Cloth Diapers, Line Drying & More: Cleaning Then and Now

Cloth Diapers, Line Drying & More: Cleaning Then and Now

Family life has undergone some pretty big changes over the past few decades, let alone the past century — and housecleaning is no exception. From the invention of timesaving cleaning appliances, to cultural shifts in chore distribution among spouses and children, to what we consider important cleaning in the first place, chances are your clean house is not your grandma’s clean house. (Unless, of course, you inherited your grandma’s house — then it sort of is.)

Here’s a short collection of what, for most of us, are cleaning bygones — but depending whom you ask, these conventions are surprisingly alive and well in some form or another.

Ironing handkerchiefs: Before disposable tissues became indispensable, people besides your Uncle Fred actually blew their noses into these reusable cloths. And if you were an extra-meticulous housekeeper (as the convention of the day pressured women to be), you may well have carefully removed the wrinkles from your husband’s set. Today you can find hankies reincarnated into more fashionable versions of themselves: silk or linen “pocket squares,” while still placed in the breast pocket of men’s suits, are more form than function versus their prototype.

Line-drying linens: There is nothing in the world like sleeping in clean sheets, dried in the summer breeze. Unless, like many people, you haven’t experienced that — maybe instead of a childhood spent on an idyllic farm, you grew up in a rough-and-tumble-dry family that had little time for clothespins. Line drying, obviously, isn’t the necessity it once was on Little House On the Prairie; however, many people still honor this tradition not only for nostalgic but environmental and economical purposes.

Saving cloth diapers: With steadily increasing consumer concern for the planet — and accompanying trendiness of all things green — reusable diapers are making a comeback. They weren’t always the alternative, though: Before disposables came along in the 1960s, many families relied on a diaper service to stop by the house along with their milkman. Used loads were taken away for washing in industrial settings, replaced with a fresh new stack for the week. Talk about a special delivery!

Maintaining the icebox: Until refrigerators were commonly available, families kept perishables fresh with iceboxes. But when the food-cooling block of ice melted, resulting pools of water drained onto a tray that needed emptying at least once a day (at least in the models owned by average families). On the other hand, iceboxes usually weren’t nearly as tall as refrigerators…so at least it was easier to prevent that layer of 10-year-old dust on top from forming. For those of you who long for a fridge free of ugly magnets (but don’t have access to a glacier), wooden iceboxes retrofitted with modern refrigeration are available.

As to what the future holds, the Jetsons-style robot housekeeper may be closer than we think. But for most of us, cleaning tasks will probably still be a regular part of life — even if we have a nagging app that reminds us to do them.

— Submitted by PetalSweet Cleaning, a residential and commercial cleaning company headquartered in Medina

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