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.