The world we live in is full of man-made chemicals and the biggest organ of our bodies, the skin, is often subjected to contact with chemicals every day, whether immersing bare hands into cleaning products,  skin contact with clothes washed in detergents or touching surfaces and implements that have a chemical residue on them so it stands to sense that eschewing harsh chemicals and cleaning agents and opting instead for those good old-fashioned cleaning remedies of yesteryear is better for our health, kinder to the environment and usually better to our bank balance too.

Whilst leafing through a handwritten household manual dating from the 1700’s in amongst recipes for blacking, horse powders,  fever balls and patent polish, I happened upon a perfect and yet simple recipe for surface cleaning. The recipe simply entitled, ‘Household Astringent’, has been put to good use in my household and is my new favourite wonder cleaner.

Household Astringent Recipe, redacted from 1700’s Household Manual (this recipe was still in use in Wartime Britain)

Place 6 springs of fresh rosemary in a saucepan and cover with enough white distilled vinegar to cover the herbs. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat and place the vinegar and herbs into a clean jam jar.  Allow to steep overnight. Strain the vinegar into a clean spray bottle and use as a surface spray or keep it in a jar and dip a cleaning cloth into the rosemary vinegar to use for rubbing down dirty paintwork, tiles and varnished or laminated surfaces.

Ground eggshells make a wonderful  abrasive for those tough-to-clean pots, pans, and thermoses. Mix them with a little soapy water for a powerful clean.

You can also crush up egg shells to put the sparkle back into your glassware. Dry your eggshells out, then crush them up in a mortar and pestle. Put 2 tablespoons of the crushed egg shells into decanters or bottles and shake to yield sparkling results.

Rhubarb -Use Rhubarb to clean your pots and pans. If your pots and pans are burnt, an application of rhubarb over the afflicted area will bring back the shine in next to no time. To clean a burnt pot, chop some rhubarb into small pieces and boil it in the pot for at least 10 minutes. You want something with the consistency of glue. Rinse with clean water and admire the results.

Gin and water – mix equal parts of gin and water in a spray bottle and spray onto mirrors and buff off with a clean, dry cloth for smear free mirrors.

To clean Brass – Cut a lemon in half – pour a good quantity of table salt on the exposed lemon surface. Use the lemon as a ‘cleaning pad’ on the brass item. Add more salt if you need to as you go along. Wash off with warm soap and water.


I found the recipe for smear free mirrors to be especially effective, especially in the eradication of sticky little finger prints.

With a simple recipes such as stewed rhubarb to scour pans, it means that cleaning is something the whole family can get involved and perhaps if my eldest daughters do a little more cleaning they’ll be inspired not to be such mess monsters.




About Seren Charrington-Hollins

ABOUT SEREN-CHARRINGTON-HOLLINS Describing my work through just one job title is difficult; because my professional life sees me wear a few hats: Food Historian, period cook, broadcaster, writer and consultant. I have a great passion for social and food history and in addition to researching food history and trends I have also acted as a consultant on domestic life and changes throughout history for a number of International Companies. In addition to being regularly aired on radio stations; I have made a number of television appearances on everything from Sky News through to ITV’s Country House Sunday, Holiday of a Lifetime with Len Goodman , BBC4’s Castle’s Under Siege, BBC South Ration Book Britain; Pubs that Built Britain with Hairy Bikers and BBC 2’s Inside the Factory. Amongst other publications my work has been featured in Period Living Magazine, Telegraph, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Great British Food Magazine and I write regularly for a variety of print and online publications. I am very fortunate to be able to undertake work that is also my passion and never tire of researching; recreating historical recipes and researching changing domestic patterns. Feel free to visit my blog,