Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

Spring Cleaning Series – April 15th, 2016

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During the colonial period, the colonists did not have the ability to go to their local super market to buy the cleaning supplies we are so familiar with today. The concepts of harmful bacteria and viruses were not understood until closer to the late 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. People did not think of using anti-bacterial and anti-microbial hand sanitizers and sprays to kill the source of their affliction. Instead they looked toward their religious understanding of the world through the lens of good vs. evil or they had a slight understanding that something else was amiss within the body or their environment and used more natural and non-synthetic means to aid in cleaning within the home.

Looking to clean your home in an inexpensive and more natural way like the colonists did? Here are some money saving and environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and healthy ways you can accomplish the task! Now remember, some of these suggestions may not include ingredients the early settlers would have used, but may be similar.

  1. Citrus infused vinegar. Any jar that you have on hand with a lid will do. Fill a jar with citrus peels of your choice or a combination (orange/lemon/lime) and pour in undiluted white vinegar. Leave them to infuse for up to two weeks (under your sink works!) and strain the vinegar to use as a natural cleaner for windows (add a little water for this) or for mopping floors and disinfecting surfaces! These can be kept in a jar or once strained transferred to spray bottles.
  2. DIY Herbal Extracts. Have you ever realized how expensive buying your own herbal extracts actually is? This fun and simple experiment from the herbs you grow in your own backyard can prove to be beneficial to your wallet, cleaning your home, and a friend or family member who may receive it as a gift and/or to the flavors they produce for the food you might add them to! Here are some simple ingredients you will need to get you started:
    Your choice of herbs (spearmint, peppermint, lavender (edible), lemon, orange, vanilla bean, coconut, etc).
    1 large bottle of vodka (any will do).Supplies: 2 oz glass tincture bottles, some mason jars, labels. Grab your mason jars! Next, label them with the individual ingredient. Add 1 c spearmint/peppermint or other herb lightly smashed to release oils and with stems removed to 12 oz vodka. For vanilla beans, add 3-4 split vanilla beans per 8 oz of vodka. Next, you will want to close these off in sealed containers (mason jars work). Place them in a cool and dark place for about 4 weeks. The color of the alcohol will change and this is normal. Once ready to be used, take a funnel with a filter and place in individually marked bottles. If giving as gifts, put a small fresh amount of individual ingredient in each mini jar. These can be used in both cleaning for a fresh smelling way to clean windows or to add in your cooking repertoire!
  3. Have a stain? Un-shout it out! Some individuals have sensitivities to laundry cleaners but a few items you may already have on hand can do the trick. Coffee, tea, or mud stains? Immediately pour boiling water over the stain or if dried and set-in, scrub with a borax paste and wash soon after. Grease or oil stain? Sprinkle with dry baking soda to absorb the oil and soak in undiluted white vinegar, scrub with dish soap or choice, and wash. Got tomato sauce? White vinegar directly on stain and wash immediately. Wine or red dye? Use a mix of 50/50 peroxide and water and soak. Yucky vomit, urine, poop, blood, egg, gelatin, glue or other protein based stain? Do not use warm water on these! Instead, soak in cool water and then cool wash with added mixture of ½ c peroxide and ½ c baking soda. Ink or paint? Soak in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes and wash.
  4. Looking for a more natural and pleasant smelling air freshener? For those who have allergies to candles and aerosol perfumes, these are a very efficient way of making the house smell nice, without being overly heavy in scent. Just simmer a quart of water with 1 sliced lemon, 2 tbsp of rosemary and a tsp of vanilla. You can also try 1 sliced orange, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/3 tsp nutmeg and a few whole cloves. Another would be 1 sliced orange, 1 tbsp vanilla, and 2 tbsp sage (fresh or dried). Essential oils can also be used in place of the fresh ingredients, just check the labels for recommendations on measurements.
  5. Interested in a sensitive skin laundry soap recipe? Don’t be too intimidated! This is pretty simple and very cost effective and can last a person many month’s worth of money on laundry detergent. Three ingredients needed are Super Washing Soda, Borax, and Bar Soap. These three items can be found in any local grocery store in the detergent aisle! The bar soap can be of your choice, either what you have on hand or cheapest for you! If you have sensitive skin, try to find a hypoallergenic and unscented version. Otherwise, there are two types of laundry bars you can find with the laundry detergent called Zote and Fels-Naptha that are fairly large in size. Now, you can make the soap into a powder form. Grate down entire soap bar and throw into a food processor to finely shred. In a large container add 2 cups washing soda, 2 cups borax, 1 cup grated soap, cover and shake to mix thoroughly. Use 1/8 c to 1/4 c per load. If you are interested in making a liquid version, here it is! Grate the bar soap and add it to a pot with 2 quarts of water and gradually heat. Stir constantly until soap is dissolved. Put 4.5 gallons of really hot tap water in a 5 gallon bucket and stir in 1 c of borax and 1 c washing soda until dissolved. Pour the soap mixture from the pan into a 5 gallon bucket. Stir well. Cover and leave over night. Shake until smooth and pour into gallon jugs or jars. Use ½ to 1 c per load.
  6. Need to polish some wooden furniture? This one is fairly easy and makes your furniture look beautiful and smell fantastic afterwards! It is great at restoring wood and removes water marks too. Using a funnel, pour 2 tbsp olive oil into ¼ c of distilled white vinegar, and ¼ tsp of lemon oil (or fresh lemon juice) into a bottle. Shake well. It can be poured very scantly or sprayed onto the surface. You can even dab some on a microfiber cloth. Use on finished wood furniture and always go with the grain or move in a circular pattern to distribute the oil throughout the furniture piece. Remove any excess with a clean cloth.


Have you checked out our Pinterest page? Here you can find some fun and exciting ways to create your own DIY cleaners!

Check it out! at:



Published by: Sarah Krykew, Guide Specialist

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