Grandmas know best: cleaning tips from the older generation

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Grandmas know best grandmother washing dishes

When it comes to cleanliness and hygiene, is there anything we can learn from previous generations? It's time to find out...

Boundless member and retired teacher Beryl Lee (not pictured) tells us about some of the cleaning and hygiene tips she picked up from her grandmothers.

Though in good health, I’m over 70 years old, so I obeyed the instructions regarding COVID-19, staying at home as much as possible. I gardened, cleaned cupboards and chatted on the phone.

As time went on, I realised that I am not so much turning into my mother but more like my grandmothers. They were Edwardians – or even Victorians, as my paternal grandmother remembered being taken as a young child to wave at Queen Victoria on one of her grand visits. So my upbringing was quite strict and our family rules were of Victorian and Edwardian influence: obedience, good manners and consideration of your neighbours were very important. 

For my grandmothers, medicines and doctors were expensive. They were living high up in the hills on small farms, so they had to make sure there were no infections. They had their own form of first aid, and used herbs, plants and other natural remedies a lot. 

• Read our guide to giving your home a good spring clean 

Scrubbing and steaming

Grandmas know best mother and child washing up

But for both, it was the cleanliness that mattered. Outdoor clothes weren’t allowed upstairs as they might have fleas caught from horse-drawn carriages, waggons or even trains. Some of the cheaper train carriages had bare wooden seats, which Grandma thought were far cleaner than plush seats. Much less worry about getting infested! 

All outdoor clothes were brushed hard to remove dust, hairs and worse. Hats were worn and they protected us a bit too, I expect. Boots and shoes were cleaned every night. Working boots were washed and scraped, and left on the rack in the shed or a sort of boot room, where all the brushes and cleaning rags were. 

Sacking aprons were made for the very dirty jobs, such as outdoor work involving animals, and worn over the other pinafores. Any cloths used to wipe a cow’s udders or in the dairy with the milk pails were steeped, rinsed, boil-washed and ironed. 

Everything – bedding, towels, dishcloths, linen and personal wear – was ironed using the old metal irons heated in front of the fire, as Grandmother said the steam killed the germs. Washing removed stains and dirt but heat killed the rest. She thought this very important to avoid cross-infections of any kind. 

Blocks of green soap were scrubbed and rubbed all over the items to be washed. Grandma would have been horrified at using a little squirt of foam and a lot of bubbles. With green soap it took a lot of rubbing to get a lather and your fingers had to spread it all over – so your hands were truly covered, too. 

So with all the modern instructions on how to wash your hands to stay safe and avoid the coronavirus, I have adapted Grandma’s rules. I, too, leave my coat and shoes in the porch, wash my hands with a lump of soap that takes a long time to lather effectively, iron everything with my lightweight steam iron – and hopefully remember my manners and to consider my neighbours at all times. 

Thank you, grandmothers. 

• Discover 10 ways to keep fit and healthy during the winter months

Keep fit while you clean

Grandmas know best couple dusting shelf

Giving your home a good clean won't just lift your spirits, it'll also help to keep you physically fit. According to The Healthy, sweeping the floors for half an hour can burn up to 87 calories for women and 102 calories for men. Taking out the bins can burn 57 calories for women and 58 calories for men. And even washing the dishes can help you to shed the pounds, burning up to 49 calories for women and 58 calories for men.

Also try these tips for losing weight while cleaning your home:

• Put on some lively music while you work – you won't be able to resist having a jig while you dust or vacuum

• Aim to dust the high areas that you've been putting off for months – you'll give your body a good stretch in the process

• Get the ladder out from time to time – it'll be like having a step class at home

• Give the bath a good scrub to help tone up your arms and shoulder muscles

Please note that none of the tips in this feature are intended to neutralise the coronavirus. To find out how to protect yourself from Covid-19, click here.

Photos: Getty Images

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