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which I’ll throw open to our panel:
Traebuy (hello! welcome!) asks “Does anyone know what steps people took to clean their homes during the late middle ages/early renaissance? Specifically, I am curious about the upper-middle and upper class homes. I have read that the idea that this class of people covered their castle/chateau/manor home floors in straw, which they replaced periodically, has been discredited. Is this true? What other products would they have used to clean their house?”
If a floor was beaten earth or plaster, you’d want to avoid water-based cleaning and so you’d probably turn to a broom; on the other hand, if you had a slate or stone floor, you’d (or really, your serving staff) would be well-served by both a broom and a mop. Lower public rooms would have more expensive and showy flooring; upper private chambers would be floored with wood. I’m not so sure about the whole state of the “straw on the floor” thesis — I think the part that has been debunked (which you’ll hear 1000 times at every little house museum on the East Coast) is the whole “threshhold” being the board that held the straw in and thus the name. “Thresh” is a very old word meaning to “tread or step” — basically, this is the board you step on coming into the “hold” (or house).
This isn’t my area, but I know that Erasmus (writing in the early 16th century) was quite critical of the use of rushes and straw as a floor covering, which seems to indicate that this was the practice in England at least. Here’s the salient quote:
“The doors are, in general, laid with white clay, and are covered with rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for twenty years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned. Whenever the weather changes a vapour is exhaled, which I consider very detrimental to health. I may add that England is not only everywhere surrounded by sea, but is, in many places, swampy and marshy, intersected by salt rivers, to say nothing of salt provisions, in which the common people take so much delight I am confident the island would be much more salubrious if the use of rushes were abandoned, and if the rooms were built in such a way as to be exposed to the sky on two or three sides, and all the windows so built as to be opened or closed at once, and so completely closed as not to admit the foul air through chinks; for as it is beneficial to health to admit the air, so it is equally beneficial at times to exclude it”.
Still, I think that there was a trend to rugs (even rugs of braided straw) which could be removed and cleaned more readily. But I’ll let the real early modern people speak to that…
In 18th century colonial British American elite homes, refined people used imported carpets and middling people either wove/plaited their own rugs or painted their floors to resemble carpeting. Depending on how much one was involved in the Atlantic shipping economy (or how close you were to a port), one could also use the matting that wrapped stuff from the China trade which sort of resembled a modern bamboo rug.
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