Manual Mondays: Carpet Cleaning

Another Manual Monday! I know this seems like an odd subject, but seeing as how we have come into possession of a few rugs that are really too thin to be vacuumed (and that I just don’t like using the vacuum anyways), this seemed like a good one. After all, we’ve had textiles on our floors for much longer than we’ve had electricity – there’s gotta be some clever wisdom there on how to maintain them.

Here we go!

Isham-Terry House, Antiquarian & Landmarks Society – date unknown

To Restore Carpets to their First Bloom.
Beat your carpets with your carpet rods until perfectly clean from dust, then if there be any ink spots take it out with a lemon, and if oil spots, take out as in the foregoing receipt, observing to rinse with clean water; then take a hot loaf of white bread, split down the centre, having the top and bottom crust one on each half, with this rub your carpet extremely well over, then hang it out on or across a line with the right side out; should the night be fine, leave it out all night, and if the weather be clear, leave it out for two or three such nights, then sweep it with a clean corn broom, and it will look as when first new.

The Butler’s Guide to Household Management and Proper Behaviour, 1827

Washing. – The dye-houses have done some very satisfactory work on woolen carpets, but the process shrinks the carpet very much.

Cleansing on Floor. – Where oil is required to be removed, without taking up the carpet, pipe-clay thoroughly beaten into the carpet will absorb it within forty-eight hours, when it can be brushed off. This is just the opposite, in its action, from naphtha.  Water spilt upon carpets should be sopped up, not rubbed.

           – Carpet Notes, 1884

Modern manual methods are pretty much exactly the same as the old ones: rug beaters, carpet sweepers, soap and a little elbow grease.

Wikipedia on carpet sweepers:

A carpet sweeper is a mechanical device for the cleaning of carpets. These were popular before the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and have been largely superseded by them.

However, they continue to be used in home and commercial applications as they are lightweight and quiet, enabling users to quickly clean crumbs up from the floor without disturbing patrons, patients, babies and pets. (A very early appearance in film occurs in the 1914 Charlie Chaplin film Laughing Gas, where Chaplin uses it to clean the waiting-room floor of a dentist.) Carpet sweepers are still available in many parts of the world.

A carpet sweeper typically consists of a small box. The base of the box has rollers and brushes, connected by a belt or gears. There is also a container for dirt. The arrangement is such that, when pushed along a floor, the rollers turn and force the brushes to rotate. The brushes sweep dirt and dust from the floor into the container. Carpet sweepers frequently have a height adjustment that enables them to work on different lengths of carpet, or bare floors. The sweeper usually has a long handle so that it can be pushed without bending over.[citation needed]

The design was patented by Melville R. Bissell of Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States, in 1876. Bissell began selling carpet sweepers in 1883. They became popular in the UK after the first Ewbankmodel went on same on 1889.[1] New powered versions were designed at the beginning of the 20th century, with rechargeable batteries and an electric motor to spin the rollers and brushes.

Even though carpet sweepers have been mainly overshadowed by vacuum cleaners, their legacy lives on in floor cleaning robots that have limited suction power and rely on sweeping to collect larger bits of debris from the floor. While some research models of robotic vacuums only rely on vacuum motors, models on the market such as Roomba or bObsweep invariably combine suction and sweeping.[2]

Wikipedia on rug beaters:

A carpet beater or carpetbeater (also referred to as a rug beater or rugbeater, mattenklopper, carpet whip, rug whip, clothes-beater, dust beater or dustbeater, carpet duster, wicker slapper, rug duster, or pillow fluffer, and formerly also as a carpet cleaner or rug cleaner) is a housecleaningtool that was in common use until the vacuum cleaner became affordable during the early 20th century. Carpets, rugs, clothes, cushions, and bedding were hung over a clothesline or railing and the dust and dirt was beaten out of them. Typically made of wood, rattan, cane, wicker, spring steel or coiled wire, antique rug beaters have become very collectible. Modern mass-production versions can also be in plastic or wire.


Its use in cleaning has been largely replaced since the 1950s by the carpet sweeper and then the vacuum cleaner, although they are still sold in most household stores.

In Germany[1] and Poland,[2] an outdoor carpet hanger for beating is called a Teppichstange (carpet bar) or a trzepak (beater).

Since the 1990s, it is very rare to see anyone using a trzepak for its prime function. In the newest housing developments, trzepak are rarely installed. Some people preferred to beat carpets in winter on the snow – they laid the carpet face down and beat it. This method had some advantages – for instance, insects would freeze to death even if they were not expelled through beating – but it left a dirty and unpleasant-looking patch on the snow, and therefore some communities forbade beating on the snow for aesthetic reasons.

That’s all well and good, but what about dust mites? One of the primary reasons people clean the fabrics and fibers in their home is to control dust mite populations and their collective poop. And the only way to do that is with vacuum cleaners, air filters, and the like, right? Well, not necessarily.

Most mites survive vacuuming anyways – the only truly effective way to manage mites is with extreme temperatures, soap and water, and just staying on top of the amount of dust that’s in your home. All of which are doable with manual methods.

Some suggestions:

  • If space permits, beat rugs outside – the dust will get back out into the environment where it belongs instead of a landfill.
  • Wash upholstery instead of vacuuming – obviously, throwing cushion covers into the washing machine isn’t “manual”, but coupled with a manual laundering regimen, this is easy.
  • If you live in an area that gets frost, leave rugs outside overnight to freeze the mites, then beat them out in the morning. (This works for fleas at every stage in the life cycle, too!)
  • Buy and use allergen covers for your cushions, pillows, and mattresses.
  • Spritz eucalyptus oil infused water or alcohol onto unwashable upholstery to help kill mites.
  • On the more extreme end, maybe think of getting rid of the carpeting in your house. Carpets are made from synthetic fiber and can’t be composted with sweepings anyways. If cold floors are hard on your feet, wear slippers!
  • Get a latex foam mattress, or if you’re super adventurous, make your own. (I’m gonna try this someday because I hate mattress stores on principle, and refuse to buy one new anyways.)

So that’s mites – what about difficult messes like broken glass?

Turns out, you’re not supposed to vacuum glass if you have a bagless machine to begin with, because they can get lodged into moving parts and shorten the life of the vacuum or outright damage it. Good Housekeeping recommends using slices of sandwich bread; SF Gate recommends using tape to get tiny shards out of carpet.

(I’ve since had the “opportunity” to try out the bread slice method since writing this, and it works really well. When the bread doesn’t pick up any more glass, you can fold it up to two times to get a fresh side without really risking getting glass on your hands. Oh, I also recommend eating off the crusts if they’re stiffer than the interior of the bread.)

That’s about it, though. There were no special tools aside from the rug beater, just a few tricks for getting out dust and the occasional spill.

In the next MM, I’ll do a little digging into the topic of light.