Cleaning: 1918 v 2018

Cleaning: 1918 v 2018

With the end of the 1st world war ending 100 years ago this Sunday we thought we would go back 100 years to see what the cleaning was like in England in 1918!

In 1918 only the women did the washing and cleaning in their own homes, unlike today where everyone normally chips in with the house work when needed. If you were lucky enough to be wealthy you would have had one or more maids to do all the house work for you.chems

Lets start by looking at chemicals! Today we have a large range of chemicals to choose from. Toilet cleaner, antibacterial cleaner, oven cleaner, polish, washing up liquid and floor cleaner to name a few.

Back in 1Ivory_old_1954 copy free918 they only had soap to clean with. Normally in most lower class households they would only have one bar of soap and this was used for everything, washing the floors, doing the laundry, washing the dishes and even washing yourself.

The most common soaps used in 1918 were:

  • Sunlight soap this was traditionally made using glycerin and vegetable oils such as palm oil.

  • The Ivory soap bar contained: sodium tallowate, sodium palm kernelate, water, sodium chloride, sodium silicate, magnesium sulfate, fragrance and whipped with air so it floated on water.

  • Pears soap was made with glycerin and natural oils, had a scent reminiscent of that of an EngliSunlight_Soap coppy right freesh garden and a transparent appearance.

Washing clothes

Today we have washing machines, you throw in your clothes – and lets face it you don't even need to separate whites and coloured items these days with items such as colour catchers, pop in some washing powder and your clothes can be clean in half an hour! We don't even need to hang around for them to dry as most people have the choice of putting it in a tumble dryer.washing machine coppy free

Back in 1918 washing was only done once a week – normally a Monday – and this took all day starting at about 5am. The first thing that was done was to fill and light the copper – the copper was like a deep cauldron with a lid, generally made of iron, though if you were rich you would have had one made out of copper. It was built into the corner of the room and had a space underneath for a fire. This was the only way to obtain significant amounts of hot water. To fill the copper it took about 6 buckets full of water drawn from the single brass cold water tap over the sink. The whites and coloured items were then separated. Once the water in the copper was hot, some of it was baled out into a wooden tub. The coloured items were put in to soak and the whites were put into the rest of the water in the copper, this was then set to boil with soap and soda added.

copper coppy freeAfter the coloured items had soaked they were washed in the wooden tub and you would use a wash board or a dollie to scrub the clothes, although it was quite common just to use a wooden stick. Once all the washing was done the clothes were hung on the line to dry.

The first electric-powered washing machine was introduced in 1908 byThor washing machine the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago, lllinois, the Thor washing machine was invented by Alva J. Fisher.
Washing machines were not a common sight inhouses in 1918. As they were very expensive to buy and run, they involved a lot oflabour still and were not very efficient. In fact, just 4% of UK households had a washing machine of any kind in 1938. Those that could afford a washing machine were also the one's who could afford to pay for help.

Cleaning floors

In 2018 it couldn't be easier to clean a floor, you would sweep or vacuum and then mop if needed, we also have a choice of items we can use to clean a floor, an upright, handheld or a pull along vacuum, a steam mop, a flat map or a granny mop to name a few different items.


In 1918 most floors were covered in oil-cloth. This was cleaned by sweeping and sometimes damp tea leaves would be sprinkled over the floor to settle the dust. The floor would then be cleaned on your hands and knees with a scrubbing brush and soapy water.

All floors were hard and cold so most people had a rug in their living space. In good weather the rugs were cleaned more thoroughly by hanging them on the line to let the sun and wind get to them, sometimes they had a really good clean by being beaten with a carpet beater. In the winter the rug would be given an extra clean by dragging it through the snow, just quickly enough for it not to get too wet.

Thhoover coppy free e first domestic vacuum cleaner that was portable was build in 1905 by Walter Griffiths and manufactured in Birmingham, England. Vacuum cleaners in the UK were a luxury item for many years that only the upper class could afford.

As you can tell cleaning in 1918 was completely different to how we clean today in 2018, not only has the technology improved so we have many more items to choose from. Now Most of us even have the option to hire someone to clean our homes for us. hoovering

Blog written by Stacee Callaghan