Agriculture & Livestock: Spring cleaning always a chore

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Diane Prather

Along with warmer weather comes spring cleaning, and as I prepare to clean the house, my thoughts turn to the rural women of years ago who spring cleaned without the modern conveniences such as the washer and dryer, vacuum, steam cleaners, and running water.

How much we take for granted in today’s world.

Back when ranchers and farmers settled in the West, houses were closed up all winter so the women took advantage of a sunny, spring day to open the windows and doors and let their houses air out.

It was spring cleaning day.

Children were recruited to carry bedding, pillows, mattresses and even furniture outside. They were also responsible for packing water because everything that could be washed, was.

Inside, walls, windows and floors were cleaned. Stoves were polished. Finally, everything was carried back into the house.

Bedding had that wonderful outside smell. How good it always is to have a freshly-cleaned house.

That was spring cleaning day, but even though the house had been cleaned from top to bottom, it didn’t lessen the ranch or farm wife’s household chores.

In order to get everything done, women followed a weekly routine. A day was assigned for each task, as evidenced by the embroidered pictures on tea towels.

Weekly tasks included washing and ironing the clothes and linens, mending, baking bread, and cleaning. Sunday was usually set aside for worship and rest.

Monday and Tuesday stand out in my childhood memories.

Monday was wash day, winter and summer alike. When I was a young child, Mom did her laundry by scrubbing it on a washboard. She made her own soap.

Water was hauled into the house by buckets, heated on the stove and poured into tubs for rinsing out the soap. White clothes were washed first, dark clothes last.

Bluing was added to the rinse water because it was supposed to make white clothes even whiter.

And then, after rinsing, some clothing and linens were wrung out in a water-starch mixture. Even pillowcases were starched.

Everything was hung out on the clothesline, even in the winter if it wasn’t snowing.

Women believed that clothes would freeze dry, at least to some extent, anyway. I remember taking frozen long underwear into the house that were so frozen that they stood up by themselves. Frozen clothing was hung all over the house to finish drying.

Tuesday was usually ironing day.

That’s probably because nearly everything that was washed had to be ironed, and the washed items were needed by the family. Kitchen towels, pillowcases, handkerchiefs and men’s Levi pants were among those things ironed.

First, though, everything had to be sprinkled. Since there were no steam irons in those days, the items to be ironed had to be sufficiently damp to prevent wrinkles.

Each piece of clothing or linen was laid out and water sprinkled on it. The sprinkling was done by hand or by a soda bottle with a metal sprinkler full of holes, as in a watering can, in its top.

There was an art to the sprinkling so that each part of the clothing had some water on it, but not too much.

The items to be ironed were rolled up and placed in a plastic bag and left for a while. Care was taken not too leave the sprinkled items too long, for fear of mildew.

Ironing was done on an ironing board with heavy irons that were heated on the stove. Some of the irons had metal handles that got so hot, a potholder had to be used when ironing.

Other irons had handles that attached to the flat iron part. Only the flat irons were heated. Hooks from the handle fit into holes in the flat irons. No potholders were needed to hold onto the wooden handle tops.

When the irons cooled down, they were put back on the stove to reheat. Women saved waxed paper, some from store bought bread, and ran the irons across it. This made the irons slick enough to move more easily over items being ironed.

As I remember, ironing was a full day’s job. As a girl, I sat up to the ironing board on a tall stool and ironed all of the flat pieces. Later on, I graduated to ironing shirts and dresses.

Whether it was spring cleaning or daily chores, taking care of the household was hard work for ranch and farm women of years gone by.

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Comments

wellwell 2 years, 11 months ago

When my mom ironed clothes I think she sprinkled each item and then ironed. I don't believe there was plastic bags at the time. Sandwiches and such came in wax coated bags and paper cups leaked after about an hour. Also I remember we made our own soap. They made it somehow from fat and ashes, but that is all I can remember. How in the world those two Items made soap is beyond me!

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