her how-tos. “Clean top to bottom and left to right; make every move count. Wasted moves mean wasted time. Have your cleaning caddy with you throughout the process,” she says with a smile.

For quick last minute cleaning, Marlo suggests to make sure rooms are free of personal items and clutter first. Homeowners can quickly dust using an ostrich feather duster; it has a natural magnetic field that attracts dust. Also, dust first so that the vacuum will pick up any remaining particles. “Vacuum yourself out of every room, and save the kitchen for last,” she says. 

It’s not likely a cleaning robot will sweep through homes any time soon, but there are some revolutionary products on the market that require little elbow grease. Even so, the old-fashioned tricks and tips sometimes just do the job better!