When I want a really cozy home for winter, I know I need to start with getting rid of dirt! Enter the 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine–aka getting the house clean and tidy before the holiday season. Here’s how a 1950s housewife would have cleaned her house the old-fashioned way.

1950s Fall Cleaning Routine

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1950s Fall Cleaning Routine

Apart from the old-fashioned scrubbing sort of seasonal cleaning, housecleaning in Autumn meant a seasonal clothing inspection and switch, decluttering, cleaning rugs and curtains, washing and putting away summer slipcovers, and getting out the cozy winter blankets and sheets.

Doing a big scrubbing sort of seasonal cleaning was considered old-fashioned by the 1950s, and housewives were encouraged to go through one room each month instead. So most of the housekeeping books from the 1950s have instructions for cleaning one room thoroughly that the housewife applied to a different room each month.

Even a new housewife needed to do a 1950s fall cleaning routine!

Building a 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine

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America’s Housekeeping Book is the #1 book for learning how to clean like a vintage housewife, although its routines and suggestions date back to the WWII housewife! This book was quite popular and went through several reprints thanks to its comprehensive approach to caring for the home.

Some other favorites for cleaning the house, 1950s-style, are:

The 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine

A vacuum is an important tool for the 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine

Clean the Drawers and Closets

Take out everything, inspect it, and sort it:

  • Use it this winter
  • Pack it away for next summer
  • Send it out for professional renovation
  • Repair it yourself
  • Get rid of it

Get rid of cobwebs and dust. Wash the ceiling, walls, shelves, and floor. Refinish them with paint or cedar oil, if you need to. Reline the shelves with moth-proof paper or cedar paper.

Take out each drawer, rap the bottom to knock out moth eggs, and spray down with warm water with a little ammonia or disinfectant added. Reline with moth-proof paper or cedar paper.

Clean your linen closets and any other store closets the same way.

Clean the Fireplaces

Most importantly, clean the chimneys!  Arrange to have the chimneys cleaned and inspected before you begin using them.

Clean away dust and cobwebs. Wash the bricks and wax if needed. If you have marble or another material, clean it appropriately. Polish the mantelpiece.

Clean the Basement

Remove all the rubbish.

Clear out the dust and cobwebs. Clean the ceiling, walls, and floor. Refinish the attic, if needed. 

Dispose of the trash and unwanted things. If you have a game room, tackle it as though it were a living room.

Clean the Attic

Clean the attic thoroughly by sorting through everything stored in the attic and reorganizing it. Clear out the dust and cobwebs. Wipe the ceiling, walls, and floor with water to which a little disinfectant has been added. Refinish the attic, if needed. 

Dispose of the trash and unwanted things. Now you have a place to store your off-season clothes, bedding, and soft furnishings.

The following tasks can be tackled either in order within each room, or by completing each task in a group of rooms before moving on to the next.

It is easy to get overwhelmed without a good routine, which is why the 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine is so detailed.

Wash the Walls

Clean or wash the ceiling and walls; clean the wallpaper. 

Wash and wax the woodwork.

Switch the Curtains

Clean the window shades, or clean and wax the Venetian blinds. Repair if needed.

Take down the summer curtains, clean them, and store them away. Wash the windows. Put up the heavy winter draperies.

Put Away the Slipcovers

Vintage homemakers put washable, light-colored slipcovers on the overstuffed furniture in the summer. Remove them, wash them, dry them, and pack them away, leaving the cozy upholstery for the cold months.

Hopefully, you cleaned the upholstery before putting the slipcovers on in the spring, but if not, now is the time to do it. 

Collect decorative pillows, dressing table skirts, decorative table covers, and the like. Wash them, dry them, and pack away the summer ones. Get out the cozy replacements, the throws, and plush cushions.

Polish the wood furniture, or wash the enameled furniture. 

Clean the Bookcases

Remove all the books, and shake out the dust out of each one outside or gently vacuum the pages. Wipe the edges and the covers with a clean, dry cloth.

Dust the bookshelf thoroughly. Wash and polish it if needed. Replace the books on the clean shelves.

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Clean the Radiators and Lights

Thoroughly clean all the radiator coils and hot air registers. Dust fans and fan blades. Clean and put away movable fans and coolers.

Have your furnace inspected and maintenanced for winter use.

Polish the light fixtures, switch plates, and doorknobs. Clean the lampshades. Carefully wipe the lightbulbs.

Put Down The Rugs

Bring out the warm and cozy rugs that you cleaned and stored away for their protection in the spring. Check for damage.

Wash and wax the floors. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, shampoo it.

Put down the rugs after the floors are cleaned.

Get Out the Winter Bedding

Start by sorting and inspecting (aka decluttering) your summer sheets and blankets, then clean them and pack them away.

Go through your winter bedding and check for damage. Air and brush all the blankets and sheets.

Vacuum mattresses and springs, or beat and air them outside.

Wash or renovate your pillows.

Remake the beds with flannel sheets, wool blankets, and warm quilts. Put the extra in your clean linen closet.

Take Care of the Bathroom

Start by sorting and inspecting (aka decluttering) your summer towels and other bath linens, then clean them and pack them away.

Take down and clean your shower curtain, your rugs, and any other soft furnishings. Pack away any you won’t use during the winter.

Put out your winter bath linens and towels. Hang up your shower curtain or replace it. Make your bathroom cozy but easily cleaned.

The outside appearance was as important to the housewife's reputation as the inside, so some outside chores might need to be included in the 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine.

Clean the China Cabinet

Take everything out. Wash all of the dishes, cut glass, and other bric-a-brac carefully. Dry it and polish it.

Bring out any silver, brass, or other accessories that you stored away over the winter. Sort and inspect (and declutter) all of your tableware, decorative accessories, and bric-a-brac. Clean and store away (or get rid of) any that will not be used this winter. 

Dust the cabinet thoroughly. Wash and polish the shelves. Put everything back on the clean shelves.

Switch Out Summer Clothing for Winter Clothing

Declutter summer clothes (the 1950s housewife called it “sorting and inspecting”), then clean them before packing them away.

Get out winter clothing, brush it, and air it while you clean out the drawers and closets.

Take Stock

Make sure you have things ready for the cold season. Check first aid kits, medicine cabinets, emergency supplies, and snow supplies. Keep a stock of toiletries and paper goods on hand. Have extra supplies for guests.

Make places in your closets and cupboards for storing extra supplies and replenish your stocks.

Final Touches

Clean all your cleaning equipment and perform any maintenance on your appliances. Restock your cleaning supply cabinet.

Clean your front yard. Get the leaves out, tidy the flower beds, prune trees and shrubs, and inspect for loose limbs. Wash the front of the house.

Take down the awnings, clean them, and store them away. Cover the air conditioner. If it’s already getting cold, put up the storm windows and doors, and winterize. Otherwise, winterizing and storm windows can wait.

Clean the entry or porch ceiling and walls. Wash the floor. Clean the front door.

Although the outside, including the yards and gardens, were usually the responsibility of the man of the house, the 1950s housewife wouldn’t hesitate to make sure that the outside did as much credit to her housewifely reputation as the inside, should that be necessary!

A hard copy printable version of the 1950s Fall Cleaning Routine.


America’s Housekeeping Book, Charles Scribner & Sons.

The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book, Helen Crandall.

Making Housekeeping Easy, Dorothy Lois Abel.

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