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How to be a 1950’s Housewife – Polish and Shine

Put down the sweet smelling, synthetic spray polish and step away from the  cans of air freshener,  for these are fool’s gold, which will not only make your home smell like a tart’s boudoir, but they’ll play havoc with your soft furnishings and could ruin your fine wood furniture too.


In 1955, Housekeeping Monthly published a Good Wife Guide, which served as a reliable guide for housewives on keeping house, home and husband tickety boo. Today it serves to raise a giggle, and I must confess to never offering to plump my husbands pillow at night or take his shoes off (unless of course I’m wearing his), but it must be said that some of the tips that the vintage housewife would follow we would be wise to adopt.



There is no doubt that we dust less today than we did fifty or even sixty years ago , indeed we spend less time in general cleaning our houses. Official figures released in 2002 by The Department for Education  showed that adult women in the UK spend 18.2 hours a week on housework, including cleaning, vacuuming, food shopping and cooking. This compares to 44 hours a week on average in 1965.


Real cleaning is an ancient art with techniques handed down through generations – the kind of wit and wisdom your grandmother would pass down to you. Today it seems that we are less likely to teach our children dusting than how to operate a dishwasher.


It seems that when it comes to the task of dusting and polishing that  we are both damaging our health by using synthetic products and increasing our waistlines by not partaking in a good, rigorous spit and polish routine.  According to the National Sizing Survey, in 1950 the average woman’s vital statistics were 36, 24, 35. She was a size 12 and weighed around 9st 12 lb. These days Miss Average weighs 11st and has become a considerably rounder 38, 34, 40. The average UK dress size is now 16.

Spray Furniture polish is wonderful stuff – for when it comes to quick cleaning it makes your wooden furniture look shiny and new, and it is a fantastic help when short notice visitors are announced, but are the risks of aerosol furniture polish really worth its convenience? Commercial spray furniture polish is a highly toxic concoction. It has been suggested by some studies that long-term exposure to even small amounts can have a negative impact on human health. Not only do you need to consider the dangers of inhaling chemicals and of course harmful effects to the environment, but also the health of your furniture. Most spray polishes contain silicone, which gives a hard, bright shine that is inappropriate on older furniture.  It can also build up on the surface, causing a bloom. If you attempt to polish over it, you can get a curious “fish-eye” effect on the surface and this is not a good look.


Silicone polish is almost impossible to remove. Indeed once you have a silicon build up, it will ruin patina and cause a dull finish meaning that the only option is to rub back the entire surface using white spirit and ultra-fine wire wool.


Now despite the problems with spray polish I know that when contemplating dusting it seems almost second nature to reach for the yellow dusters and the can of spray polish, but I urge you for the sake of your furniture and respiratory system, stop, there is an alternative. My home made ‘dusting spray’ is a great quick fix spray for using when I need to blitz the coffee table and shelves and it nourishes my wood at the same time as cleaning away dust and dirt.




Seren’s Homemade Dusting Spray


160ml water
2 tbsp  olive oil
2 tbsp vodka
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp  liquid glycerin
6 drops sandalwood essential oil

2 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 tbsp grated beeswax

Further 360ml water for second stage of the process

Place all of the ingredients in a Bain Marie and stir until melted, it will become very thick and lumpy. Allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a blender and blend for 1 minute then add 360ml of water and blend again until smooth.

Place in a spray bottle and shake vigorously. This solution keeps for three months. I always place any spare solution in a jam jar and keep it in a cool dark place. Spray onto a cloth and polish away and buff with a separate, clean, dry cloth.

If you want to make a simple liquid wood polish then take about half a teacup of white vinegar, and add a teaspoon of organic jojoba oil and voila it’s done. Jojoba oil is a liquid wax that is stable and not prone to rancidity and so it is an excellent choice when making cleaning products to keep long term. For pine furniture you can use organic lemon juice instead of vinegar, and organic olive oil instead of jojoba.

Of course you can’t beat a good application of beeswax polish for nourishing your wooden furniture, though the good news is that when it comes to giving your furniture a good, deep, polish you don’t need to do it that often, indeed, you only need to give your beloved furniture once every seven years. Yes indeed you don’t need to be flourishing the polish around every week or even month, once every seven years is ample and I can assure you I am right on this for the National Trust who know a thing or two about cleaning suggest once every seven to ten years for polishing.

Polishing techniques

There is something to be said for technique, when it comes to polishing, so make sure you get it right.

Apply a tiny amount of polish, using a lint free duster for flat surfaces or a hogs-hair brush for intricate surfaces (available from artists’ suppliers). Work the polish well into the wood and then buff off, using a clean cloth or brush, reserved for buffing off.

Don’t let the wax dry for too long or it will be harder to polish off and may leave streaks

Less is more. Don’t apply too much polish, because it will not add more shine, but it will lead to more work when you need to buff it off.

Whilst you can reduce your polishing routine, you really should increase your dusting one. Dust or “particulate pollution” to give it its official title is undoubtedly the enemy of the good housewife. Dust is brilliant at attracting moisture, getting into cracks, staining marble and spoiling chair legs. Very intricate furniture is best preserved by popping a sheet over it, the mould spores and irritants that can be carried in dust can serve as respiratory aggravators’. When it comes to dusting though you might want to adopt a method that will mean that dusting isn’t such a never ending task

  1. Ditch the feather duster

Feather duster might look great, but it simply spreads dust from one surface to another. Instead, select microfiber dusters or electrostatic dusters; better still a damp cloth is great.


  1. Overlooking heating and air conditioning vents

Things like storage heaters and air con units are hidden dust magnets. Forget to clean them and the air blowing through them can fill your room with dust quickly. I find the best way to tackle these vents is with the suction pipe on my vacuum.



  1. Spraying polish directly on furniture

As we’ve already said it’s time to divorce Mr. Sheen and make DIY pledge. But you should with any spray avoid spraying it directly onto the wood as this risks forming a filmy build-up on your surfaces that is difficult to remove and ultimately attracts more dust. Always spray your cloth and pass it gently across the furniture’s surface.

4.Remember to change or clean your vacuum’s filters

Vacuum cleaner filters are designed to capture the fine dust and particles the vacuum collects. Clogged filters can’t trap this dust and are likely to spew it back into the air, so don’t forget to give your vacuum filters a change or clean.

So whilst on average we no longer dash around the house dusting, cleaning and singing the ‘shake and vac’ song as regularly as in 1950 it is certain that men spend more time on housework than their 1950s counterparts: While women have reduced the time they spend on housework, the time spent by men on household chores has actually doubled to 10 hours a week since the 1950s.

It is not just cooking and cleaning that has changed since the 1950’s

  1950s woman Modern day
Average age of marriage 21 years 30 years
Average age of 1st time mother 22 years 28 years
Hours spent on housework (weekly( 41 ½ 17 ½
Hours spent on cooking (daily) 2 1

It seems that many of these differences are largely due to mass electrification in the 1950s and the boom of labour-saving appliances in the 1960s, indeed, homes today have three times as many appliances and gadgets compared to a typical 1950s household.  Sadly I feel there’s a risk that future generations may never know how life was before these appliances became commonplace and thus the art of ‘old fashioned’ spit and polish may be lost altogether.

It is certain that when looking at the differences now and on the 1950’s domestic front there have been many changes,  so I wonder what do you think’s changed most from the 1950s to now when it comes to cooking and cleaning?


Finally  two more quick fix furniture polishes are:  one part lemon juice, to two parts olive oil, popped in a jar and applied with a lint free cloth.

Equal parts linseed oil, lemon juice and glycerine.




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