In 1876, The School Board For London commissioned W B Tegetmeier to produce " a scholars' handbook on the general principles on which the processes of Cookery and the sanitary management of a home depend". It was to be " a book fit for use in schools, where the pupils should be instructed in the first principles" of home management. It was found that by using it in the schools "The girls, in three months, can be taught plain cooking, washing, and cleaning, enough to prepare them for service, or to make them useful to their mothers at home." The book presents in great detail the minutiae of life in the Victorian home. In this extract the girls are introduced to the principles and practises of keeping the Victorian home clean and healthy.
HE healthiness or unhealthiness of a house depends very greatly upon its degree of cleanliness; dirty, uncleaned houses are always more or less unhealthy. In country places, where the ground around a house is not paved with stone, care should be taken that no puddles of dirty water remain close to the house, as they not only render the air damp and unwholesome, but cause much dirt to be brought in on the feet. Slops of dirty water, tea-leaves, coffee-grounds, etc., should never be thrown out near the house, as they decay and are injurious.
All decaying vegetable and animal matter near a house is injurious. Cabbage-leaves, potato and apple- parings, and other waste vegetables should never be thrown into the dust-bin, but should always be burnt; which can always be done if they are first dried by throwing them at the back of the fire or in the ash-pit.
The dust-bins of houses in town should only be used for ashes; instead of using dust-bins, it is a much better plan for the dust to be put into a galvanized iron pail and carried away each day, as is done in many towns.
The inside of the house not only becomes dirty by the dust carried in by the air and the dirt brought in by the feet, but from the odour or smell given out by our skin, and by the lungs with the breath.
This smell or odour is absorbed by all porous substances, as the walls, floors, and ceilings; it then decays, and gives rise to that close, sickening, unwholesome smell, which is present in all dirty houses, especially such as are overcrowded. No house with such a smell can possibly be a healthy place to live in. This animal effluvium, or smell of decaying animal matter, is taken up by some substances much more readily than others. Walls that are covered with paper smell much more offensively than those that are painted. And in rooms where one paper has been pasted over another the whole thicknesses of paper become very offensive and injurious to health. Painted or lime-washed walls. are much to be preferred to papered walls for crowded dwellings and for all sleeping rooms.
Woollen garments, carpets, and curtains absorb these smells freely, and give them out for a long time. Rough wooden floors also take them up, and consequently require frequent washing; smoothed waxed, or painted floors are much preferable to rough wooden ones.
The wholesomeness of a dwelling is much increased by its being frequently white-washed. White-wash is made by pouring water on cakes of whiting, and stirring until the liquid is like a thin cream, when a small quantity of warm size or dissolved glue is then added, to prevent the colour from rubbing off when dry. White-wash is applied with a broad, flat brush, working in a uniform direction up and down the wall. It is requisite first to remove the dirt and the old white-wash by washing it away with a brush and abundance of clean water.
Lime-washing is a much more effectual mode of purification than white-washing, but is not so often used, as few persons know how to make lime-wash. If glue is used, it is destroyed by the lime, and the wash easily rubs off the walls when dry. This also happens if the lime be simply slaked in water and used without any fixing material. Lime-wash should be made by placing some freshly-burned quick-lime in a pail, and pouring on sufficient water to cover it if the lime is fresh, great heat is given out; boiled oil (a preparation of linseed oil, sold by all oilmen) should then be added, one pint to each gallon of wash. For cheapness, any refuse fat, such as dripping, may be used instead of the boiled oil. The whole should then be thinned with water. The brush should not be left in the lime-wash or the bristles will be destroyed. Should coloured wash be required, one pound of green vitriol added to every two gallons of wash gives a very pleasing drab.
Quick-lime slaked with skimmed milk, and afterwards thinned with water, makes an excellent wash for out-door walls, as it is not acted on by the weather.
Lime-washing is strongly recommended as a means of purification, more especially when any infectious disorders are prevalent.
Floors should not be scrubbed so frequently as is often recommended; once a-week is generally quite sufficient. In damp weather wet floors do not dry, and the house remains damp and cold for a considerable time; it is better, in all cases, to defer the scrubbing even for a week, than to wet the floors on a rainy or foggy day. In cases of illness this is particularly important; so injurious is damp air to invalids, that in some hospitals the floors are waxed, and dry rubbing used instead of scouring, with great advantage to the health of the patients.
It should be a fixed rule that floors, particularly those of sleeping-rooms, are to be scrubbed only on dry days, and, where the health of the inmates is delicate, the drying should be quickened by lighting a fire in the room.
Kneeling when scrubbing sometimes causes a painful disease of the knee-joint called "Housemaid's Knee." In order to prevent, as much as possible, this complaint, a thick soft mat should always be used to kneel upon. In some parts the scrubbing is done by men with a heavy stiff brush fixed to a long handle, like house-brooms.
No dirty old lumber should ever be allowed to collect in the house; bones, old shoes and boots, old dirty woollen clothes, and pieces of carpet, are often kept these render the air of the house impure, and consequently unwholesome, are exceedingly apt to become mouldy, harbour vermin, serve as breeding-places for the clothes-moth, and retain most tenaciously any infection to which they may have been exposed. Such things should always be got rid of; if not sold at once, if of any value, they had better be given away, or even burnt, rather than kept to render the air of the house impure and unwholesome. The Jews are remarkable for their good health and great freedom from infectious and contagious diseases this is doubtless in great part owing to the annual cleaning of the houses, when every part of the dwellings is thoroughly cleansed in the most perfect manner.
The washing of dirty clothes is usually done with the aid of soap, soda, and washing preparations; chloride of lime being sometimes also used.
Washing-soda softens the water; it also possesses great powers of cleansing, as it removes stains and dissolves dirt and grease, rendering less rubbing necessary.
Soda must not be used with coloured clothes, as it changes many colours. If white clothes, after being washed with soda, are not perfectly freed from it by rinsing in pure water, they will turn very yellow when heated or ironed, or even in drying or airing before the fire. Once produced, this yellow colour is very difficult to get rid of.
Borax is much better than soda for fine, delicate things; it is very much used by the French laundresses, as it saves soap, and does not injure the finest laces. It is used in the proportion of a handful to ten gallons of water.
Soap is made of caustic soda and fat: the latter renders the soda less destructive, but does not take away its power of loosening dirt. The best soap is by far the cheapest to use, as the common kinds contain a great deal of water, which makes the soap very soft, and causes it to dissolve very quickly when used. It is most economical to buy soap in bars, and then cut it up into small pieces to dry before use.
Washing preparations and powders are very similar to soda in their action, some of them being very cleansing, and even corrosive in their properties. When used, the greatest care should be taken to rinse the clothes thoroughly after washing, so as to remove every portion, or the clothes will soon be weakened by their action.
Chloride of lime is often used to remove stains, but it must be employed with great caution, as it is corrosive, and destroys all the colours of almost all dyed fabrics.
A Victorian Laundress at workThe following practical directions on washing were furnished by an experienced laundress:-
"Wash as often as convenient. Dirty clothes put by for weeks are more difficult to clean the longer they remain dirty; they acquire a permanent bad colour, and in damp places are apt to become mildewed and rotten.
"Remove all stains as soon as possible; leave nothing long enough to fix itself thoroughly to the cloth; wash out grease, gravy, and fruit-stains, etc., before putting anything on one side. Fruit-stains yield readily to bleaching-powder,-especially if after being put on, it is moistened with a drop of some acid, as vinegar or lemon; but neither acids nor bleaching-powder should be used to coloured things. Inkstains should never be put into soapy or soda water or lye, as they directly become iron-moulds; but should be instantly wetted with clean water, and may be at once removed by the application of a little salt of lemon, or oxalic acid, which should be washed out immediately.
"After making starch, cover it with a plate until required for use; otherwise it forms a useless skin on the top. To prevent starch sticking to the irons, the addition of a small piece of solid paraffin, as the end of a paraffin-candle, will be found more cleanly and efficacious than tallow.
"When water has once been made to boil, the fire in the copper or grate may be very much lessened, as but little heat is required to keep it at the boiling point. There is no advantage whatever in making water boil furiously, for it is not in the slightest degree hotter than when merely simmering, as all the extra heat given to boiling water goes off in the steam, without raising the heat in the slightest degree.
"The shrinking and discoloring of woollen articles may be in great part prevented by care in washing them. They should never be washed in hard water, nor in water softened by soda, nor should they be rubbed with soap. The fibres of wool are covered with little points, all directed one way; as the woollen is rubbed, these become tangled together, and form a kind of thick felt, by which means the article is shrunk and thickened. For the same reason it is not desirable to wring woollen things. Before washing, they should be well brushed and shaken, to get rid of the dust; rain, or soft river, water should have a strong lather made in it with soap, or, if the things are very greasy, ox-gall may be added, in the proportion of half-a-pint to six quarts of water; then boiling water should be added to the lather, to make it as hot as it is possible to bear the hand in, and the dirty woollen should be put in, and dipped and raised repeatedly for several minutes. It should then be squeezed (not wrung) as dry as possible from the dirty, slimy liquor, and the process, if necessary, repeated with some clean lather. If the article is not very dirty, and becomes quite clean in the first washing, the second washing may be in hot water only, without soap; and in either case, a blue bag[Note 1]should be used in the last water. When gall has been used, a third water is necessary to take off the smell. When the article is finished, it should be squeezed as dry as it can be, and dried as quickly as possible in the open air, if the weather is fine.
NOTES:1 [blue bag]A small linen bag that contained a fine particle, blue pigment used in washing white cotton and linen fabrics to counteract the yellowing caused by alkaline soaps. Laundry blue used in the late 18th to mid-19th century usually contained Prussian blue or indigo. Back
2 Tegetmeier's complete text can be viewed on-line in the Victorian Dictionary.