A Clean Sweep

Armstrong Vacuum Cleaner Pop Mech Jan 1911
Popular Mechanics, January 1911

I’d never been so grateful for carpet technology as I was when I read an 1890 account of how people cleaned them back then. The Bissell carpet sweeper had been around since the 1880s, but most people still beat the dirt out of their rugs. So let’s imagine that there was no modern carpet cleaning in New Jersey (or anywhere else, for that matter); it’s 1890, and we are looking at our filthy carpets and wondering what to do.

If you lived in a city you’d hire carpet beaters to come and deal with them. But if you had a backyard or a “grass field” – you were in for a day of hard work. Oh, and in addition to the outdoor space, you were going to need four men to do the heavy lifting. The London Lady (a formidable-sounding anonymous writer in an 1890 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine) probably just ordered a few of the neighbors (or hapless passersby) to “come along now, quickly!” and grab a corner of the carpet:

Proceed by taking the carpet up, fold it and carry it to a grass field. Let four men beat it with hazel or withey [willow] rods four or five feet long…Beat the carpet well, then drag along the grass, face downward [the carpet, not you]; now reverse and drag along the grass; beat and drag again. 

Then the four men each were to take a corner of the carpet and shake it. But you were not done yet! The four men would have sneaked off before you ordered them to beat any more carpets, and it was time for you to roll up your sleeves.  You had to rinse some tea leaves in water, sprinkle them over the carpet, and then brush the carpet. Or maybe you wanted to wash the carpet after it was beaten. In that case you would rub it with a flannel dipped in a solution of ox gall (a slightly fancier way of saying bile from cows) and hot water. This does not sound like fun.

Now by the 1910s, there were all sorts of fancy vacuum cleaners, like the one on the right that cleaned up all sorts of dirt and that “a child or delicate woman operates easily.” The woman in the ad still looks a bit grim, though, don’t you think? She would appreciate modern ways of getting carpets free not only of dirt and dust (and cat hair, and road salt, and what-the-heck-is-thats) but also would be cheered by things like mold removal NJ or water damage NJ. How happy she would look, free from pushing that wheelbarrow-with-a-bag. And free from even thinking of scrubbing carpets with ox gall. I know I would be, too.

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5 thoughts on “A Clean Sweep

  1. I've tried a vacuum cleaner on uneven mosaic. It turned out about as well as using a computer mouse on a marble mosaic mousepad (not well).

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