Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > XXX. The Care of Rooms

The American Woman's Home

XXX. The Care of Rooms.

It would be impossible in a work dealing, as this does, with general principles of house-keeping, to elaborate in full the multitudinous details which arise for attention and intelligent care. These will be more largely treated of in the book soon to be published for the present writer, (the senior authoress of this volume.) Yet, in the different departments of family labor, there are certain leading matters concerning which a few hints may be found useful in aiding the reader to carry into operation the instructions and ideas of the earlier chapters of this book, and in promoting the general comfort and convenience of families.

And first, asking the reader to bear in mind that these suggestions are chiefly applicable to country homes, not within easy reach of all the conveniences which go under the name of "modern improvements," we will say a few words on the care of Parlors.

In hanging pictures, put them so that the lower part shall be opposite the eye. Cleanse the glass of pictures with whiting, as water endangers the pictures. Gilt frames can be much better preserved by putting on a coat of copal varnish, which with proper brushes, can be bought of carriage or cabinet-makers. When dry, it can be washed with fair water. Wash the brush in spirits of turpentine.

Curtains, ottomans, and sofas covered with worsted, can be cleansed with wheat bran, rubbed on with flannel. Shades of linen or cotton, on rollers and pulleys, are always useful to shut out the sun from curtains and carpets. Paper curtains, pasted on old cotton, are good for chambers. Put them on rollers, having cords nailed to them, so that when the curtain falls, the cord will be wound up. Then, by pulling the cord, the curtain will be rolled up.

Varnished furniture should be rubbed only with silk, except occasionally, when a little sweet-oil should be rubbed over, and wiped off carefully. For unvarnished furniture, use bees-wax, a little softened with sweet-oil; rub it in with a hard brush, and polish with woolen and silk rags. Some persons rub in linseed-oil; others mix bees-wax with a little spirits of turpentine and rosin, making it so that it can be put on with a sponge, and wiped off with a soft rag. Others keep in a bottle the following mixture: two ounces of spirits of turpentine, four table-spoonfuls of sweet-oil, and one quart of milk. This is applied with a sponge, and wiped off with a linen rag.

Hearths and jambs, of brick, look best painted over with black lead, mixed with soft-soap. Wash the bricks which are nearest the fire with redding and milk, using a painter's brush. A sheet of zinc, covering the whole hearth, is cheap, saves work, and looks very well. A tinman can fit it properly.

Stone hearths should be rubbed with a paste of powdered stone, (to be procured of the stone-cutters,) and then brushed with a stiff brush. Kitchen hearths, of stone, are improved by rubbing in lamp-oil.

Stains can be removed from marble, by oxalic acid and water, or oil of vitriol and water, left on a few minutes, and then rubbed dry. Gray marble is improved by linseed-oil. Grease can be taken from marble, by ox-gall and potter's clay wet with soapsuds, (a gill of each.) It is better to add, also, a gill of spirits of turpentine. It improves the looks of marble, to cover it with this mixture, leaving it two days, and then rubbing it off.

Unless a parlor is in constant use, it is best to sweep it only once a week, and at other times use a whisk-broom and dust-pan. When a parlor with handsome furniture is to be swept, cover the sofas, centre table, piano, books, and mantelpiece with old cottons kept for the purpose. Remove the rugs and shake them, and clean the jambs, hearth, and fire-furniture. Then sweep the room, moving every article. Dust the furniture with a dust-brush and a piece of old silk. A painter's brush should be kept, to remove dust from ledges and crevices. The dust-cloths should be often shaken and washed, or else they will soil the walls and furniture when they are used. Dust ornaments and fine books with feather brushes, used for no other purpose.

Chambers and Bedrooms are of course a portion of the house to be sedulously and scrupulously attended to, if either health or comfort are aimed at in the family. And first, every mistress of a family should see, not only that all sleeping-rooms in her house can be well ventilated at night, but that they actually are so. Where there is no provision made for the introduction of pure air, in the construction of the house, and in the bedroom itself no open fire-place to allow the easy exit of foul air, a door should be left open into an entry or room where fresh air is admitted; or else a small opening should be made in a window, taking care not to allow a draught of air to cross the bed. The debility of childhood, the lassitude of domestics, and the ill-health of families, are often caused by neglecting to provide a supply of pure air.

It is not deemed necessary to add much to the earlier chapters treating of bedroom conveniences; but one subject is of marked importance, as being characteristic of good or poor housekeeping—that is, the making of beds.

Few servants will make a bed properly, without much attention from the mistress of the family; and every young woman who expects to have a household of her own to manage should be able to do it well herself, and to instruct others in doing it. The following directions should be given to those who do this work:

Open the windows, and lay off the bed-covering on two chairs, at the foot of the bed. If it be a feather-bed, after it is well aired, shake the feathers from each corner to the middle; then take up the middle, shake it well, and turn the bed over. Then push the feathers in place, making the head higher than the foot, and the sides even, and as high as the middle part. A mattress, whether used on top of a feather-bed or by itself, should in like manner be well aired and turned. Then put on the bolster and the under sheet, so that the wrong side of the sheet shall go next the bed, and the marking always come at the head, tucking in all around. Then put on the pillows, evenly, so that the open ends shall come to the sides of the bed, and spread on the upper sheet so that the wrong side shall be next the blankets, and the marked end always at the head. This arrangement of sheets is to prevent the part where the feet lie from being reversed, so as to come to the face; and also to prevent the parts soiled by the body from coming to the bedtick and blankets. Put on the other covering, except the outer one, tucking in all around, and then turn over the upper sheet at the head, so as to show a part of the pillows. When the pillow-cases are clean and smooth, they look best outside of the cover, but not otherwise. Then draw the hand along the side of the pillows, to make an even indentation, and then smooth and shape the whole outside. A nice housekeeper always notices the manner in which a bed is made; and in some parts of the country, it is rare to see this work properly performed.

The writer would here urge every mistress of a family, who keeps more than one domestic servant, to provide them with single beds, that they might not be obliged to sleep with all the changing domestics, who come and go so often. Where the room is too small for two beds, a narrow truckle-bed kept under another during the day will answer. Domestics should be furnished with washing conveniences in their chambers, and be encouraged to keep their persons and rooms neat and in order.

The care of the Kitchen, Cellar, and Store-room is necessarily the foundation of all proper housekeeping.

If parents wish their daughters to grow up with good domestic habits, they should have, as one means of securing this result, a neat and cheerful kitchen. A kitchen should always, if possible, be entirely above-ground, and well lighted. It should have a large sink, with a drain running under-ground, so that all the premises may be kept sweet and clean. If flowers and shrubs be cultivated around the doors and windows, and the yard near them be kept well turfed, it will add very much to their agreeable appearance. The walls should often be cleaned and white-washed, to promote a neat look and pure air. The floor of a kitchen should be painted, or, what is better, covered with an oilcloth. To procure a kitchen oilcloth as cheaply as possible, buy cheap tow cloth, and fit it to the size and shape of the kitchen. Then have it stretched, and nailed to the south side of the barn, and, with a brush, cover it with a coat of thin rye paste. When this is dry, put on a coat of yellow paint, and let it dry for a fortnight. It is safest to first try the paint, and see if it dries well, as some paint never will dry. Then put on a second coat, and at the end of another fortnight, a third coat. Then let it hang two months, and it will last, uninjured, for many years. The longer the paint is left to dry, the better. If varnished, it will last much longer.

A sink should be scalded out every day, and occasionally with hot lye. On nails, over the sink, should be hung three good dish-cloths, hemmed, and furnished with loops; one for dishes not greasy, one for greasy dishes, and one for washing greasy pots and kettles. These should be put in the wash every week. The lady who insists upon this will not be annoyed by having her dishes washed with dark, musty and greasy rags, as is too frequently the case.

Under the sink should be kept a slop-pail; and, on a shelf by it, a soap-dish and two water-pails. A large boiler of warm soft water should always be kept over the fire, well covered, and a hearth-broom and bellows be hung near the fire. A clock is a very important article in the kitchen, in order to secure regularity at meals.

Washing Dishes.

Kitchen Furniture.

Care of the Cellar.

A cellar should often be whitewashed, to keep it sweet. It should have a drain to keep it perfectly dry, as standing water in a cellar is a sure cause of disease in a family. It is very dangerous to leave decayed vegetables in a cellar. Many a fever has been caused by the poisonous miasm thus generated. The following articles are desirable in a cellar: a safe, or movable closet, with sides of wire or perforated tin, in which cold meats, cream, and other articles should be kept; (if ants be troublesome, set the legs in tin cups of water;) a refrigerator, or a large wooden-box, on feet, with a lining of tin or zinc, and a space between the tin and wood filled with powdered charcoal, having at the bottom a place for ice, a drain to carry off the water, and also movable shelves and partitions. In this, articles are kept cool. It should be cleaned once a week. Filtering jars to purify water should also be kept in the cellar. Fish and cabbages in a cellar are apt to scent a house, and give a bad taste to other articles.


Every house needs a storeroom, in which to keep tea, coffee, sugar, rice, candles, etc. It should be furnished with jars, having labels, a large spoon, a fork, sugar and flour-scoops, a towel, and a dish-cloth.

Modes of Destroying Insects and Vermin.

In using any of the above-mentioned poisons, great care should be taken to guard against their getting into any article of food or any utensil or vessel used for cooking or keeping food, or where children can get at them.