Examining some old wives’ tales
I heard a story a while ago and it popped into my head again recently. It made me think about the return to old remedies and cleaning methods the way our Grandparents did things and how they got started. For this to make any sense, I must first share the story.
A young lady, let’s call her Jane, had some friends around for dinner and was preparing a roast. Her best friend, who shall henceforth be known as Mary, was there helping her. Jane got the roast out of the fridge and began preparing it to put in the pan. Mary watched as Jane got the knife and chopped the ends off the roast.
“Why did you do that?” Mary asked Jane, thinking that it seemed like a waste of good meat.
“That’s how my mother always did it.” Replied Jane. “I never thought about why, it’s just what she always did so it’s what I always do.”.
That conversation got Jane thinking and the next time she saw her mum, she asked “Mum, why do you always cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the pan?”
“That’s how my mother always did it.” Replied Jane”‘s Mum. “I never thought about why, it’s just what she always did so it’s what I always do.”.
Now Jane’s Mum was also curious so on the next visit to Jane’s Grandmother, they asked “Grandma, why do you always cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the pan?”
“Don’t you know?” replied Jane’s Grandmother, “I thought it was obvious.”
“No, why?” Jane and her mother asked again.
“Because my roasting pan is only small and I can’t fit it in.”
I love this story because it shows how something can be handed down through generations without any thought as to whether or not it should still apply to current conditions. There are many old remedies and tricks that apply today as much as they ever did but there are an equal number that should be disregarded. Before adopting any of them, I think it’s important to check how science backs up the myth and to examine history, motivations and then look at how that applies to the current environment.
I can see many parallels between this story and some of the old school cleaning methods that are having a rise in popularity again now. Some of these are very valid and some don’t make sense to me.
Examining the Vinegar Myth
Two of the most popular old school cleaning tips are using vinegar as a multipurpose cleaner and using vinegar as a disinfectant. Vinegar is cheap, it’s claimed to be natural and it’s touted as a miracle cleaner that gets rid of all manner of grime, stains and germs.
There are a couple of things to consider here. First up, when Grandma used it, times were different. During the War and the Depression, money was in short supply as were a lot of other things like cleaning products so using something easier to come by and less expensive was a priority. Appliances were made with a lot more metal parts because plastic and rubber hadn’t really had their day yet. Importantly, vinegar was made from fruit, so it was from natural sources.
Fast forward to today and we have a different situation. Cost-effective cleaning products are readily available. Appliances are made with many plastic and rubber parts which are susceptible to corrosion. Unless the vinegar labeling states the fruit or vegetable from which it was made (e.g. Apple Cider Vinegar) the vinegar has most likely been formulated in a lab from acid and alcohol. So the “natural” stuff is not cheap anymore and the cheap stuff is not natural.
The other thing that has changed is technology. Most people wouldn’t choose to go back to the old toilet system of using a bucket in a shed and having it emptied by the cart once a week. We have a sewerage system and flushing toilets now that are much more hygienic and have improved our general level of health remarkably. The new technology is available, affordable and it’s better.
I think the same about vinegar as a multi purpose cleaner. Personally, I don’t find vinegar that effective when compared with a good multipurpose cleaner, or even against dishwashing liquid and water. These days, we have the technology and good quality, effective, plant-based multipurpose cleaners are available at an affordable price. Why go back to an older, inferior method?
Vinegar is also not an effective disinfectant. To be labelled as a disinfectant, the product must actually meet a set and regulated standard. It must, under independent testing, kill a certain number of germs within a certain period of time. Vinegar does not meet this standard. Vinegar does have some disinfecting properties but it won’t kill, for example, salmonella. I know what I would rather use on my chopping board.
And what about Essential Oils?
As mentioned above, there are also plenty of examples of old wives’ tales that hold up under scrutiny.
As an example, science has consistently shown the benefits of using essential oils as a part of our cleaning regimen. Essential oils have some amazing properties and bring many benefits to the table. When used correctly, Essential Oils can greatly enhance cleaning products by replacing toxins with the added benefit of making the products smell much nicer.
Where does that leave us?
So next time you go to throw some salt over your shoulder to ward off bad luck, I reckon it’s worth a quick google to see if there’s any basis in fact. At the very least, you will have saved yourself some cleaning!