Harper's Household Handbook. 1913

A guide to easy ways of doing woman's work

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Water: Soften hard water with either washing-soda or lye, taking care not to use too much. Turbid or milky water can be cleared to a degree with alum. Dissolve a tablespoonful in a pint of boiling water, and add a cupful to a tub. Ill-smelling water should be dashed with clear lime water—using likewise a cupful to the tub. A teaspoonful of carbolic acid to the tubful is also advisable with wash water under suspicion.

Soap: Save money and strength by getting soap in boxfuls, piling it cobhouse fashion on 


a dry shelf in the air. Borax soaps chap the hands least. Naphtha soaps do the best work with cold water. Cheap yellow soaps, having much resin in them, answer very well if the clothes are well rinsed. Any sort of soap is best made into a jelly. Shave a bar, cover with boiling water, and simmer until soft. If there are very dirty things to wash, add a teaspoonful of borax in powder, and as much washing-soda to the cake of soap. This is for rubbing on dirty spots. Other things had better be washed in suds, made by putting a handful of jelly in a tub of water.

Washing Fluids: Use for boys’ clothes, working-men’s shirts, and overalls turpentine, kerosene, and lime water, equal quantities, shaken well together. Wet thoroughly, let stand an hour, then wash in warm suds. Turpentine and spirits of ammonia, half and half, shaken hard together, will make easier the cleansing of colored woolens.

Bleaching: Clothes that are yellow from lying should be wet in boiling water dashed with oxalic acid (see section Renovators), putting 


two tablespoonfuls to the gallon. Wring out, dry in sunshine, and wash as usual. To bleach faded things white, as prints, lawns or linens, wash very clean, using extra-strong suds, then boil in a solution of cream of tartar, a heaping tablespoonful to the gallon. Boil half an hour; lift up; if not white, boil as long again. Keep the boiler filled and the garments well under water. Rinse in two waters after boiling, and dry in sunlight before ironing.

Temperature: Keep the water temperature reasonably even throughout a wash—violent alternations “full” every sort of fabric more or less. Very fine flannels washed in cold water throughout with naphtha suds—soap must never touch them—and dried quickly, hardly shrink at all. Flannels generally are best washed in blood-warm suds, with rinse water the least bit hotter. Yet the beginning of wash-day wisdom is to wet everything thoroughly with cold water before washing. Also put clothes to boil in cold water.

Mordants: Set colors before washing new garments. Most of the aniline colors require 


acid—either alum water or vinegar. Put four ounces of alum to a large tub of water, or add to it a pint of strong vinegar. Soak things for ten minutes, then wash. Set madder colors with sugar of lead, putting an ounce to a gallon of hot water. Soak twenty minutes. Soak blacks, black and whites, and grays in strong salt water, but only a few minutes. Buff, tan, and gray linens keep fresh longer if well wet before washing with strong black-pepper tea.

Wash Frocks: Put no soap on wash frocks—suds suffice after spots have been removed (see section Spots and Stains). With delicate colors use bran water instead of suds. Tie wheat bran loosely in thin cloth, and rub the clothes with it. Use lukewarm water, and work quickly. Rinse instantly and hang to dry in shade, but opened out so the drying will be quick. Hang carefully—pulling while wet ruins lines, besides weakening the fabric—especially if it is starched.

Table Linen: Wash in suds, first removing stains and grease (see section Spots and Stains). 


Boil only occasionally. Wash first. Never starch. Hang out very straight, warp threads across the line. Take down when barely damp, fold, keeping threads true, roll smoothly, iron dry, first on the wrong side, then on the right. Use irons below scorching heat. In ironing napkins do not pinch the folds with the iron—also iron them first the warp way. Instead of folding table cloths roll them after ironing upon heavy cardboard mailing-tubes that have been covered with white stuff and furnished with wash ribbons at the ends for tying. Tie napkins by sixes with ribbons matching those of the table cloths.

Doing Up Shirts, Cuffs, and Collars: Soak in blood-warm water until starched parts are soft, wash clean, shake out, pull all double surfaces straight, pat bosom, collars, and cuffs so the various plies will lie together, hang to dry, straight. When bone-dry fold the bosom lengthwise down the middle, dip in hot starch reinforced with gum water, rub the starch well into the cloth, wring, hang straight, slip a hand underneath the bosom and wipe over 


with a damp, clean cloth, then pat well together, pin-pricking any blisters. Starch collars and cuffs the same. Let dry, then spread sheets flat, sprinkle lightly, fold tails upward, sprinkle again, then, beginning at the neck band, roll up tight and smooth and let stand an hour.

Fold lengthwise down the middle of the back, iron body, back, and front; iron sleeves from the sloped seam back; press wrist bands first upon wrong side, then on right. Do the same with the yoke and neck band—fasten it, put in bosom board, spread bosom smooth upon it, keeping threads exactly square. Wet lightly with starch water; wipe over with a damp cloth. Have an iron just below scorching heat, begin work in the middle, at the bottom, hold the bosom taut with the left hand and iron toward the neck. Go all over; if any smears come wipe off with tepid water. Do the same for wrinkles or warped spots. Hold hard along the edges—the stitching draws. Polish with a special polishing-iron, a little cooler than the others.


Iron collars and cuffs upon the wrong side until half dry. Press hard over the right side and polish. Curl collars around the iron as it moves. Finish the band before ironing the outside. With cuffs the main thing is to prevent blisters and wry corners—do that by ironing the edges first and holding them taut.

Clear Starching: For fine lawns and laces. Dip in gum water (see section Renovators) a cupful to a quart of boiling water, squeeze without wringing, and hang smoothly to dry. Take down when barely damp, roll tight and smoothly, loosen a smallish space, and pat between the hands until dry. Sprinkle lightly—with an atomizer if possible—and iron on the wrong side with moderate heat. Laces need not be ironed—in fact, should not be.

Starches: A heaped tablespoonful of raw starch to a gallon of water makes rather stiff starch—if wanted very stiff use a teaspoonful additional. Bring the water to a bubbling boil in rather a wide kettle, wet the starch smooth, and thicker than cream, in cold water; take the boiling water from fire and stir the 


wetted starch into it. Stir hard—it will form no lumps, hence need no straining. A little lard put in while hot and stirred well makes things iron smoother. For starching tinted things—as écru linens or brown or buff lawns—color the water with clear coffee or hay tea before putting in the starch. Use the black starch sold in the shops for mourning prints, or any black-grounded ones. Never dip a blueing-rag in starch of any sort. Make blue-water as deep as possible, strain, and add to the hot starch. Even with liquid blue it is well to strain—specks of blueing, once dry, are hard to get out.

Curtains: Dip cream net or madras in hay tea or weak coffee water, after rinsing—this keeps the color. Make the tea by boiling a handful of bright hay in two gallons of water for twenty minutes. Strain, and add a pinch of alum in powder. Most curtains should not be starched. Many are better not ironed. Real lace curtains should be dried on sheets spread on the floor, every point pinned smooth. Or they can be clapped dry as though clear-starched. 


So can net ones. Frame drying is quickest and easiest, therefore to be chosen for all but the finest sorts. Very stretchy net should be dried on sheets, lying lightly crumpled. A very little gum in the rinse water gives it more body. This applies also to madras. Iron madras on the wrong side, taking pains not to warp or stretch it. Tucks in curtains, or anywhere, need to be held taut before the iron. Sewing of any kind puckers for wetting. Put the least bit of starch in muslin ruffles to be fluted. Hold insertions the same as tucks. Iron cretonne on the wrong side, when it is barely damp. Chintz is exceptional in requiring a thin starch and in looking best when ironed on its face.

Knitted Woolens: Knitted things like scarfs, sacks, sweaters, capes must be washed quickly in white soapsuds, lukewarm, else in cold naphtha suds, rinsed, blued if white, and dried in a crumpled heap in the sun. Hanging ruins them. Very fluffy things had better be dry-cleaned or washed in gasolene. Do this also with knitted silk hoods and neck scarfs.


Lace and Embroidery: If very much soiled put in a glass or earthen vessel, cover with white soapsuds, and set all day in full sunshine. Rinse in cold water, press lace smooth between the hands, and wind it while damp about a glass jar covered with old linen. Let dry, but do not iron. Iron embroidery on the wrong side, upon its special padded board (see section Equipment). Made-up lace, as fichus, collars, and so on, must be spread smoothly upon a hard cushion, pinned, and dried in air. Things lightly soiled can be dry-cleaned by lying buried a week in corn starch mixed equally with calcined magnesia. Shake out, brush gently, and press under light weight. Moderate soiling is best remedied with gasolene, changing it as it grows dirty. Hang several days in air, under a thin cover—this takes away scent and prevents collecting dust. Silk embroidery on all grounds demands gasolene-cleaning. Spots must be taken out (see section Spots and Stains) before cleaning. Press very lightly on the wrong side. Treat wool embroidery the same way. Embroidered cushion covers must 


be taken off, well brushed and shaken, also turned inside out before cleaning. But clean them right side out.

Laundry Aprons: Make laundry aprons of strong stuff, but sleazy—crash, denim, or colored linen. Cut kimona shape, with roomy sleeves, and to slip on over the head. Set a deep pocket on each side, within handy reach. Set a smaller pocket across the front just below the waist. Carry clothes pins in the big pockets, safety pins, a handkerchief, and wiping-rags in the other. Make wide enough for free motion, but not enough to sag under foot when the wearer stoops. Let come almost to the instep.

Ironing-tables: Make board or table suit your height, so you need neither stoop at the work nor hunch your shoulders. Set a table too low upon bricks or blocks—if it is too high, have something stable to stand on. Make tight-fitting covers for the table of unbleached muslin, sewed double at one end, to be slipped over the table edge, and with the other end long enough to lap over and safety-pin firmly 


in place. Have a double blanket under the cover, laid very smooth.

In using a board, set it high or low, as your height requires.

As to Soaking: Long soaking of clothes is undesirable—it loosens dirt but passes it throughout the fabric. An hour is sufficient. Cover things that must stand overnight with cold water rather than hot. Nursery wash in need of soaking must be kept to itself. So should things from a sickroom that are badly fouled.

As to Boiling: Boiling is not absolutely essential to clean clothes, still a means of grace toward them. Have separate boiling-bags for table linen, for handkerchiefs, for fine things like caps and collars. In boilers the best is the costliest—namely, copper. Next ranks the cheapest—a deep iron pot. Copper-bottomed tin answers with good usage. Iron pots will crack if allowed to get very hot before water is put in. Any boiler should have at least an inch of water in it before going over the fire. Likewise it must be kept clean, 


dry, and wash-worthy by constant vigilance for holes and cracks.

Irons: Test by pressing your cheek against the face—if rough, reject. Five to six pounds is a good weight. Half a dozen will be none too many. Keep clean and dry. Beware of setting them face down upon live coals or red-hot iron—heat pits them microscopically, but enough to make them stick. Polishing-irons are somewhat lighter and rather different in shape. Have an asbestos pad or wire trivet to set irons on. Have several holders, if you lack a patent handle, and shift as they grow hot.

A Sickroom: Disfurnish of every unessential. Leave nothing that can be knocked off or over, or that clatters or rattles. Remove rugs from a bare floor, but keep a small one handy for the patient’s feet. Cover a carpet with a smooth sheet of something washable. In case of contagion take away draperies and pictures. Have the bedstead light and firm-standing, not too low, single or of three-quarter size. Set it so there is free passage 


all round it, but not so light glares into sick eyes. Place the head at least six inches from the wall, and set beside it a small solid table. A couch or single bed, a spacious dresser, a bigger table, and at most three chairs are complete equipment. Give up the dresser to the patient’s clothes, bed clothes, towels, table covers, and so forth. Have three changes of clothes, a dressing-gown, a light shawl, slippers, many clean handkerchiefs. A dressing-room attached is a godsend—next to it a bathroom easily reached. Lacking either, a washstand fully furnished is necessary, also an alcohol or oil stove for hot water.

Toilet ware of white enamel is lighter and safer than china. Have in addition a foot tub and a deep covered bucket. Soaps, powder, scents at discretion—insist, though, upon clean wash clothes, a good sponge, also bottles of grain alcohol, aromatic ammonia, lavender water, and camphor. Insist also upon a demi-john of disinfectant solution—chloride-of-lime for ordinary illness, bichloride of mercury in cases of contagion (see section Disinfectants).


A Sickbed: Should have a good spring and a light, elastic mattress. Lay upon the mattress a pad of cotton tacked between cheesecloth, and change it daily. The mattress should have a white cover. Over the pad stretch smooth a sheet big enough to tuck in all round and be fastened underneath with safety pins. Pin the upper sheet only across the bottom, and lay a fold three inches wide in it there, to save cramping the toes. Do the same with the blankets. They should be light, not heavy. Down or puffy cotton comforts should supply extra warmth at need. Lay blankets so the upper edge will come a foot below the headboard. The sheet must be turned over them half a foot at least and be met by an outer spread light and smooth. Have a bolster rather hard, and three pillows of varying softness. Change slips daily. Change sheets likewise, save in desperate cases where the patient cannot bear moving. Space permitting, such cases should have two beds, fitted alike. Shifting can be done by setting them together and easing the sufferer on the fresh couch.


Heat and Ventilation: Open fires help mightily toward keeping a sickroom fresh. Burn wood that does not snap nor give out any pungent smell. Coal should be free-burning. Put it in small paper bags—thus it can be laid in the grate without noise or dust. Dampen ashes before removing, and keep hearth and fixtures clean by a daily washing. Keep the heat steady—the temperature that is ordered. Where there is distress of breathing, keep a clean kettle simmering on the fire, the spout turned outward—vapor softens air. Furnace heat coming through a floor register should be softened by setting on the register a small pan of water. With a wall register, fasten in front of it a big sponge, and wet it every hour or so. Radiators should have water on top, in something wide and shallow.

If windows must be opened at top, set an extra shade at the bottom with a hook to hold it in the middle of the upper casing. Roll up the top shade, lower the sash sufficiently, then raise the lower shade till the edge is level with 


the edge of the sash. Thus air has free ingress without rattling the upper shade. A window which must be raised ought to have a light board pivoted into the casing, so it can be turned outward at need, letting in air but preventing draughts. With a board a foot wide raise the window about ten inches. One window open at top, another at bottom will be far more effectual than a single window spread wide. Note what is outside; if at any time smoke or the smell of food comes in, shut the window. Allow no odors in a sickroom—neither fruit, flowers, spiced food, nor scented visitors. This in severe cases; mild ones and convalescence demand no such rigors.

Care and Keeping: Keep floors clean by wiping with cloths wrung out of hot water barely dashed with carbolic acid. The smell passes quickly—and is wholesome. Take off dust with damp cloths—litter must be prevented. Keep a waste basket handy, also a bigger basket for soiled things. Have them removed at once. Put half a cup of disinfectant in any vessel before using it, adding 


enough to cover discharges as soon as it has been used. Remove as quickly as possible. Do not keep such things in a closet. Rather ambush them behind a light screen set across a corner.

Have a table outside to receive trays, cups, glasses, uneaten food. Let nothing stand inside the room. The bigger table is for medicines, clean spoons and glasses, alcohol stove, and a supply of ice. Gas light fouls air so quickly, avoid it if possible. Electric light has the drawback of being hard to graduate. Oil lamps require the nicest care. Candles are better. Beware of lighting or extinguishing either inside the room. Strike no matches there if possible to avoid it. Even in lighting a fire, do it from a candle lighted outside. Keep filled candlesticks on the outer table with matches in plenty, and extinguishers handy. Take lamps there to put them out.

Ice: A nursery refrigerator is well worth its cost. Since it is not always to be had, here is a good substitute. Set a high wire trivet inside a deep agate pan, lay a lump of ice on 


it, then turn over it a clean flower pot. Plug the hole in the flower pot, and cover thickly with a folded blanket if in haste. Time permitting, make a cozy of cheesecloth thickly padded with cotton batting and big enough to come to the table outside the pan. Empty the pan several times a day. With an awl and a toy hammer slivers of ice can be broken as needed.

Contagion: Filth diseases—diphtheria, typhoid, etc.—spread through effluvia. Discharges of all sorts should be deluged with bichloride (see section Disinfectants). Even bath water needs a dose of it before emptying it. All manner of soiled things—towels, sheets, clothes—must be sunk in a tub of it as soon as taken off, and soaked several hours before washing. They need to be well boiled and dried in wind and sun. Eruptive ails—measles, smallpox, scarlet fever—have two periods of danger—in the fever stage before eruption, and when peeling. Measles and smallpox are most dangerous in fever; scarlet fever at the beginning of convalescence. Rub 


a patient in that stage well over with vaseline at least twice a day, bathing afterward with warm suds and putting on fresh clothes. Change bed linen the same; disinfect with extra thoroughness. Put bichloride in the water that wets the floor cloths, and be sure no dust is allowed to blow outside the room.

Disinfection: Wet everything well with bichloride solution, remove furniture, burn mattress and comforts, boil and sun blankets. Scrape walls and ceiling, wash well with bichloride, wash floor and woodwork likewise, then scour with carbolic soapsuds. Fill cracks of all sorts with fresh putty, shut doors and windows tight, and paste strips of paper around them. Take off closet doors, but leave inside. Tack a strip of tin on the door of egress so it will lie flat against the casing. Put three bricks in the middle of the floor, set an iron skillet on them, put into it a pound of flowers of sulphur, wet it with alcohol, stick in a short length of fuse, light it, go out quickly, close the door for a minute, look in—if the sulphur is burning, all is well. Shut the door 


and leave undisturbed for twenty-four hours. Sulphur fumes make an end of germs. They also bleach out colors of all sort.

Poultices, Hot Cloths, Mustard Plasters: Keep in stock bags of old linen or muslin, with drawstrings at top, for poultices. Fill them three parts, draw up, and flatten. If they must be hot, have three, keeping two in a steamer, with the water underneath barely simmering. Keep cloths likewise steam-heated, take out with a fork, wrap in a thick towel, and apply over thin flannel to prevent scalding. Wet mustard poultices with white of egg to prevent blistering. If severe burning is needed, wet with pepper vinegar. Make soft and lay thin net or muslin over the face of the poultice. For a slow, gentle burning mix the dry mustard one-half with flour.

A Bandage Jar: Tear old linen into strips two to four inches wide, lap ends two inches, and sew together. Make many lengths—half a yard to five. Pull away ravelings, roll smoothly, and fasten. Put a few clean pebbles in the bottom of a glass jar, lay paper over 


them, pack in rolled bandages till half full, then fill with absorbent cotton, and stand on a plate in a kettle of cold water, which is set over the fire. The water ought to reach the neck of the jar and be kept at a temperature of a hundred and eighty degrees for three hours or more. Take from fire then, screw on jar top, let cool in water, wipe, and set away.

Finger stalls in variety, with narrow tapes for tying, thus sterilized, are a help to mothers. Teach children to suck wounds or bites or stings instantly—it abates pain and takes out dirt and poison. Wash the hurt clean, unless a blood clot has formed—it is nature’s own remedy, respect it. Put on a stall, hold the hurt finger up, and pour upon it either arnica, witch hazel, or turpentine. Draw the edges of a cut together, clap on adhesive plaster, and hold until the plaster sets.

Stanching Blood: Blood spurting in bright-red jets means a severed artery—and great danger. A steady, dark-red stream means a cut vein. For either, knot two handkerchiefs hard together, trace the course of 


the blood vessel, put the biggest knot over it, thrust in a stick, and twist until the knot presses deep into the flesh. In case of an artery, put the knot between the hurt and the trunk. For a vein set it between the wound and the extremities. Work fast—a minute may mean life or death.

Clothes for Nursing: Wear nothing that cannot be washed; this is the first commandment. Wear nothing that rattles, rustles, or clings; this is the second, even greater. Light colors are refreshing to sick eyes, violent figures distressing. Have sleeves that can be pushed easily above the elbow, self collars, and trim fastenings. A single pin may scratch your patient. Eschew hard, starchy edges even on an apron. Wear a cap—a sweeping-cap is excellent—and change it daily. A long kimono apron slipping on over the head is useful for such work as bathing, giving alcohol spongings, or massage. One-piece frocks are imperative. The simpler and easier the better all round.

Lifestyle & Home
21 April
Rectory Print

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