Housework heroes of yesteryear - how many do you remember?

Housework heroes of yesteryear - how many do you remember?

As Marigold gloves celebrates its 70th birthday, we look at the other cleaning innovations that have revolutionised housework over the years

There was a time when Mondays meant only one thing – wash day. Whether you spent hours boil-washing clothes and wringing them through a mangle or you had the luxury of a snazzy twin-tub washer, Monday was the day we got it all done.

But that’s not to say that the housework was over for the week. Oh no! Back in 1965, a woman spent a staggering 44 hours a week doing housework, often for up to 15 hours a day, compared to just 2.6 hours a day and 18.2 hours a week on average today. 

At a time when cleanliness was considered next to godliness, we’d try anything to get our houses looking spick and span – and keep up with the Joneses across the road, who’d judge us through their twitching net curtains! And to help us along, we relied on a toolkit of clever cleaning products and gadgets which emerged over the years to make our housework easier. From Marigold gloves – turning 70 this year – to vacs and Vim, we remember some of our housework heroes.  

No kitchen sink dramas here

At last, the cooking was done for the day and the family dinner happily wolfed down. But all those dirty dishes wouldn’t wash themselves. 

Smooth hands were considered a great virtue – after all, wealthy women with servants to do their washing and cleaning wouldn’t have red-raw hands – and so we donned our trusty Marigolds before any washing-up took place. 

Fairy Liquid, with its popular jingle ‘now hands that do dishes can feel as soft as your face’ – was our weapon of choice against greasy pots and food-splattered plates. Fairy Liquid emerged in the Fifties and was bought by six out of every ten consumers in the UK by the end of 1960.


But when the super-stubborn food stains just wouldn’t budge, then we’d reach for the big guns – Brillo steel wool soap pads, which are still popular today. That is until the dishwasher, first invented in 1886 but made popular in the Seventies, changed everything. 

Scour and scrub 

Vim for everything was the general rule of thumb when it came to cleaning our homes. First created in 1904, it was the ultimate powder to scour off dirt, grease, stains and even your skin if you weren’t careful.

Meanwhile, many kitchen cupboards had that can of Ajax, whose slogan ‘stronger than dirt’ proved itself time and again on our kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

As for cleaning carpets new-fangled vacuum cleaners, which two thirds of us owned by 1959, opened up a whole new world (although we’d have to wait until 1979 to get a bagless Dyson!).

Then it was time to reach for the Brasso to shine up our brass door knobs and ornaments.    

But no matter how sparkling kitchen surfaces, door knobs and carpets were, that all meant nothing if you didn’t have a front door step so clean you could eat your Sunday tea off it. In the Fifties and early Sixties on weekday mornings, rows of women would take to the pavements in wrap-around pinnies to scrub and scour their front doorstep. Called donkey stoning, this cleaning ritual would often involve staining the step white with a tablet of ground stone dust, cement, water and bleach, rubbed in while still wet from a scrubbing.

It may have been hard going, but it was worth it to create a shimmering first impression to our homes and for the opportunity to gossip with the neighbours. 

Laundry loves

As our washing machines got better, faster and cheaper throughout the 20th Century, we had at our disposal cupboards full of different laundry detergents. There was Fairy Snow, Daz and Persil, Oxydol and Crysella soap flakes, Lux, Rinso and Tide washing powder and, like today, we all had our favourite that we thought washed the best.