Thinking of spring cleaning? Well, spare a thought for the poor housemaids of yesteryear, whose daily cleaning timetables sometimes encompassed as many as 60 tasks. And they weren’t spraying chemical surface cleaners or aerosol polishes around either; it was all about elbow grease, fresh air, and natural cleaning ingredients mixed into simple homemade concoctions.

Today, with allergies on the rise, and many household cleaning products known to contain a cocktail of toxins and irritants that have a lasting impact on the environment, more and more people are resurrecting natural recipes for chemical-free cleaning.

A word of warning, however, before you reach for the apothecary jars: seek expert advice before cleaning priceless antiques or precious belongings, and make sure it’s white vinegar you’re using, not white wine vinegar or balsamico de Modena – keep those for salads.

1. Cleaning silver

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Bring out the sparkle in your silverware the natural way. This works a treat on cutlery…

  • Put a litre of water in a saucepan with a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda) and a piece of aluminium foil
  • Bring the mixture to the boil and put your silverware in for a few seconds
  • Avoid using this method on items that are glued or that include stones or other settings
  • Consult an expert if your silver is very precious

2. Removing mildew

No one likes to see black mould on their grouting and around the kitchen sink…

  • Fill a spray bottle with undiluted, distilled white vinegar
  • Spray all over the affected area and leave for a couple of hours (the smell will soon evaporate)
  • Scrub the mould off with a brush and wipe clean with a damp cloth
vintage spring cleaning products

3. Natural air freshener

Useful for bathrooms and bedrooms, in fact anywhere you like…

  • Put a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into a bowl and mix with 15-30 drops of essential oil in your choice of scent
  • Funnel it into an empty spray bottle, and fill with water
  • Shake to mix
  • Don’t forget to label the bottle
  • Spritz as required

4. Cleaning windows

Polish your panes until they sparkle, with white vinegar (a natural disinfectant and deodoriser) and newspaper. Don’t use vinegar on frosted glass or leaded glass windows…

  • Mix one part white vinegar with one part warm water in a spray bottle
  • Spray on to your windows
  • Polish windows using crumpled newspaper

5. Freshening up your dustbin

Keep odious odours under control with a store cupboard ingredient…

  • Sprinkle a cupful of bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda) into the bottom of your bin to remove bad smells

6. Cleaning your washing machine

Banish mould and musty smells from your washing machine with a vinegar rinse once in a while…

  • Add a cup of white vinegar to the drum of the washing machine
  • Do an empty wash on the hottest cycle
  • Repeat every six weeks or so to keep things fragrant

7. Removing limescale from kettles

Tea should be served with milk or lemon, but definitely not limescale. This simple fix not only dissolves the limescale, but also prolongs the life of the appliance…

  • Boil the kettle and switch it off
  • Add two tablespoons of citric acid powder
  • Leave to cool, then pour the solution down the sink
  • Reboil the kettle twice with fresh water

8. Natural carpet freshener

Neutralise wet dog smells in carpets and freshen up stale smells before vacuuming…

  • Sprinkle a light dusting of bicarbonate of soda onto the carpet before vacuuming to remove smells and freshen the room

9. Freshening up a musty book

Bookworms and frequent visitors to secondhand bookshops will be familiar with the musty smell of a book that’s spent too long on the shelf. It’s caused by moisture and possible mould growth…

  • Place an open book in a freezer bag with four tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda
  • Seal the bag and leave at room temperature for two to three weeks. Do NOT place it in the freezer!
  • Remove the book and the powder will have absorbed the moisture and the smell
vintage spring cleaning products

10. Cleaning copper pans

Bring out the shine in copper pans, you’ll be proud to have them on display…

  • Halve a lemon (save the other half for your chopping boards – see below)
  • Dip the half lemon in coarse sea salt crystals
  • Rub the salted lemon over the copper pan, inside and out
  • Rinse with warm water and dry

11. Cleaning a wooden chopping board

Give chopping boards a deep clean, without reaching for a chemical spray, with the natural disinfectant powers of lemon…

  • Sprinkle the board with coarse salt
  • Scour the surface with half a cut lemon, squeezing to release the juice
  • Leave it for five minutes
  • Scrape the residue off the board and rinse with a clean wet sponge

12. Natural furniture polish

Olive oil and white vinegar combine to make a gentle polish, and not an aerosol in sight! Add a few drops of lavender essential oil for a natural fragrance if you like…

  • Mix one tablespoon of white vinegar with three tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and stir vigorously
  • Using a soft cloth, apply to the wood
  • Buff with a clean soft cloth and leave to dry

13. Better results with your laundry

Soda crystals, or washing soda will banish odours, soften the water and improve the cleaning power of your normal detergents…

  • Add half a cup of washing soda/soda crystals to the main wash along with your clothes to remove odours and boost the cleaning power of detergents
  • That way you can reduce the amount of washing liquid or powder you use

14. Remove red wine stains from carpets

Thank goodness for salt! Using white wine to treat red wine stains always seemed like throwing good after bad. Instead…

  • Blot the spill with a wad of kitchen paper or a dry cloth
  • Dilute the stain with cold water and blot again
  • Pour salt on the stain while it’s still wet and leave until the salt turns pink
  • Scrape up the salt with a spoon, then vacuum up the remainder

15. Natural 18th-century remedy for chapped hands

Lastly, if after all that cleaning, like the poor young housemaids’, your hands are feeling a tad dry, then perhaps turn to Hannah Glasse’s 18th-century recipe For the Relief of Chapped Hands:

  • Take small-beer and butter, heat them
  • wash your hands in it, wipe them, and draw on a pair of gloves
  • this will make them fine and smooth and is proper to be done every night