One of the sources of contagion and evil smells in our dwelling houses is the absorbent surfaces presented on every side. The walls, the woodwork, the ceilings, the floors, the carpets the curtains are all of this character. We may take up the carpets and have them beaten, sunned and aired. We can take down the curtains and subject them to similar treatment, but when we come to immovable fixtures the case is different. What then is the remedy or, better still, the preventive? The preventive is any covering that will render the surfaces non-absorbent. We have a choice in paints and varnishes which will make surfaces sanitary as well as beautiful. The hard-finished walls may be painted in oil colors, and in certain apartments, like kitchens and bathrooms, varnish may be added over the paint. The woodwork may be stained and varnished, or simply painted and thus made non-absorbent. The floors may have a similar treatment.
In new houses, where the interior trim is of beautifully marked wood, a natural finish which makes it non-absorbent without concealing the curious veinable and streakings of the wood is always desirable. In many of the rooms a mahogany or a walnut or a cherry or an oak stain may be preferred, any of which may be dull polished and yet be nonabsorbent. Paint of gloss or enamel finish when in lovely colorings makes conditions sanitary as well as lovely to the eye.
All floorings, whether in old houses or in new, should be painted or filled and varnished according to their texture and quality. The invisible woodwork of furniture is a great source of collecting evil smells. Who is not familiar with the smell of the wooden frames of old sofas and rockers when during the process of house-cleaning, one is obliged to turn them topsy-turvy to dust and clean them? Then there is the peculiar smell of old floors when they are washed; who cannot recall it at mere mention? It goes without saying that every inch of unpainted or unvarnished woodwork furnishes a harbor for the reception and protection of disease germs as well as a nidus for evil vermin.
A wise woman who is forced by necessity to move into an old house or any house which has been occupied, will first have it cleansed and then thoroughly disinfected and protected by paint and varnishes and think her money and time well spent in taking these means of preventing illnesses in her family.
How may a mother know to what danger of contagion she is subjecting her family when she enters a house that has previously been occupied by persons of whom she has no knowledge? Is it likely that she will be informed by the landlord that there has been a case of scarlet fever in the room in which her precious child is soon to sleep? Not very, I assure you. Leaving contagious diseases, or rather infections disorders, out of the question, it is not pleasant to think of all the odors personal and otherwise that have been absorbed by that wall-paper that gaily flaunts its roses and cornflowers over your bedroom walls, for wall-papers absorb and retain odors until they fairly reek with them to delicate olfactories. Think of the catarrhs, and the eczemas, and the erysipelatous disorders, and the salt-rheums and consumptions and fevers, and all the other complaints to which poor humanity is subject, and fancy if you can whether that wall-paper can be wholesome! Wall-paper, did I say? Why, there may be half a dozen wall-papers one on top of the other on that same wall, and you cannot know what each layer holds unless you were born and brought up in the house. Then you may; but what does it matter whether your uncle or some other woman’s uncle slept in that room and suffered from catarrh and filled the wall-paper and the furniture with catarrhal microbes!
No, my good woman, it does not matter; the wall-paper is poisonous, so have it all torn down and scraped off and then let the walls be painted or otherwise hard-finished so as to be non-absorbent. Do not have a new wall-paper in your bedroom, but if you must, why then have a gloss-finished sanitary paper, a washable paper, for such only are non-absorbent! Paint and varnish everything of a wooden kind, or strain and fill, or stain and varnish everything paintable and varnishable and your old house will become pure and wholesome. Don’t forget the backs of your bureaus, wash-stands, side-boards, or the under parts of all the furniture, if you mean to do the thing thoroughly, and Messrs. Microbe, Bacilli, Bacteria, and all the other infinitesimal gentry will have to die out for want of living quarters, as far as your home is concerned. Even a microbe will not thrive unless it finds congenial cultures.
F.E.F. (1895, October). Non-Absorbent Surfaces. The Ladies World, XVI(10), 16. Retrieved from http://victoriantimes.us/health/non-absorbent-surfaces. ^