Milk for Floors, Bread for Walls: 19th-Century Cleaning Tips for the Modern Era

Would you like to live like a Bridgerton, the top-crust British family who starred on the hit Netflix series? Strolling with pretty dukes and clapping over macarons with a queen?

Well, you probably can’t live like a 19th century aristocrat. But you can clean like a laundromat.

English Heritage, an organization in Swindon, England that looks after centuries-old palaces, houses, castles and abbeys, released spring cleaning tips Friday that would have felt familiar in the Regency and Victorian periods.

If the mirrors are dusty, skip the glass cleaner and wipe them down with chamois leather.

To make your stone floors shine, scrub them with skimmed milk.

Dirty wallpaper? A piece of spongy white bread is all you need to make it look new.

“While we may not recommend some of the more bizarre historical cleaning tips, like using a potato to clean an oil painting, the housekeepers of the past, despite their relatively little scientific knowledge, were often spot on with their methods,” said Amber Xavier-Rowe, collection director Preservation at English Heritage said in a statement.

The proposals from English Heritage, which spent the winter cleaning many of its properties before reopening on May 17th, came in time for spring cleaning – and given renewed interest in using natural, non-chemical materials to clean the home .

“The old ideas are coming back to life, aren’t they?” said Lucy Lethbridge, author of Mind Your Manors: Best British Tips on Household Cleaning.

People are increasingly concerned that their cleaning habits could harm the environment, and they are looking for ways to avoid using plastic bottles or chemical-based products that can worsen asthma or cause other health problems, she said.

And, added Ms. Lethbridge, the old ways work.

During the pandemic, she said her kitchen pipe was repeatedly clogged. She relied on a simple solution of baking soda, hot water, and vinegar or lemon juice that she pours in the sink until “there is a great, fantastic mother hen.”

“It’s better than any drain cleaner I’ve ever bought,” said Ms. Lethbridge.

The methods described by English Heritage have most likely been around for centuries, but it’s difficult to know when they came about as there are so few historical records of early housekeeping, according to Ruth Goodman, a writer in Wales who researches the work has been and has lived on servants for 30 years.

Ms. Goodman said the idea of ​​using bread to clean wallpaper probably originated in the 17th century when England switched from wood to coal for heating homes and businesses.

The soot made the houses dirty, especially the walls. Bread would have worked as an effective sponge without damaging the paper the way water can, she said.

That kind of realization had to come from the women cleaning the house, whose creativity and ingenuity is often overlooked in history, Ms. Goodman said.

“We were a little taken aback by the great men in history,” she said. Cleaning is “not widespread. It has not been fully explored, yet it is the basis for survival and the basis for the lives of women and working women. “

Andrew Neborak, the owner of Luxury Cleaning NY in New York City, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that skimmed milk could be used to clean stone floors. He said he recently used a milk-based detergent to wash an unfinished floor in a SoHo furniture showroom. He regularly uses vinegar and lemon to wipe countertops.

“It’s even better than any cleaner,” said Mr Neborak of the mixture.

Ms. Lethbridge said we should remember how natural detergents would have smelled us 200 years ago, even if some modern chemical-based products had been spurned.

For example, urine was a popular ingredient for washing clothes in the early 1800s, Ms. Lethbridge said.

“In the early 19th century,” she mused, “the smell of clean was maybe the smell of urine.”

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