Hannah Jackson-Matombe looks at how cleaning has changed over the past century
Like many, I found myself in need of a cleaner while exhausted by pregnancy, and even more so when four children left me overwhelmed with mountains of washing and scribbled walls. But somehow, even once I got a cleaner my house was never really clean.
It was partly my fault for thinking that one person could keep my modest but over-stuffed home genuinely clean as well as neat and tidy with just six hours of cleaning a week. Instead we found ourselves living with serious infestations of both food and clothes moths. And despite requests to limit their use, the quantity of toxic products used was leaving my children with skin rashes and blocked noses, and me feeling seriously ill.
It seemed rather a radical solution, but I gave up my work in pupillage as a barrister, covering environmental law and women’s rights, and started doing the cleaning myself. I also did some research.I found for example that in 2010 the American internet journal Environmental Health reported that use of air fresheners and products for mould and mildew control were associated with increased risk of breast cancer. This report along with many others can be found at www.sciencedaily.com. I also realized that modern cleaning products are designed to do little more than limit bacteria and while the words “green”, “organic” and “natural” are often used to describe them, but some of the ingredients are far from safe.
It seems I was not alone in my problems. More women working full time and cleaning less, and houses with sealed windows, central heating and less space, seem to have led to a whole range of issues. Implicated are a massive increase in asthma, eczema and hives, even fertility problems plus a burgeoning population of moths, carpet beetles, bed bugs and more. These flourish in places left undisturbed by standard cleaning, leaving them to ravage your furnishing and clothes.
I started looking into more sustainable and traditional cleaning techniques, including removal of moths, bed bugs, dust mites and carpet beetles. And then I realized what I was really doing was returning to my roots.My nan was a professional housekeeper, her cleaning and household management skills so good that when he was widowed, her employer married her.
Granny Beeton, as she was called by myself and my sisters, was an expert in household management who accorded cleaning a status it doesn’t get today and she would have given short shrift to most current cleaning ladies who do a few dishes and run the vacuum round the middle of the floor.
Granny Beetonsaid that in the 18th- 19th century households in London had at least three or more cleaning staff, headed by the housekeeper. Pay would have been low and the employers rich, but this was not about keeping up appearances, it was about quality of life and health.
She reported how staff would take furniture onto the street to make use of the effective deterrents of sunlight and fresh air, rugs would be beaten with brooms over washing lines, and the interiors of every room would be cleaned inside and out, including every last corner of wardrobes and drawers which were not stuffed overfull. Scented drawer liners and sachets of lavender or cedarwood kept the likes of moths and bed bugs at bay.
Kitchen benches and cupboards were scrubbed inside and out, removing built-up grease. Utensils were scrubbed and polished, light fittings were cleaned in minute detail, and the ovens were scrubbed with lemon oil. Household dust, which is largelymade up of human skinand hair, was carefully removed, reducing sustenance for moths, dust mites and more.
Even in the middle of the 20thcentury the deep clean was still popular among both middle and working classes, often with family members and friends helping each other. My mum was a very modern lady selling Tupperware part-time,but she and her siblings, headed by Granny Beeton, would organise deep cleans in each others’ homes.
An added benefit of these sessions was that the mums were always completely on top of what the family had or needed – unlike me who recently discovered my four boys had around 50 pair of trousers between them, but very few t-shirts and no pants!
As I researched I realized my daily cleaning wasn’t what was required. It needed not just time, but also a team and a system. I roped in a few reluctant individuals to provide a deep clean of my kitchen and what took me more than a day on my own, took three people just four hours. And the results were amazing; we cleared the moth infestation and to ensure no further infestations I put phermone stickers in the cupboards to catch male moths and stop them breeding.
For a bedroom deep clean you will need:
A magnifying glass
A large broom
A bin bag full of lint-free cloth
A bowl or bucket of hot water
Gloves and aprons
At least one stepladder, ideally two
A disposable paper mop and bucket for wooden or tiled floors
A rented carpet shampoo machine if you have carpets that need shampooing
LDC super degreaser (used to clean oil from 25,000 penguins in South Africa) a brilliant all-purpose soap for damp cleaning – or another mild soap
A creamy non toxic polish for wood
At least two lambswool sticks for cleaning high and low and behind furniture
Two vacuum cleaners with hepa filters
A range of lavender or cedarwood sachets
Scented drawer liners
Big plastic bags to take unwanted such as clothes, bags, shoes, bedding, books and magazine items to charity
One bag for each drawer and one per wardrobe
How to do it
Open windows to let in some fresh air and sunlight.
Remove existing bedding, curtains and nets if you want them laundering.
Open the drawers one by one and remove any worn, small or no longer required items to a recycle bag.
Open the wardrobes and remove any item not worn for more than a year (dust hazard, moth and beetle home).
Any items you want put in a bag to return after the clean – one bag for each drawer or wardrobe.
Roll up any rugs and take outside if you have outside space. If not put to one side till later.
Move the mattress. You will need two people take it off the bed and out, or if not outside, prop it up in the middle of the bed or on a wall near an open window for at least one hour.
Move the bed if it is against a wall.
Carry out bed bug inspections and moth lava inspection as you prepare the space to assess if you have any long standing issues to tackle. To check use the magnifying glass around the edge of the base of the bed, also inspect old clothes not recently cleaned as they are attracted to proteins in sweat and lava may be found there.
Any infested items will need to be put in the freezer and/or washed in hot or very cold temperatures, or dry cleaned.
Mattresses require regular turning and careful vacuuming to maintain comfortable use.
Top down cleaning:
Two people vacuum all edges of the room and then inside every empty drawer and wardrobe.
Each person will then clean from the highest point and down cleaning insides as they go.
Only use a damp cloth for inside wardrobes and drawers leave open to dry.
One person will clean the light fitting and then the smaller walls and everything on them and inside such as drawers and shelves.
One person will tackle the largest wall in the room and all the things on it.
One person will clean the wardrobe from the top and if possible pull out and clean behind.
The third person will tackle the other largest wall and this will usually include cleaning first of all the paintwork with a damp cloth and light soapy water and then the windows and then the glass with a clean dry cloth and glass cleaner.
Don’t forget light switches, especially round the switch and the sockets, but handle with care – no damp cloth, only light sprays or dry cleaning.
The bed frame must be damp cleaned in detail including the legs the base and head boards.
Once all of the paintwork, windows and furniture have been wet cleaned, vaccum around the whole edge of the room before the centre
If you do not want to clean curtains, vacuum down the sides, the tops of the hems insides and front and backs.
Do not shampoo until the end of the cleaning.
Mirrors and picture frames must be held in place for careful cleaning, gently cleaning backs and sides with the lambswool stick
Only use a completely clean dry cloth when polishing glass.
Frequently replace your dirty cloths and put used cloth into a cloth bag please never shake your cloth!
Rugs ideally can be beaten over a line in the garden and left to rest.
Books must be knocked clean to do this hold the spine open to the center and bang down near an open window
Polish or shampoo the floors depending on the surface type.
Do not clean under beds with less than three inches as will result in mould problems
Always clean around the edges of furniture so that you do not get any marks
If you wish to move all or some items, ensure the carpet is fully dry before returning
Polish wooden floors by hand using a circular motion or if you have a floor polish machine use this
If you have only one set of nets and/or curtains, plan to drop and pick up from a dry cleaner in one day
When everything is back in place and the bed made up, place scented drawer liners and lavender or cedar wood sachets in drawers, scented hangers in wardrobes, and return clothes into drawers and wardrobes after a gentle shake at an open window to ensure pest free.
Hannah set up and runs Spotless Organic from Sunnyside Road N19,offering old-fashioned, total clean techniques using products which disintegrate safely after use, such as Super 10, used in the Bordano butterfly house in Italy. She trains her staff to find dirt you didn’t know was there, and to deal with stressful situations including moth infestations. To discuss either a total clean or for help and advice contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07944 815 973.