There is something rather comforting and appealing about old-fashioned homemaking these days. Our lives are jam-packed with modern life and all that entails and sometimes it’s just too much. We long for simpler times. The image of a homemaker in her apron going about her daily tasks in a peaceful and routine manner, uninterrupted by the lures of Facebook and Instagram can sound positively delightful at times.
Now, we all know that things weren’t always as rosy as they appeared in the sitcoms of the 1950s and early 60s. And I, for one, would not want to give up our modern appliances and improved opportunities women enjoy today. However, what a treat it can be to choose a few old-fashioned homemaking tips and methods to add to our modern life.
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Old-Fashioned Homemaking Tips
Let’s take a peek into the past and see if we might find a few old-fashioned ways of keeping house that can make home life a little sweeter.
1. Boil dish cloths
Instead of sponges that must be regularly replaced lest they get smelly and germ-ridden, Grandma used dish cloths to wash dishes and wipe down kitchen surfaces.
I use a clean one each day, rinse well in hot water and allow to dry over the edge of a galvanized bucket in the laundry room. Once a week I do a load of dish cloths, rags and other similar items. I use the longest cycle, hot water and some bleach. I know that bleach is not good for the environment but want to make sure dish cloths are clean and disinfected.
But in “olden times” women boiled their dish cloths to get them clean and germ-free. It seems so obvious but have you ever done it? I haven’t. But I’m going to start. Just boil for 15 minutes in a large pot, allow to cool, wring out excess water and wash as usual.
2. Add bluing to laundry
Are your white sheets or other linens looking a bit yellow and dingy? Have you ever tried adding bluing to the wash? This was pretty common in our grandmothers’ day and for good reason – it works!
DIY: How to Whiten Your Sheets With Laundry Bluing
I’ve done this but it’s been ages. I still have a little bottle of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing Liquid and a couple of sets of sheets that are no longer bright white. I think I need to give this old-fashioned method a go soon.
3. Use liquid starch in the rinse cycle
If you want to give an especially crisp finish to ironed items, consider adding liquid starch to the final rinse cycle and iron while still slightly damp. This can be especially nice for curtains, tablecloths and of course, men’s dress shirts.
4. Hang clothes on a clothesline
One of my fondest childhood memories is the fragrance of Grandma’s sheets whenever I spent the night. The combination of Downy fabric softener and line drying in the desert sunshine made her sheets smell better than anything I’ve ever experienced.
I keep saying it but hopefully THIS will be the year I get David to put up an old fashioned clothesline for me. Not only does it make laundry smell divine, it’s eco-friendly, as well!
The Fine Art of Clothesline Laundry
5. Sweep instead of vacuum
It’s handy to use the vacuum on all floors, even hard-surfaced flooring. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing it that way. But there’s something almost meditative about sweeping a floor with a broom. If you’re in the habit of always using the vacuum, consider occasionally using a broom instead. Start in the furthest corner and carefully sweep every inch, slowly and methodically. You just might find it as soothing and relaxing as a ten minute meditation.
6. Try a carpet sweeper
A few years ago I bought an old-fashioned carpet sweeper. I did so because we occasionally get ice storms that knock out electricity. Once, we were without electricity for a whole week! David eventually bought a generator and he thought it was funny when I asked if it would run the vacuum. He looked at the instruction manual to see how much power a vacuum needed, only to find that appliance wasn’t listed. Apparently I’m the only one who wants to vacuum in a power outage.
So that is why I bought a carpet sweeper. But it’s also pretty handy for picking up visible debris in traffic areas between regular vacuuming.
7. Use a dust mop
I have a long entry hall with dark ceramic tile. Shiloh’s white fur seems to collect in clumps on the floor and a good, wool dust mop – like Grandma used – is perfect for picking up the fur without sending it flying.
8. Air the bed linens and bedrooms each morning
Rather than making the bed immediately upon arising, take a hint from old fashioned homemaking tomes and air the bed. Turn the bed covers back over the foot of the bed, open a window and allow the room and the sheets to air for a little while. This allows perspiration to evaporate making a less hospitable environment for dust mites. I like to spray the sheets with a little of my DIY lavender linen spray before leaving the bed open to air for an hour or so.
Why You Shouldn’t Make the Bed in the Morning
9. Use tea towels instead of paper towels
Do you pull off several sheets of paper towels to dry your hands every time you wash them in the kitchen? Have you ever wondered what people used to do before the advent of paper towels? Tea towels/dish towels are the answer. Lay out a fresh one every morning (or more often if needed) and dry your hands on that instead. You’ll save money and it’s far better for the environment.
Ditch the Disposables – Save Money and the Planet
10. Use cloth napkins and “real” dishes
Rather than paper napkins (or paper towels which seem to be a rather common substitute these days), invest in some pretty cloth napkins. They are easy to toss in the wash each week, look much prettier on the table and again, they save money and trees.
Can you imagine Donna Reed serving dinner on paper plates? Of course not. While there are certainly legitimate reasons for using paper plates on occasion, don’t rely on them on a daily basis. Even if you don’t have a dishwasher, plates are the easiest item to wash anyway. Take your meals up a notch and use real dishes.
Create a Beautiful Life: Cloth Napkins and Real Dishes
11. Bring back the old “rag bag”
If, like me, you decide to eliminate the daily use of paper towels, you’ll need a substitute. That’s where the rag bag comes in. You’ll need old rags for cleaning and mopping up messes. Are your wash cloths, bath towels or dish towels getting a bit raggedy? Add them to the rag bag, cutting them into smaller sized if necessary. You can also cut up old t-shirts as well. And the very best rags…especially for dusting? Old cloth diapers.
You don’t have to put them in an actual bag. I have a plastic storage box under my sink which is where I keep my clean and folded rags. I even separate them according to their condition. I keep at least a few rather disreputable looking rags for very dirty, greasy or gross cleanups and then just toss them afterwards. The rest are washed in very hot water once a week, although I just might start boiling them.
12. Borrow a few old-fashioned cleaning products from the past
There are definitely some cleaning products we should leave firmly in the past. My mom recalls her dad washing the kitchen walls once a year with TSP (trisodium phosphate). He was a smoker and avid cook so the walls of their tiny kitchen definitely needed regular scrub downs. But there are much safer options these days.
Likewise, we wouldn’t want to go back to scrubbing clothes on a rub board with lye soap or cleaning floors and steps with carbolic acid.
However, there are a few old cleaning products worth considering. For instance, Bar Keeper’s Friend dates back to the 1880s and nothing works better on my white enameled cast iron kitchen sink.
The Best Old-Fashioned Cleaning Products (that still work better than anything new)
13. Keep a well-stocked sewing basket
Even if, like me, you don’t sew, it’s still wise to have sewing basket stocked with a few basics. We all occasionally need to sew on a button or make small clothing repairs. If you keep a few basic colors of thread, needles, needle threader, thimble, etc. in a sewing basket or box, you’ll be able to maintain your clothing quickly and easily.
12 Things That Need to Be in Your Hand Sewing Kit
14. Wear an apron
Homemakers of the past nearly always wore aprons while cooking. That’s a no-brainer for protecting your clothes from food and grease stains. But consider wearing one while doing your daily cleaning, as well. Again, this will protect your clothes but more than that, an apron is a visible signal to you and your family that you are working. Plus, they usually have pockets which can be handy for collecting small items you find lying about as you clean. And they are cute!
My Top 3 Reasons to Wear an Apron
After reading this list are there any of these you might consider adding to your homemaking life? Are there any you already do?
You may also enjoy:
Dee’s Favorite Household Tools
Vintage Cleaning Tips You Should Steal From Grandma
I love this! I do a lot of these things already- I hang everything to dry on drying racks in the basement (when it’s warm out, I take them outside to the back porch, and they dry sooooooo quickly!), I clean almost exclusively with cleaning solutions I make at home, I use washable rags to clean and mop up spills (I do keep paper towels on hand because I have a cat with a sensitive tummy, and, just, ew), I wear aprons all the time, I’ve got a large collection of sewing items- and I’m about to bring my sewing basket to a shelf in the living room and keep my mending there so it’s immediate and in my face and not hidden/stashed away (I, um, may have a large pile of it that has built up because out of sight, out of mind…). And I use real dishes so exclusively that when we had a birthday party last year, I realized that day that I had entirely forgotten to get paper plates! Fortunately, I had a stash of them from when our town flooded years back and we were on water restrictions and thus couldn’t wash dishes.
Excellent list! I too would never, ever want to go back to the days of women being viewed as less than and less capable, with fewer opportunities, but there’s definitely a lot of value in doing many things in a more old-fashioned way. 🙂
Deanna Piercy says
It sounds like you really have the old-fashioned homemaking thing down! Here’s a tip for the cat issue. We have a Great Pyrenees that occasionally throws up. I keep a stack of paper plates just for this reason. I didn’t buy them; they were left behind from a big event we host each year. Cut a paper plate in half and use the two pieces to scoop up the mess. Then clean up the rest with a very old rag and throw it away. I think a rag works better than paper towels and your hands are less likely to come in contact with the yuck.
Loni Ivanovskis says
loved this. I incorporate many of these into my housekeeping routines, but I hadn’t ever used bluing or a carpet sweeper (no carpet or rugs except the entry rug which I sweep and kitchen and bath throws I launder. I will have to try the bluing.
Deanna Piercy says
Let me know what you think. I have two sets of white sheets I plan to use it on soon. Or I may wait until I get a clothesline so I can then dry them in the sun for even more whitening. 🙂
I love the idea of airing the bed out though I would have to remember to go back and make it! Totally agree about old cloth diapers being the best dusters. Sadly my last one had to get thrown last year. Still over 20 years is pretty good going!
Deanna Piercy says
I usually do my morning routine (tea, reading, meditation) in my gown and robe. Afterwards I go upstairs to get dressed and that’s when I make the bed. If it’s not part of my routine I would likely forget because I don’t usually go upstairs during the day.
Love these, thanks for sharing them. There are some I wouldn’t bother with, and others I already do – even if not quite like they would have in the past.
I already use cloths rather than paper towels for most spills, as well as always to dry my hands. A roll of paper towels lasts literally a couple of months around here as a rule, and would likely last even longer if it wasn’t for the odd pet related use.
I know you’re a fan of the nicely set table with napkins and such, but we don’t usually bother with that. We use proper plates, but don’t bother with napkins. If we need to, we grab a cloth, otherwise we just wash our hands at the sink and dry them on the towel there when we’re done eating. Only time we might bother with napkins, or use paper plates, is if we had some kind of party or something, like when my family sometimes does a buffet or something like that. But we’re not involved in those kinds of things very often. The only other time I ever use a napkin is when we’re eating out.
I sweep before we vacume. I go through the room picking up large items (dog toys, etc) and sweeping up the bulk of whatever’s ended up all over the carpet (pet hair, sawdust and hay dragged about from the cages, etc). Then we use the vacume to get up only what’s not easy to sweep. It’s medative, like you said, and also means we don’t have to run the vacume cleaner for long, since most of the mess is already cleaned up.
I’ve had a sewing kit on hand since I learned to sew when I was young. Sometimes I use it for actual sewing projects, but I’ve used it for clothing repairs too.
I almost never make the bed when I first get up. The only exception is if my sleep schedule has me getting up right before someone is coming, which doesn’t happen often, in which case I can’t leave it long, because everything is on the same level in our place, and people would have to pass our bedroom to get to the bathroom, so I make the bed so it looks nicer when they go past. We don’t get many people coming here though, so that rarely happens. I wouldn’t say it gets as thorough an airing as yours, since I don’t use essential oils on it, and the blankets are more left how we throw them off us to get up than anything. But I leave it until I go in there the next time, which is generally a couple of hours later.
I only stopped making use of the washing line when we moved here and didn’t have one. If it was an option, I’d have one here too, but it really isn’t. I’ll take full advantage of it if I get to have one again at any point though.
Deanna Piercy says
I believe that homemaking is highly individual and it would be boring if we all did it the same way. I have always enjoyed reading about homemaking tips and methods, choosing the ones that make sense in our home, for the current season. 🙂
Its so interesting, because I live in Europe and I still do most of what you described. Even though I do use disposable sponges and dishrags, I boil them at least 2-3 times a week and that way they can be used much much longer. I only replace them when they are falling apart 🙂 I also do boil all my kitchen towels (old-fashion linen ones), then wash them, starch them and mangle them. With 7 kids they always manage to get them dirty, but this way I have some that are over 30 years old and still clean (without bleach). I own a dryer, but do not use it unless it is raining or in the winter. I always open windows in the morning and air out the beds (my grandma used to take all the bedding outside in the yard – except when it was raining or snowing – she said it is so the sunshine kills all the germs). I do not have a dishwasher, so me and the kids do all the dishes by hand (there used to be more helper, nowadays I only have 3 at home :)). I have cooked every single day from scratch since I got married almost 30 years ago. I do mend and fix all things, sometimes with a sewing machine, sometimes by hand – yes, I also darn socks and have taught my daughters to do the same. Clothing only gets thrown out once it trully can not be fixed and even then I cut all cotton and flannel things into squares and we keep those in the garage as rags 🙂 Same with old towels, which I cut apart and serge around. I am wearing an apron every single time I do something in the kitchen (I had ruined lots of clothing before I got into that habit).
Deanna Piercy says
Thank you for sharing. That’s all SO interesting. May I ask where in Europe you live, please?
Elizabeth Whitesides says
Love these ideas, and many are already habits of mine. Nice to find a fellow “old school” homekeeper out there! ? Thanks for sharing tips to keep not only a clean, beautiful home, but do it more eco-friendly (not using wasteful paper products, harsh modern cleaners, etc.). For ages I’ve made little crochet washcloths that I microwave to sterilize before I wash them. However, last year I found these new brillo estracell sponges that resist bacteria. You can use one for a month before it starts falling apart, but you don’t have to sterilize it. For some reason, how it’s made doesn’t allow food to collect in the pores. I’ve never tried bluing – I’ll have to pick some up. Our well water makes whites dingy pretty fast so I’ve given up wearing/buying white clothes. Blessings!
Deanna Piercy says
I’m so happy to have you here, Elizabeth!
Can’t sleep and came across your lists while perusing Pinterest. I absolutely love your articles on old fashioned cleaning and wisdom of your Grandmother. Sure took me down memory lane with sweet reflections of my Mom and Aunt. Old fashioned cleaning and housekeeping tips they used and some I’d forgotten about. And there is a lot to be said for living a contented life! Thank you for sharing.
Deanna Piercy says
Ah, another insomniac? Sorry you couldn’t sleep but so pleased you found me. I’d love to hear about your mom and aunt. Any of their tips you’d like to share?