Keeping Clean

I was cleaning yesterday and, as I rummaged through my cleaning cupboard, looking through my vast array of sprays, wipes and cloths, it occurred to me that this is yet another way in which life has changed immeasurably since the 1950s. I’m calling this post ‘Keeping Clean’ because I’m looking at household products and toiletries.

I have often mused on the fact that everything is branded nowadays. We don’t just have milk, distributed by our local farm or dairy. We have the choice of branded milks – Cravendale, Arla, Dairy Crest. Water doesn’t only come out of taps, we can choose Evian, Volvic, Buxton, etc etc. In my childhood, dusters, dishcloths and floor cloths were unbranded and bought in a local hardware shop. Dusters were always yellow and square, floor and dish cloths were white cotton and sold in a roll to be cut into handy lengths.In our house, floor cloths were always recycled old vests discarded by the family when too small or worn. Everyone wore vests then, they were always white cotton and made ideal cleaning cloths. We now have a bewildering assortment of wipes and cloths to choose from – J-cloths, many brands of sponge and microfibre cloths, and even branded dusters e.g Swiffer!

Cleaning products tell the same story. In the very olden days, people used generic substances like carbolic soap, beeswax and bicarb. In the 1950s there were brands to choose from but far fewer than now. People had brand loyalty too. My Mum preferred Daz washing powder, other households used Omo or Persil. I remember Mansion Polish, too and Dura-Glit for cleaning brass. There was no fabric conditioner so, although I don’t remember thinking this at all, towels must have been hard and scratchy after being dried out on the line.

In the world of toiletries, too, there were fewer brands. We always had Gibbs SR toothpaste and Lux soap, some preferred Imperial Leather, Pears, Colgate or, from the early 60s, Signal. What did the SR in Gibbs SR stand for, by the way? Dry skin was moisturised with Nivea or Ponds. There was no such thing as hair conditioner then and getting a comb or a brush through wet hair after washing was a nightmare, especially long or curly hair.

20 thoughts on “Keeping Clean

  1. My husband and I were just remarking the other day… that back when we were growing up, who would have thought we would be ‘buying’ water.. and you remind me of the old shirts we tore and used for cleaning… not buying special cloths… Diane


  2. As kids, we cleaned our teeth with Gibbs Dentifrice – it was pink and came in a flat tin, not a tube as toothpaste does nowadays.

    And do you remember Blue Bags? I don’t know what their proper name was (might have been only that), but they were little chunks of blue something-or-other in muslin cloth that were used in the wash to keep whites white. Dunked in water, they released a gorgeous deep shade of blue that fascinated us kids. They were also moistened and used for soothing bee-stings. I think the rule was, vinegar for a wasp sting, the blue bag for a bee sting.

    Lately I’ve reverted to white vinegar, salt, and baking soda as cleaning agents, and they’re remarkably good.

    My mother and I liked Cyclax make-up; their Milk of Roses was a good moisturizer. Long gone.


  3. I do remember that pink toothpaste in a tin! Also blue bags which we always called ‘washing blue’. My grandmother had to put a dampened one on my face when I was four and had a bee sting. Thanks for sharing your memories!


  4. Being a big fan of nostalgia, I have enjoyed reading through your posts. I was born in the 60’s but was too young to remember life back then; that’s why I’m grateful for your blog.

    I have nominated you for The Brotherhood of the World Blogger award. When you feel ready, please visit my blog for details about this award. Accepting and participating is fun and brings new readers and friends, too.

    Congratulations! I look forward to your post.

    Kindest Regards,


  5. The old vest for cleaning the floors…that i can connect with. When i was young not in the 50s though we use worn cloths to clean the floor. Now we have mopping sticks that comes in all shades. However we still use some worn out towels to clean the floors. I finally got around to answering my nominee questions for the Leibster Award. Thanks for nominating me. I did “re-nominated” you. You can visit my page anytime to take a peep at my answers.


  6. I grew up in the US in the 40s/50s, but we were similarly fairly brand (and special product) free: our dust cloths were old cloth nappies, which in turn had been made out of flour sacks! We had Dr. Lyon’s Tooth Powder (in a tin), and my mother favoured clothes with naptha soap (which it was my job to grate into flakes, using a cheese-grater kept for the purpose). Grandma crocheted dish cloths using old string, baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) was a good way of cleaning sinks (and teeth, if we ran out of Dr. Lyon’s). We weren’t rural hicks — we lived in a big city with “all mod cons”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s