Wonders of Baking Soda

Recently we noticed that the green walls of the back kitchen of the 1900 house had started to tint black due to the smoke and soot of the wood burning stove. As this is a 19th century problem that we don’t commonly deal with in the 21st century, we consulted a turn of the century household guide.

Page 284 of Sidney Morse’s 1908 book Household Discoveries instructed us:

To Remove Blackened Walls. – A smoked or blackened ceiling or wall may be cleaned by means of a cloth wrung out of a strong solution of baking soda and water. Or use vinegar and water. If the stain is not all removed, dissolve gum shellac in alcohol to the consistency of milk or cream and with it cover the sooty parts. Paint or whitewash over the shellac. The black will not show through.

As baking soda is something we keep on hand at the 1900 house we decided to give it a shot. What we found was that Samuel Morse’s recommendation were good ones. Using a strong tincture of baking soda, water, and elbow grease we scrubbed the black off the walls, restoring them to their green color. In a way it was like Morse invented the magic eraser, one hundred years early. The change with such a simple solution was tremendous. Check out the following picture:

The right side has been cleaned, the left side hasn't (If you couldn't tell)

The right side has been cleaned, the left side has not.

Now with the risk of sounding like an infomercial for baking soda I want to just state that this particular product has many wonderful uses. Turn of the century households knew this, and thanks to the internet and a desire for “clean living,” modern households are rediscovering the wonderful uses for baking soda. This product, developed as early as the 1790s but brought into common use in America by the 1850s, can be used in several different rooms of the house.