An experiment in medieval cleanliness

I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms and I recently received an article from the local branch newsletter about one apparently highly efficacious method of house cleaning.

Given that most of the 13-19th century was rather, um, pungent, what with being dirty being fashionable, bathing considered dangerous to one’s health, chamber pots being emptied onto the streets (L’gardez l’eau!), and perfume being used to mask the odors and oduers,

(Check out the Dictionary of Misinformation by Tim Burnham, Flushed with Success, The Illustrious History of Thomas Crapper by ???, or Underground Education by Richard Zacks for further enlightenment and references) I was rather surprised that there was something to write about at all. )

But before we start on the experiment proper you also need to know that I am not a Luddite. I am rather a major technophile and gadget person. I love tech, but I am also a knowledge junkie and am therefore cognizant that not all of the old ways were dross.

Many medical techniques and remedies are still used today (colloidal silver is a very effective antibiotic and there is a whole an valid science of holistic and herbal healing), as are windmills and water wheels (We call ‘em turbines) for example, so what the hell.

This particular experiment dealt with cleaning rugs. For centuries the best way to clean a rug was to beat it. Special reed rug beaters, sticks and even rocks were used for this purpose.

These days we vacuum and shampoo our rugs.

Well we do if we don’t have severe allergies.  Then the shampoo is a nightmare and rugs not much better. I have gotten rid of all but one of our rugs. But I digress….

So here was the outline. A couple of SCA “washerwomen” took two rugs, a test rug and a control rug from the home of a fellow member. They vacuumed and shampooed one of the rugs and then air dried it. They also aired the control rug.

When both rugs were aired and dried, they then beat both rugs with reed rug beaters.

The results?

The unwashed rug took three hours to beat and produced almost two ounces of dust.The washed and vacuumed rug took an hour to beat and produced almost one ounce of dust. That is the equivalent of four dust pans of dust.

Being only vaguely aware of my environment at best, and allergic to all sorts of shit including dust and dust mites, I decided to try this experiment myself.

We have one 4 by 8 foot short nap area rugs in our house, which I vacuumed about once a month. I bought some shampoo for one of them, cleaned and vacuumed it, and then took it outside and hung it over my deck rail.I then dressed in some rough and therefore disposable clothes, gloves, boots, and respirator mask, took a short horse whip from my shed and proceed to beat my carpets savagely, much to the amusement of my neighbors.

The results?

Dear gods.

I really need to do this more often, apparently my vacuum was NOT getting the deep down stuff. I beat the rug for two hours and when I finished it looked as if a major carpentry project had just been finished. I filled a fifty gallon shop vac a sixteenth of an inch deep. With one rug. Needless to say, I did the rest of the rugs too, and will be doing so a good deal more often.

Now I am generally a bad housekeeper (my person is a different story, I prefer to bath twice daily), being both lazy and autistic, but still…

Anyway, that is one you might want to try for yourself someday. Technology is not always an advance.

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One thought on “An experiment in medieval cleanliness

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