How We Kept the Home Clean in the 1800s

by Maid Just Right Team - March 23, 2017

We’re used to all modern appliances nowadays. We have high tech vacuums that suck up the dirt, microfiber dusters to keep surfaces clear and intense cleaners that are carefully formulated to get rid of the worst kind of grime.

But what did have our ancestors have at their disposal?

Back in the 1800s most of us didn’t have electricity until late in the century and only then if we were rich. Cleaning was generally done with a brush and dust pan and carpets had to be taken out and beaten on the washing line. Most of this work was carried out by women rather than men which just goes to show how far we have come in the last couple of centuries.

If you had the money, you could afford to employ a maid to help keep house but most people were not so lucky. Many households didn’t have running water and you would have to either go down to the river or keep a well outside the property. That meant you needed to go fetch the water in a pail if you wanted it.

Many homes didn’t have the amenities that we enjoy today. Bathing was done in a tub in front of the fire and quite infrequently. The toilet was usually an outhouse behind the home that was definitely less than sanitary.

In the US, the cleaning challenges you faced depended on where you lived. Towards the north where it was colder and wetter there were challenges with damp and mud. In the south, you could expect to contend daily with dust from outside.

In truth, the idea of being house proud was not necessarily a priority back in the 1800s and it is only when we began to gain a higher standard of living that things began to change. Brooms were more prevalent than newfangled cleaning machines. The first electric powered vacuum cleaner wasn’t invented until 1901 and was not used widely until much later in the century.

Washing clothes was done by hand and children were often brought into the regimen of household chores at an early age. Back then life was self-sustaining and we didn’t have local shops to go down to whenever we wanted something. If you were lucky enough to have enough money and lived in the city, in the later 1800s you could have taken advantage of new and scientific cleaning products. These, however, were often highly toxic containing chemicals like carbolic acid, lead and even radioactive elements.

On the whole people used homemade remedies and cleaning products such as lemon and vinegar if they could get hold of it. Wood ash and pork fat could be used to create a kind of soap, as well as the more caustic and readily available lye.

If you are sitting wondering where to start your cleaning, perhaps you should spare a thought for your ancestors. Keeping the home clean back in the 19th century wasn’t just a matter of being house proud, it was also a matter of life and death.

We’re lucky in modern times that we have so many easy ways to keep our homes in great condition.


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