Got ants? Want to get rid of them? Are you tired of fleas biting your legs when you walk through the house? Are flies eating your dessert before you do? You can call your local pest control company or log on the Internet and google what you need to do. But, a century ago, folks didn't have the modern day technology to fight insects in the home, so they had to improvise and use what was around to rid their homes of the bothersome bugs.
I recently happened upon the 1920 edition of The Household Dictionary by Winnifred S. Fales. Mrs. Fales meticulously compiled every known trick, cure, and helpful hint she could find to make housekeeping an easier chore. I started reading. I was hooked. And, before I knew it, I read the book from Acid Stains to Zinc to Clean.
Particularly fascinating were the ways to get rid of insects. If you want to get rid of red ants, at night simply smear a plate with lard in a place where ants congregate. All you have to do the next morning is to pick up the plate covered with the irritating insects, immerse it in boiling water, and presto, no more ants. If that doesn't work, sprinkle snuff, red pepper, or a mixture of sugar and borax where the ants crawl. Then, if there are still more ants, saturate a sponge with sugar syrup, squeeze it partly dry, and tie a string to it, and when the ants fill up the sponge, pick it up and dip the sponge into a boiling pot.
Fleas bite dogs, cats, and most of us. You can clean your house, but the best way to get rid of the fleas, other than getting rid of your pet, is to put your pooch in a tub. Put four tablespoons of creolin to the quart and wash the dog throughly. Don't try this with your cat.
Houseflies were the peskiest pests of early 20th Century houses. Fly swatters and sticky fly paper were the weapons of choice. Mrs. Fales suggested making a preparation of half milk and half water with two teaspoons full of the poison formalin. The recipe calls for soaking blotting paper with the mixture and then coating it with brown sugar. Once the devices are spread around the house, out of the reach of hungry children and curious pets, flies swarm to them and their death.
Worse than fleas and houseflies are the irritating mosquitos. Among the preventatives for skeeters was the wiping of screens and doors at twilight with kerosene, a liquid favored throughout the book for killing all sorts of creatures. Fales suggested holding a cup of kerosene attached to a stick just below mosquitoes which alighted on the ceiling. If that doesn't work, try rubbing your face and arms and even your pillow with spirits of camphor. Oil of lavender sprayed throughout the room or hanging a towel saturated with camphor, citronella and cedar oils over your bed might work as well. If these repellants don't work and you began to itch, try washing your bites with moistened toilet soap.
Roaches are particularly annoying, disgusting, and somewhat unhealthy. Most of the measures to rid your house of roaches involving filling your house with all sorts of poisons which will kill the prehistoric pests. A more effective, environmentally friendly method calls for placing pinches of plaster of Paris and wheat flour in equal parts on pieces of cardboard throughout the house beside water-filled saucers. When the roaches eat the mixture, they drink. Then the plaster and the roaches harden into statues. You could also try placing a slice of bread in a well-greased shallow basin. Darken the room for an hour. Go in the room, turn on the light, and then start squirting away with your good ol' bottle of kerosene spray.
If my speaking of roaches and rats makes you nauseated, try chewing on small and frequent doses of cracked ice.
If you happen to get bit by a bee, try rubbing moist clay, bruised plantain leaves or catnip leaves (not available at most pharmacies and grocery stores), ammonia or baking soda. You can also chew some Red Man and apply a poultice to the sting. But remember, don't swallow the juice.
This was my favorite cure. It's not exactly an insect, but if someone gets struck by lightning, try laying the patient flat and dash cold water on his face and chest. Make sure you stay back several feet in case there are too many electrons floating around. If not, apply a mustard poultice to the stomach, rub the body and limbs, and apply hot water bottles to promote circulation. If the patient regains consciousness, then Mrs. Winifred suggests a good cup of hot coffee. Then, if that doesn't work, begin artificial respiration. And if that still doesn't work, you might want to call 911.
If someone is choking on a bone and the Heimlich maneuver doesn't work, try pouring an unbeaten raw egg down the throat. If that doesn't work, see above.
Painful splinters can be easily removed by filling a wide mouthed bottle with scalding hot water and placing the affected finger over the opening. The steam and suction will draw the splinter to the surface of the skin.
If you are around fire often, the homemaker's guide suggests you soak your clothes in a solution of a pound of ammonium phosphate to a gallon of water. The author suggests this will prevent your children's clothes from bursting into flames, especially on the Fourth of July.
Many of you know this, but if something on your stove catches on fire, don't throw water on the flames, try some nearby flour or meal or go outside and grab some handfuls of dirt or a find a nearby potted plant.
On a more pleasing note, if you want to keep your sandwiches fresher longer, wrap them in a dry napkin, then in a towel wrung out of cold water, and put them in the refrigerator or a fireless cooker. If molded cheese is not your thing, wrap your cheese in a cheese cloth wrung out of vinegar. Finally, to keep your cakes fresher longer, put an apple in the cake box, but remove it when it begins to rot. Oh, by the way, if you burn your cake, remove the crust with fine sandpaper.
These are some of things our grandmothers and great grandmothers used to do to make life around the house just a little bit easier in a time when life was a little bit slower and there was no Google or Home and Garden TV.