XIII. CLEANING THE HOUSE, CLOTHES AND DISHES
In general, the people surveyed explained that the woman or women of the home were in charge of cleaning the house and looking after clothing and household linen, and the main emphasis was on hygiene. Cleaning the house included its different rooms, the kitchen and their respective household items. In the past, when homes did not have running water, the work of doing the laundry and dishes was harder because they had to take the items to the river or bring water to the house for the task. Those tasks were made partly easier when the house had its own or shared well or patín.
Bars of soap, washing soda in balls for very dirty clothes, such as the men’s overalls, and bleach in glass bottles were used to wash the clothes. Kitchen items, the sink and the stove hob were cleaned using a bar of soap and scouring pads. The floors and wooden tables were sanded using natural bristle brushes and fine sand sold in cardboard boxes. The ash from the hearth was also used. Gilded items such as the tap of the sink and the cover of the water boiler on the kitchen range were cleaned using salt and vinegar. Vinegar and newspaper were used to clean the glass windows.
Women would frequently remain at home to look after the family and housework in the urban world, while they would also help with farming and livestock work in rural areas.
Cleaning the house
Cleaning the house, thoroughly
The housewife cleaned the house every day or every other day depending on the conditions and composition of the family. That work involved airing the rooms, making beds, sweeping and dusting. Waxing and shining the rooms was done less often. This work was usually done in the mornings, in some cases in the early afternoon after lunch and certain tasks were kept for the weekend.
In the countryside, priority was given to cleaning the place where the kitchen was, ground floor or first floor, as the case may have been, and the doorway. The upper floor, where the bedrooms were generally located, was cleaned less intensively and frequently. In farming and livestock households, and in contrast to what happened in towns, cleaning the home was of secondary importance as the farming tasks took up most of the time of the members of the family, including the women.
The beds were made by removing and shaking the blankets and sheets every day and turning over the mattresses, to prevent snagging and also for reasons of hygiene.
Floors were swept using different types of brooms and sprinkling the surface with water to prevent the dust flying up in the room. The long-handled broom appeared later and was initially used in towns. The different rooms of the house were scrubbed and sanded with sand and bleach using scrubbing pads and brushes, and waxed using virgin wax.
Whites and coloureds were washed separately. Ordinary coloured clothes were washed more frequently, often weekly, and whites and other linen less frequently as the laundry was piled up and was washed monthly or even at longer intervals.
In the past, women would do the laundry in the river until public washhouses were built in many towns. Furthermore, different washing methods would go hand-in-hand such as doing the laundry or soaping the clothes at home and then washing and rinsing them in the river, and sometimes washing them first in the river and then using ashes at home to whiten the linen.
Washing clothes in the river or in the public washhouse
Until houses had a well or running water, it was usual to do the laundry in the river or in the public washhouses that the towns or residents of a neighbourhood could use. There were usually several polished stones in the river arranged for that purpose.
The washhouse consisted of a step where the washerwoman could kneel and a slab sloping towards the water was used to pound and wring the clothes. The residents of the farmsteads and those of other farmsteads and streets in the owners that did not have washing facilities were entitled to use the washhouses.
Some places report that in the past, and in the same way as with the laundry, the women would take the dishes and cooking utensils to the river or the washhouse to clean them. Some would lug water home and then wash the cooking pots and dishes used for the meals.
When it came to drying the dishes, people reported that plastic, metal or wooden dish drainers that were placed on the bench next to the sink or hung. In the mid-1980s, dish driers were put in a kitchen cupboard, but were also left on the table or on the kitchen counter on a dishcloth. There were also plastic recipients in which the cutlery was left to drain. The cutlery, frying pans and pots were scrubbed and dried, but not the glasses and dishes as they would sparkled if rinsed with cold water and left to drain.