Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgIn "America's Housekeeping Book," compiled by New York Herald Tribune Home Institute for publication in 1941, an entire chapter is dedicated to the tools needed for housecleaning tasks. As I've not personally given a lot of thought to whether my house is equipped with the essential tools for proper housekeeping, this seemed an excellent place to begin my project.

Pages 140-142 of the book provide a list of essential equipment and instructions on where that equipment should be stored. Those items marked with an asterisk are "minimum equipment." The list is as follows:

Large equipment (Where to store)
*Vacuum cleaner and attachments (Cleaning closet)
Hand-type vacuum cleaner (Cleaning closet)
*Carpet sweeper (Cleaning closet)
*Applicator for floor wax (Cleaning closet)
Weighted floor polisher or electric polisher (Cleaning closet)

Brooms, Mops, etc.(Where to store)
1 soft bristle or hair broom (Cleaning closet)
*1 corn or fiber broom (Cleaning closet)
*1 dust mop (Cleaning closet)
*1 wet mop (string, sponge, rubber or cellulose sponge) and 2-compartment pail (Cleaning closet)
*1 scrub brush (long handled preferred) (Cleaning closet)
*1 dust pan (long handled preferred) (Cleaning closet)
*1 dust pan brush (long handled preferred) Cleaning closet

Brushes (Where to store)
*Toilet bowl brush (Bathroom)
*Radiator brush (if not included with vacuum cleaner attachments) (Cleaning closet)
*Whisk broom or upholstery brush (Cleaning closet)
Small soft brush for cleaning ornate silverware (Kitchen)
Small soft brush for carved furniture, etc. (Cleaning basket)
Venetian blind brush (Cleaning closet)
Long-handled wall brush (Cleaning closet)

Clothes, Sponges, etc. (Where to store)
*2-4 treated dustcloths (page 136) (Covered metal box in cleaning closet)
*6 cheesecloth squares (24" X 24") (Cleaning closet)
*2 flannel polishing cloths (Cleaning closet (if soiled with polish or wax, keep in a covered metal box until washed))
1 chamois (Cleaning closet)
*3 cellulose sponges (for kitchen, bathroom, and cleaning basket) (Kitchen, bathroom, and cleaning basket)
*2 floor clothes (for kitchen and bathroom) (Cleaning closet)
Cotton waste (this can be purchased at public garages or automobile supply shops) (Cleaning closet)
Rubber gloves (Cleaning basket)
Small funnel (Cleaning closet)

Polishes and polishing Materials (Where to store)
Furniture polish or lemon oil (essential if paste or liquid was is not used on furniture) (Cleaning basket)
*Wax (paste, liquid, or self-polishing) (Cleaning closet shelf)
Denatured alcohol (POISON) (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Metal polish (Kitchen)
*Silver polish (Kitchen)
Jeweller's rouge or rouge cloth (Kitchen)
*Turpentine (flammable) (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Lemon oil (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Linseed oil (Cleaning closet shelf)

Soaps, Abrasives, and Cleansers (Where to store)
*Mild scouring powder or whiting (Cleaning basket)
*Ammonia (household) (Kitchen)
Water softener (page 256) (Kitchen)
*Toilet bowl cleaner (Bathroom)
*Fuller's earth or other absorbent (Cleaning closet shelf)
*Rottenstone (Cleaning basket)
*Carbon tetrachloride (Cleaning basket)
*Household disinfectant (Kitchen)
*Mild soap (chips, flakes, beads, grains) (Kitchen)
*Paint cleaner (commercial or homemade, page 167) (Cleaning basket)
Leather cleaner (Cleaning basket)
*Art gum eraser (Cleaning basket)
Wall paper cleaner, dough-type or pad (Cleaning basket)
Solution for cleaning glass (Cleaning basket)

IMG_2060.JPGAfter studying the book's recommended supply list, I gathered all my own cleaning supplies and took an inventory. I found that I had a set of cleaning supplies stored under the sink in the master bathroom, a set on the main floor in the hall coat closet, a few things under the kitchen sink, and a whole lot of things I didn't know I had on the top shelf in the laundry room closet in the basement.

The following is an exact list of what I have and where it has been stored:

Large equipment (Where stored)
Vacuum cleaner and attachments (hall coat closet)
Hand vacuum cleaner (laundry room, on top of the washing machine)

Brooms, mops, etc. (Where stored)
Synthetic bristle broom with dustpan (kitchen, between the fridge and the wall)
Swiffer (garage, hanging on a hook just outside the door to the house)
Hand broom with dustpan (laundry room on top of the washing machine)
Smaller hand broom with dustpan (laundry room on top of the washing machine)

Brushes (Where stored)
2 synthetic scrub brushes (laundry room closet shelf)
3 toilet bowl brushes (master bathroom, main floor bathroom, downstairs bathroom)
long-handled dish brush (kitchen, under the sink)

Clothes, Sponges, etc.(Where stored)
4 used cellulose sponges (2 in laundry room, 2 in kitchen)
1 new cellulose sponge (kitchen)
basket of rags (basement)
painting sponge (laundry room shelf)

Polishes and polishing materials (Where stored)
Silver polish (laundry room shelf)
Cookware cleaner/polish (kitchen, under the sink)

Soaps, Abrasives, and Cleaners (Where stored)
1.32 gallon jug of white vinegar (kitchen, under the sink)
Hardwood and laminate floor cleaner (kitchen, under the sink)
Kids 'N Pets All-Purpose Stain & Odor Remover (kitchen, under the sink)
2 spray bottles of vinegar and water solution, one empty (kitchen, under the sink)
2 bottles of Mrs. Meyers toilet bowl cleanser, one nearly empty (upstairs bathroom, coat closet)
Simple Green pre-moistened all-purpose towelettes (coat closet)
2 bottles Clorox Green Works Natural Glass Cleaner (upstairs bathroom, kitchen)
Mrs. Meyers All-Purpose Cleaner (upstairs bathroom)
Rug Doctor Upholstery Cleaner (laundry room)
Ecover All-Purpose Cleaner (coat closet)

Other (Where stored)
Swiffer 360 dusters (laundry room)
2 Aroma Medleys lavender fragrance diffusers (laundry room)
Febreeze Air Effects Fresh Evergreen & Snow (laundry room)
4 rolls paper towels (kitchen)
2 plastic buckets (one in master bathroom, one in coat closet)
1 divided plastic cleaning caddy (laundry room)
2 paper face masks (laundry room)

Comparing the two lists, the following are items the book recommends I have at a minimum that I don't have:

Carpet sweeper: I'm not sure I understand why I need this when I have a vacuum cleaner. Will necessitate further research.

Applicator for floor wax: I have no wax-able floors (carpet, laminate, and tile), so I think I'm OK here.

1 wet mop (string, sponge, rubber or cellulose sponge) and 2-compartment pail: This is something that should likely fill me with shame--I only have a Swiffer. It's likely this project will necessitate the purchase of an actual mop.

1 scrub brush: Again, not sure what I'd use this for, so I'll keep an open mind going forward and procure one should the need arise.

Whisk broom or upholstery brush: Anybody know what this is/does?

2-4 treated dustcloths (page 136): A look to page 136 tells me that these are cheesecloth squares treated with hot water and lemon oil. I plan to delve more intensively into dusting in the future, so I'll return to this then. In the meantime, I'm going to try to figure out what lemon oil is.

6 cheesecloth squares (24" X 24"): These, I presume, are to make more dustcloths. I don't quite get why one would use cheesecloth for this, but it was apparently self-explanatory in 1941, as there is no index listing for it. I'll research further.

2 floor clothes (for kitchen and bathroom): No explanation for why or when these are needed. To buff after mopping?

Wax (paste, liquid, or self-polishing): I think this is for wooden furniture, of which I have very little. I do have some bookshelves that could probably stand a polishing, though. I'll add it to my list.

Turpentine (flammable): Again, no explanation as to why this is needed. Unless it's to clean paintbrushes. At any rate, not something I want to keep around unless/until I have a use for it.

Lemon oil: Already on the list for dustcloth manufacture.

Linseed oil: A further chapter in the book instructs me to use this, along with rottenstone or pumice, to remove marks from wooden furniture. Buy-as-needed.

Mild scouring powder or whiting: This I should have. On list.

Ammonia (household): Can't think of a use for this that I wouldn't substitute vinegar or another cleaner, so I'm holding off on it for now.

Fuller's earth or other absorbent: This puzzles me. What am I absorbing? I'll hold off until I see it mentioned again.

Rottenstone: I didn't know what this was, but Mark did, which was, I thought, impressive. I can't see a use for it right now, but it's on the tentative list of things I could see being helpful in the future.

Carbon tetrachloride: So this is apparently the stuff in fire extinguishers, also used a dry cleaning solvent in the early-mid 20th century. Gonna skip that.

Household disinfectant: Should probably have something to fit this bill. I don't think I even have any bleach. Added to list.

Paint cleaner: I don't know why I'd need this when I'm not painting anything, so I'm skipping it for now.

Art gum eraser: I'm imagining this is for scuff marks, so I'll add some sort of scuff-remover to my list.

Now that I know what I have and don't have, the next object lesson is to put things back in places that facilitate using them easily. The book suggests a cleaning closet, but the only closet I could dedicate to that purpose is in the basement, and I don't fancy hauling my vacuum cleaner up the stairs every time I need it, so I'm going to continue using my front coat closet for my cleaning command center, with outpost buckets under the kitchen sink and in the upstairs bathroom, and overstock/not commonly used items down in the laundry room.

So far, I'm slightly edified and slightly embarrassed. I didn't realize there were such big holes in our cleaning arsenal, or that I was falling back on so many convenience cleaning products (though to my credit, I do make my own refill solution and use rags rather than disposable pads for the Swiffer). I'm also amused to realize how casual the mid-century housewife was instructed to be about dangerous chemical cleaners--that has definitely changed for the better. Even without kids, I'm just not comfortable with turpentine and paint thinner hanging around in my closets. The other thing I didn't realize was how pro-wax the mid-century housewife seems to have been--she was apparently putting it on her furniture and her floors. Also, where's the baking soda on this list? Isn't that supposed to be an essential?

Stay tuned for my attempts to actually some of these products. In the meantime, take a gander at your supplies. Do you have everything you need? Is it where it's most useful to you?


Gracie, I am pretty sure that the upholstery brush is a brush with short, stiff bristles that you use to brush upholstery clean, the bristles help loosen anything that is stuck in the cloth fibers.

Libman Wonder Mop! With a bit of Mrs. Meyers all-purpose in hot water. Your house will smell so good!

Gracie, the absorbent is likely what we'd use baking soda for today. The paint cleaner would be for marks on your painted walls -- what a magic eraser takes care of today.
Will you give us outfit details too please?

I am SO looking forward to the rest of this series. OMG.

As to the cheesecloth for dusting: I use cloth diapers for both dusting and those times I need cheesecloth for straining stock...clean ones, of course. It's not technically cheesecloth, but it works great!

I imagine that the lemon oil is like Pledge. I think I'm going to try something similar to this. Not the 40's version though, I think.

Let me just say you are inspirational. Now let me make like a sheep and follow, baaa.

The scrub brush is for things like scrubbing thresholds and such. It's where the dirt gets caught and built up from regular sweeping and mopping. I get down on my floor every month or so and with a scrub brush hit those corners and hidden places. The bristles can penetrate under where a cloth or a mop string cannot.

It's also good if you have any kind of non-smooth surface. I have a shower that has a rough floor - and dirt just doesn't wipe out of the little dips and holes. When I run a scrub brush over it, the bristles grab the dirt out of the holes and then it's easily wiped away.


The whisk or upholstery brush is for dislodging fibres, as previously mentioned. Very good for coir doormats and anything else that doesn't give a damn about the vacuum cleaner- my mum has one, and has used it maybe once that I know of.

I'm guessing that the cheesecloth is for glassware (no pesky linty fibres) and for getting into small places, because dusters can be quite bulky. The turpentine is definitely for helping to repair french-polished furniture- and possibly to remove all that wax that she's rubbing on.

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