Spring cleaning rituals in the 1960s

17 April 2013
Myra Pater recalls the rituals surrounding her family's annual spring clean in 1960s Scotland. ...

Myra Pater recalls the rituals surrounding her family's annual spring clean in 1960s Scotland. ...

Thoughts of spring just around the corner it got me thinking of the annual ritual of spring cleaning in general, and in particular of my Tarbert-born grandmother.


Bedding was the first thing to be tackled. This was the time that the mysterious substance called ‘sapple’ was revealed – my grandmother put every sliver of finished soap bars, be it Pears, Wrights Coal Tar or coarse kitchen carbolic soap into an earthenware jar kept topped up with water until a thick slithery substance was produced just in time to wash the bedding in an old zinc bath which I if I mind right was also used for dooking apples.

Quilts and counterpanes got a good rinse but the blankets weren’t – this kept them fluffy, she explained. The zinc bath was dragged over to the mangle which towered over me, at the age of seven or eight. It took two children to caw the big handle with someone at the other side to catch the washing emerging from the twin rollers.

The sheets and pillowslips were subjected as usual to their weekly wash in the boiler, with the addition of Dolly Blue. This gave a very slight blue tinge to the laundry which when dry was supposed to be whiter than white. Heavier things were pegged to the washing line with dolly pegs bought from the travelling folk who sold round the doors, and I remember her draping the white articles over hedges and bushes and even on the grass which she averred whitened them even further.

Cleaning the rugs

Long before the fashion of fitted carpets, rugs were laid on floorboards and a linoleum surround, nearly always dark brown, was laid to just under the edge of the carpet. Once, helping to roll back one, we found a lost cardigan which had been placed between layers of brown paper to dry flat. The furniture had been changed round and it had languished under the repositioned sofa. The rugs were hung on the washing line to be beaten by trefoil-shaped carpet beaters. Although swept every day, and sometimes twice, with the Ewbank cleaner, huge clouds of dust emanated and lingered in your nose for ages.

And at the end of it all, year after year, my grandmother would heave a deep sigh over her cup of tea and say: 'Well girls, that’s it for another year.'