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The History Of Housework

If annual spring cleaning is a chore you face each year, you should know what the experts have to say. CBS News lets you in on the pros' secrets for getting your house gleaming with less time, money, and elbow grease than you thought possible. This is part one of a weeklong series on housework.

The days before dishwashers, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners were the days when housework really was a dirty job.

Barbara Tyler is a historical interpreter in colonial Williamsburg, Va.: "You were hauling the firewood, tending the fire, hauling the water, you were putting the clothes in there, you were using your elbows to scrub."

Colonial Williamsburg offers a view of a housewife's life in earliest America, when washing the family laundry took three to four days. Lugging heavy wood and water was considered women's work. Preparing meals meant growing the food, then cooking it over an open fire, and, yes, there were still the dishes to do.

As technology invaded housekeeping, machines took a lot of the elbow grease out of chores. Some even tackled many tasks at once, like the 1933 Maytag wringer-washer, which ran on electricity - or, for those without power, on gasoline.

Julie Bundy, representing Maytag, explains the history of the washing machine: "The other interesting thing about this wringer-washer is that it was also used to power a butter churn, an ice-cream maker, or a meat grinder."

The 1940s and '50s saw appliances go from luxury item to everyday necessity. With washers and dryers coming in from outside, fashion colors were introduced. But although you may not find turquoise, pink and "sunshine yellow" appliances anymore, housework being women's work has yet to suffer the same fate.

According to a study by the soap and detergent association, women say they still do 79 percent of all housework. The same study says women think they do a better job at it, too.

Says humorist Sandra Beckwith, "Have you ever seen a man clean a bathroom? He goes in with a spray bottle - a bottle of anything, just as long as it sprays. He doesn't read the label. He doesn't care if it's the right product. He doesn't care if he's using it right. He just goes in and sprays everything in sight. He wipes real fast, then he backs out quickly before anything bad happens to him!"

With the giant job of spring cleaning looming ahead, what's the best way to get the man around the house to do more around the house? Beckwith recommends,

"If I could give one bit of advice to women who'd like more help in the house with cleaning, I'd say just back off. Tell him what you need to do, what you need help with. Show him how to do it, because chances are he really doesn't know how, and then walk away. Just step back and let him do it his way. And when he does it, compliment him for making that effort even if he doesn't do it as well as you do. At least you didn't have to do it."

You know cleaning's a ot of work, but how about knowing which products you need when there are hundreds of choices on store shelves - glass cleaner, tile cleaner, grout whitener, soap scum remover. On Tuesday, a pro will let us in on some secrets. He'll show us all we really need to clean house - and some of it will really surprise you.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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