Like many working mums, we struggle to juggle our many responsibilities with keeping our houses clean and tidy. There’s just so much on our to-do lists, that dusting, vacuuming and scrubbing often gets happily forgotten.
However, it’s not that long ago that a mother’s daily life was almost consumed by her responsibilities in the home. And the thought of not giving each room a thorough scrub every week was probably unheard of.
While we’re most certainly not advocating a return to those times, it’s interesting to learn more about the lives of some our foremothers, and maybe even pick up some handy tips that will make our lives and homes easier and healthier today – whether we clean them ourselves, or hire someone else to do it for us.
In fact, former actress and barrister Hannah Jackson-Matombe was so fascinated by the skills of her professional housekeeper grandmother, she set up the UK’s first organic cleaning company, Spotless Organic. Now she shares with us her own rediscovery of the deep down clean – and how it inspired her to start her business.
Why modern cleaning just wasn’t enough
Like many women, I found myself in need of a cleaner while exhausted by pregnancy, and even more so when four children left me overwhelmed with mountains of washing and scribbled walls. But somehow, even with a cleaner my house was never really clean.
It was partly my fault for thinking that one cleaner could keep my modest but over-stuffed home genuinely clean, neat and tidy in just six hours a week. Eventually we found ourselves living with serious infestations of both food and clothes moths, and despite requests to limit their use, the quantity of toxic products used was leaving my children with skin rashes and blocked noses and me feeling seriously ill.
It seemed rather a radical solution, but I gave up my profession as a barrister and started doing the cleaning myself. I also did some research – and was shocked at what I discovered.
I found, for example, that in 2010 the American internet journal Environmental Health reported that use of air fresheners and products for mould and mildew control were associated with increased risk of breast cancer (you can find this report along with many others on Science Daily). I also learned that modern cleaning products are designed to do little more than limit bacteria, and while the words ‘green’, ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are often used to describe them, some of the ingredients are far from safe.
How our homes and lifestyles may lead to asthma
It seems I was not alone in my problems. With more women working full time and so doing less cleaning, and houses with sealed windows, central heating and less space, we’ve seen a massive increase in asthma, eczema and hives, even it seems fertility problems.
Moths, carpet beetles, bed bugs and more have also become increasingly common. These pests flourish in places left undisturbed by day to day cleaning, leaving them to flourish and ravage your furnishing and clothes.
I started looking into more sustainable and traditional cleaning techniques, moth removal, bed bugs, dust mites and carpet beetles. And then I realised what I was really doing was returning to my roots – my nan was a highly respected professional housekeeper (in fact, her cleaning and household management skills were so good that her employer married her after his wife died!).
Rediscovering the secrets of Granny Beeton
Granny Beeton, as she was called by myself and my sisters, was an expert in household management who accorded cleaning a status it doesn’t get today – and she would have given short shrift to most current cleaning ladies who do a few dishes and run the vacuum round the middle of the floor.
Granny Beeton said that in the 18th-19th century, households in London had at least three or more cleaning staff, headed by a housekeeper. Pay would have been low and the employers rich, but this was not about keeping up appearances; it was about quality of life and health.
She reported how staff would take furniture on to the street to make use of the effective deterrents of sunlight and fresh air, rugs would be beaten with brooms over washing lines, and the interiors of every room would be cleaned inside and out, including every last corner of wardrobes and drawers (which were not stuffed overfull). Scented drawer liners and sachets of lavender or cedarwood also kept the likes of moths and bed bugs at bay.
Kitchen benches and cupboards were scrubbed inside and out, removing built-up grease. Utensils were scrubbed and polished, light fittings were cleaned in minute detail, and the ovens were scrubbed with lemon oil. Household dust, which is largely made up of human skin and hair, was carefully removed, reducing sustenance for moths, dust mites and more.
How our mums helped clean each others’ homes
Even in the middle of the 20th century, the deep clean was still popular among both middle and working classes, often with family members and friends helping each other. My mum was a very modern lady selling Tupperware part-time, but she and her siblings, headed by Granny Beeton, would organise deep cleans in each others’ homes.
An added benefit of these sessions was that the mums were always completely on top of what the family had or needed – unlike me who recently discovered my four boys had around 50 pair of trousers between them, but very few t-shirts and no pants!
As I researched I realised my daily cleaning wasn’t what was required. It needed not just time, but also a team and a system. I roped in a few reluctant individuals to provide a deep clean of my kitchen and what took me more than a day on my own, took three people just four hours.
And the results were amazing – we cleared the moth infestation and to ensure no further infestations, I put phermone stickers in the cupboards to catch male moths and stop them breeding. From that moment I was sold, and resolved to help other women around the country rediscover the secrets and benefits of a truly clean and healthy home.
Coming soon: Hannah’s step-by-step guide to deep cleaning your home.
Hannah set up and runs Spotless Organic from Sunnyside Road N19, offering old-fashioned, total clean techniques using products which disintegrate safely after use. She trains her staff to find dirt you didn’t know was there, and to deal with stressful situations including moth infestations. To discuss either a total clean or for help and advice contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07944 815 973.Hannah Jackson-Matombe