Oldies But Goodies: 25 Vintage Household Tips

These notes are a collection I’ve gathered from a variety of vintage homemaking books and magazines from the 1940’s and 1950’s.

The Timeless Wisdom collection is a regular feature on Tipnut and I like to include tips that are still useful to know (for today’s home) but I also like to include some that give a glimpse of how resourceful people were back then.

There are plenty of creative solutions they cooked up for themselves and they really preferred relying on their own ingenuity (and took pride in it too).

If something could be re-used in a purposeful way–they did it gladly for reasons different than we do today. Being wasteful was considered foolish, you repaired something instead of buying new and you utilized whatever you could to make a job easier or to keep money in your pocket.

This batch has some old favorites that you’ll probably be familiar with, but I think there are some pretty original tips and suggestions too. Have fun with these!

Collection of Notes

  1. Old powder puffs are handy for cleaning and polishing silverware. They won’t scratch the delicate metal.
  2. Soak neglected paint brushes in hot vinegar to clean and make them as pliable as new.
  3. When putting up curtains on small curtain rods, slip a thimble over the end of the rod. The curtain slips on in a second and no threads are pulled.
  4. To prevent ice trays from freezing to the shelves, sprinkle a little salt on your dampened palm and rub it on the bottom of the ice trays before putting them into the freezer.
  5. Cloths for cleaning windows without the use of water can be made with a semi-liquid paste of benzine and calcined magnesia. The cloth, which should be of coarse linen or something free from lint is dipped into this mixture and hung in the air until the spirits have evaporated and it is free from odor. This cloth may be used again and again, and is a great convenience. When soiled, wash and re-dip.
  6. When washing delicate colors or much-soiled woolens, use a solution of 1/2 lb. very mild or neutral soap, 1/4 lb. borax and 3 quarts water.
  7. To strengthen weak colors in fabrics, mix a solution of one gallon water, 1/2 cup mild vinegar (good to restore pink), or 2 cups salt, or 1 tbsp. alum, or 1 tbsp. sugar of lead (poison).
  8. To hold a nail securely in plaster, put the nail in the plaster, remove it, wrap it in steel wool, and replace it.
  9. Clean oilcloth by wiping it off with a little milk.
  10. To remove wallpaper, mix together one heaping tablespoon saltpetre and one gallon of hot water; and apply freely to wallpaper, keeping the water hot. The paper will come off easily.
  11. To patch wallpaper, first dampen the ragged portion with a cloth wrung out of warm water and allow the paper to soak for some time, then carefully remove any ragged portion with a blunt knife, leaving an uneven, but not ragged edge. Match up the paper from a piece of new, then tear around the edge so that it is jagged. Paste the back of the patch and carefully stick it in place, making the pattern match the rest of the wall. When dry, this renovation will hardly show.
  12. White window shades may be cleaned with magnesia. Spread a sheet on the floor, unroll the shade and with a soft cloth scrub the shade with magnesia and water. After treating one side, turn the shade over and clean it in the same way. This method removes the dirt very satisfactorily and renews the shade at a cost of about ten cents.
  13. A quick and presentable repair may be effected on a torn cotton blind in the following manner: Dip a piece of the same material into hot starch, place it neatly on top of the tear, and press with a hot iron.
  14. If windows are very dirty, wipe them first with a damp cloth. Then wipe again with a cloth dipped in methylated spirit. No polishing is required.
  15. A shabby umbrella may be renovated by brushing with a solution of ammonia and warm water.
  16. When putting away delicate white summer things or linens into the hope chest, wrap in blue tissue or a well-blued cloth. This will prevent them from turning yellow. In the case of new things being put away for some time, do not wash them if it is not absolutely necessary, as they will keep much better with the dressing in them, even if mussed from handling when in the making.
  17. An ordinary paper plate, glued to the bottom of the paint can, is much more convenient than spreading newspapers which must be moved every time the can is shifted from one place to another.
  18. A pot lid without a knob can be saved by applying this clever little life-saver: Push a sharp, pointed screw up through the hole and twist a cork onto it. The cork is heat-proof.
  19. A retired curtain rod makes a handy shoe rack. Just tack it on the closet door, and hang the shoes by their heels on it.
  20. If aluminum ware has warped, place a wooden block on bulge and hammer back to shape.
  21. When you crack a favorite dish or plate, put it in a pan of milk and boil it for 45 minutes. Not only will the crack usually disappear–the dish will actually become stronger.
  22. When glassware develops nicks on the edges, rub them smooth again with fine sandpaper.
  23. To stop leaks in vases or bric-a-brack, pour melted paraffin over the leaky spot and let it harden.
  24. Plaster ornaments which look ready for the scrap-heap should be dipped into a solution of starch and water. When dry, brush off the excess starch and your old plaster vases, statuettes and busts are “new” again.
  25. Take that old broom you were just about to throw out, cut the bristles away, then tie an old felt hat (or scrap of flannel or carpet) around the “business end”–and, you’ve got a perfectly handy floor polisher.

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    • Soyun

    What brilliant tips~ It seems we can do a lot more things better when we are more deligent.

    • Janice Bradford

    Very interesting. I use to clean house with my Grandmother back in the 50’s and she used some of these homemade things to clean with plus she collected rain water to wash her hair.

    • Allison

    #25: The birth of the Swiffer. Not such an original idea after all.

    • Looney

    5. Cloths for cleaning windows without the use of water can be made with a semi-liquid paste of benzine and calcined magnesia.

    Because you can’t truly keep a modern home without using highly carcinogenic solvents. All kidding aside, who the hell keeps all these chemicals around the house? Sure, you can buy most of them at Home Depot if you really want to, but why not just buy commercial cleaning products? It’s not like you have any use for this stuff besides the function described in this article.

    Oh, and if you really want to try out this crap, toluene is an adequate (and relatively safe) substitute for benzene.

      • TipNut

      You should see the plethora of tips for using kerosene around the house, they even used it to wash their windows! Looney these tips are simply what I’ve said: tips from decades ago. No one’s advising to run out and pick up some benzine.

      • oh-maria

      These are things that were readily available to most households at the time. We have come a long way….

    • rose mestre

    So what is calcined magnesia?

    • janice ann

    Great fun to read the old ways……and yes some sound pretty dangerous….but like you say its for the entertainment not necessarily the use….i think in UK some of these chemicals may even be banned for access by the public…..but i like your site very much……….jan x

    • mad sad

    brilliant tips thanks

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