Spring cleaning tips? English Heritage says try the old fashioned whey...

You can watch Matthew Hudson's story here.

If you're in the mood for some spring cleaning it seems the old-fashioned ways may actually be the best.

English Heritage says tests have shown traditional Victorian techniques can actually be better than modern alternatives.

Now Victorian cook Avis Crocombe, from Audley End House in Essex, has revealed her top cleaning tips in a new video.

The conservation charity has been experimenting with the historic techniques of using milk on flag stone floors and using bread to remove dirt from wallpaper as part of its annual spring clean while Mrs Crocombe shows how similar methods can be used in your own kitchen.

English Heritage staff say wallpaper stains can be removed with white bread Credit: English Heritage

With no supermarket around the corner or internet shopping to cater for their every need, historic housekeepers had to be much more resourceful in their cleaning techniques; often relying on items from around the house and an array of cleaning brushes and old fashioned elbow grease.

Conservators at English Heritage have been following in their footsteps by testing different types of milk on flagstones at Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire.

The experiments have shown that skimmed milk is a useful for cleaning stone floors.

Tests with white bread have also shown that it can collect an impressive amount of dirt when used on wallpaper.


Audley End House in Essex Credit: English Heritage

Amber Xavier-Rowe, Head of Collections Conservation at English Heritage, said“Although we may not recommend some of the more bizarre historic cleaning tips, like using a potato to clean an oil painting, housekeepers of the past were often spot on with their methods, despite relatively little scientific knowledge.


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Though they were often on the right track, some of the more unusual cleaning methods are not recommended.

English Heritage’s conservators have compiled a list of historic cleaning tips that you should definitely not employ this spring, including using a potato to clean an oil painting, and Worcestershire sauce to polish silver.

Historic cleaning tips you could still use:

  •       Use bread to clean wallpaper (but remember to clean up the crumbs!)

  •       Use skimmed milk on stone flagstone floors, but test in a small area first

  •       Rejuvenate your waxed timber floor with a mixture of beeswax and turpentine

  •      Use a pony haired brush to dust your furniture and figurines

  •       Use a soft chamois leather to give a shine to mirrors. This is much better and eco-friendly than glass cleaners

  •       Brush and polish your fire grate with a fire blacking product to prevent corrosion


Skimmed milk gives the flagstones a shine Credit: English Heritage

Historic cleaning ideas you should IGNORE as likely to do more harm than good:

  •    Sprinkle your carpet with damp tea leaves before sweeping

  • To clean your oil paintings, rub a freshly cut slice of potato damped in cold water over the picture. Wipe off the lather with a damp sponge, and finish with lukewarm water and dry and polish with an old silk handkerchief

  • To clean wallpaper, apply oatmeal over whole surface of the wall with a piece of flannel and sweep down with a soft broom or feather duster

  • To clean mould from paintings, leave them in direct sunlight to sunbathe

  • Bring silver to a shine using salt and Worcester sauce.

  • Washing oak floor boards with beer

  • Using salt and lemon on historic copper pans


In Victorian times, routine was vital for keeping on top of the housework with strict daily, weekly and fortnightly cleaning tasks.

As well as extensive cleaning throughout the year, English Heritage has used the winter closure of properties to carry out a top to bottom clean.

This annual spring clean is a major job and English Heritage’s conservation experts have been busy lifting and rolling carpets, dusting books on shelves, cleaning silver and copper and washing chandeliers to prepare for the opening of the historic interiors at English Heritage sites on 17 May.