Historically Speaking: Spring and fall housecleaning – old style
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
Spring and fall housecleaning are words that we do not hear much today, but the 1930’s and 40’s and even the 50’s this word meant hard work and organizing for the housewife. Whether in spring or fall, housecleaning was a meticulous housewife’s necessary task and was done with much planning and muscle power. Nowadays with our wash and wear materials, vacuum cleaners, shampooers, gas and oil furnaces and air conditioners, many homeowners do not feel it necessary to set aside a specific time for those duties, since houses are kept spotless all year round with the use of modern appliances. Let’s go back in memory to when we helped our mothers accomplish this yearly and sometimes twice yearly task.
First of all it was hoped that the weather would cooperate when the beds were torn apart, the bedding washed and hung outside and the mattress lugged outside in the sun, turned over and brushed to remove all the dust. Pillows were re-stuffed with fresh feathers or maybe just an addition of feathers would be all that was needed to make the pillows more fluffy and comfortable. This had to be done outside as it was a messy job with little soft feathers floating everywhere except into the pillow cases! Quilts were aired; year round they were kept from being soiled by a removable “chin piece” of white cotton fabric sewn onto the quilt and then folded down over the top to prevent soiling from use. This was removed often during the year and washed as necessary.
Small scatter rugs were washed carefully and a scrub brush used on them, then smoothed and laid in the sun to dry. The large carpet from our front room was hung on the clothes line and beaten with the wire rug beater – look out for the volume of dust! Curtains were washed and positioned on curtain stretchers; remember the adjustable frame with the “pins” on which the curtains were stretched in place after being washed and starched? Housecleaning was a time for NEW curtains; perhaps one room each season received new curtains. The windows were washed and dried with crumpled newspapers. Screens were removed and washed and put back on the shiny clean windows.
In the kitchen, the old linoleum was replaced with new and sections of the “old” linoleum that were too badly worn were used to make mats for the heavy work areas such as in front of the kitchen range and the pump and sink areas. A new piece of oil cloth was bought for the kitchen table, but this was done as needed and not only at housecleaning time. My mother had an old-fashioned wooden kitchen cabinet in which she kept her pretty dishes on the upper shelves behind glass doors. These special dishes were carefully washed and also the glass doors. The series of small drawers just below these shelves held many things such as we keep in our “junk drawers” today. There was a lot of cleaning to do on and within the kitchen cabinet. I especially remember the large flour bin that had to be emptied, scrubbed out and placed in the sun to dry and then filled with flour ready for future use. The top working area on the cabinet was metal, tin perhaps; a food chopper was attached to one end of the cabinet and it was always ready for use (by changing the blade according to the need). Around the pump and granite sink were shelves that had to be cleaned and small pieces of oil cloth replaced on each. It was here that we kept our tooth brushes, tooth powder (either baking soda or maybe Dr. Lyon’s Tooth Powder), towels, washcloths, combs and grooming articles.
In the summer the shiny large heater in the living room was dismantled and placed on the back porch to be idle until heating season. The stove pipes in the kitchen were taken down, thoroughly cleaned and re-blackened. This was a dirty job, but was very necessary so we would not be likely to have a dreaded chimney fire. Over the hole in the chimney after the pipes were removed there was a colorful tin plate inserted. The walls in the front room and the bedrooms were calcimined, and at housecleaning time they would be re-calcimined usually in an ivory or buff color. Calcimine was composed of glue, whiting and water, mixed and applied much as we apply paint.
Whether it is the feel of new linoleum under bare feet, the box of Gold Dust my mother used for cleaning, the fresh smell of the bedding as it was brought back into the house, or the clean treasured dishes in the high section of the old kitchen cabinet, I am transported in my thoughts to a warm day as I helped my mother with the house cleaning chores. I probably grumbled at having to help, but I really did enjoy it, and now especially enjoy the memories of those times as we cleaned, aired, washed, polished and brushed our way to happiness and cleanliness.
Those were busy but happy days!