Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Spring House Cleaning/Full Week of Scrubbing

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 18 March 1962

Spring house cleaning in the early days was a time of tribulation. The methods and equipment used in cleaning the pioneer home and maintaining its cleanliness were much different than those of today. One of the greatest aids of the pioneer housewife was homemade soap which was made from fats that the chickens and hogs would not eat. These fats would be collected and placed in an empty five gallon coal oil can. When the can was filled, the mother went upstairs to the attic and found a gunny sack high above the reach of the children, took out a five pound lard pail, opened the lid and brought forth a can of Babbits Lye. She took a sufficient amount of the crystals that would be used making the five gallons of soap grease. She closed the lye can, put it into the lard pail, returned the lard pail to the gunny sack and hung it again in its high safe place. She made the soap according to the directions on the lye can.

The next step in the house cleaning was taking up the rag carpets. The tacks in the carpet were pulled by thrusting the blade of a strong wooden-handled case knife under their heads. The tacks were carefully picked up and placed into a tin pie plate. Caution was taken in picking up all the tacks because a bare foot would be sure to get any that were left. The carpets were placed on the clothes line. Propped up securely, then brushed well with a broom after which they were beaten with a stick until no dust remained in them.

While the carpets were on the clothes line being beaten, the mother would sweep down the ceilings and walls, take down the window curtain, drapes and wall pictures. The floors were then given a good scrubbing. When they were dried, new clean straw was placed on the floors that were to be carpeted. The carpets were brought in, stretched, and tacked down over the new straw. The window curtains, drapes and wall pictures were put up in their proper places.

The outside of the windows were washed and polished. The fight against dirt lasted from Monday morning until late Saturday night. The long seige of dirt chasing wore on the bodies and nerves and tempers of the entire household.

Every member of the family was overjoyed when the kitchen-the last room in the house to be cleaned-was finished.

The casualties of the week long war against dirt would be father's sore back and posterior caused by slipping on a piece of mother's new soap and sliding down the stairs; and little John's puncture in the sole of his bare foot from stepping on a stray tack.

The old house gleamed in cleanliness. The fragrance of the fresh straw under the carpets enhanced by the wintergreen scent in mother's new soap, made everyone feel that spring was just around the corner. The cleaning of this entire house had been done with only a broom, a mop, a case knife, a tack hammer, a few washed and drying cloths, some home made soap and a great deal of elbow grease.

These were the days before the vacumn(sic) cleaner and all its attachments were invented. Even the Bissel Carpet Sweeper had not been brought in to the Tri-City area. The lower portion of a wild goose feathered wing took the place of the turkey duster. A beautiful brown and bronze small wild teal duck wing was used to sweep up the table crumbs.

The pioneer housewife had a problem of overcoming certain barnyard odors. Take it from a nose that knows. They did a wonderful job with their wintergreen scented soap, their lavender wreaths and rose petal jars in making a real "home sweet home." In some respects, the modern housewife might learn from the pioneer housewife and control the stench of today's cigar butts and the stink of the modern cigarette.

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