Have you ever seen someone beating a carpet with a stick? Yes, this may sound awkward but beating carpets with sticks actually was a frequently used carpet cleaning technique especially in the 19th century.
So when a carpet is beaten with a stick? The aim of beating a carpet with a stick is to clean the carpet by removing the dust particles attached to it. You can beat out the dust of a carpet with the help of a stick. When you hit the carpet, the surface of the carpet moves away towards the direction of the force you’ve applied, but the dust particles keep their position and get separated from the carpet.
This method is actually based on a scientific principle known as the law of inertia, or Newton’s First Law. I’m going to get into some detail about the process, as well as giving practical information about when and how it’s done. After that, together we will dive into the historical part of carpet beating, and get some information about the real practices performed in early centuries. You also will be able to learn about other historical interesting and funny carpet cleaning techniques as well as modern carpet cleaning methods. First of all, let me start by giving some insight about the actual process.
Beating the Dust out of the Carpet with a Stick
As I mentioned above, the purpose of beating a carpet with a stick is to simply clean the dust away from it. Today, you can remove the dust out of a carpet with the help of vacuum cleaners. Before vacuum cleaners, it was done by carpet sweepers. And before that? When there was no machine to remove the dust out of a carpet, which tool people were using to clean their carpets?
You may not be familiar with the answer to this question. They were using carpet beaters. Yes, you heard it right, carpet beaters. As simple as it sounds.
A carpet beater consists of a handle about 30 cm long, and a circular surface (6-7 cm diameter) attached to the tip of the handle. It is made of wood, cane, wicker, rattan, coiled wire or spring steel and can be used to clean carpets, rugs, clothes, cushions, and bedding.
Among other common names of it, there are rug beater, carpet whip, rug whip, dust beater, carpet duster, wicker slapper (this is my favorite), rug duster and pillow fluffer. Modern versions of carpet beaters are generally made of wire or plastic.
Carpet beaters seem handy but they offer nothing more than a regular stick. Before the invention of the carpet beaters (late 19th century), people used to use sticks to clean their carpets. Due to the fundamental characteristics of industrial revolution and with the increasing rate of mass production, sticks are replaced by carpet beaters, especially in the early 20th century.
The mechanism of carpet beating is as follows: First, you need to hang the carpet with the help of a rope or wire. The rope must be tied firmly and have enough strength to carry the carpet. After hanging the carpet, all you need to do is to beat the carpet with the stick. When you hit the carpet, the dust particles break free from it and penetrate into the air before falling down due to the gravity. And your carpet would be dust-free after the operation.
However, there is a tricky part here. If you want to clean your carpet completely, you need to beat all over the surface. Every stroke has its own range of influence, and it is directly proportional to the force of the stroke. So, you need to beat it until there is no dust coming out of the carpet. After that, feel free to use your new, dust-free carpet.
Physics Behind It: A Scientific Approach
As I told before, practice detailed above is based on a phenomenon called as “law of inertia” or “Newton’s First Law”. Let’s start with the definition of the law of inertia: “An object at rest will stay at rest, forever, as long as nothing pushes or pulls on it. An object in motion will stay in motion, traveling in a straight line, forever, until something pushes or pulls on it.”
When you beat the carpet with a stick, with the force applied to it, the carpet moves (changes its position). The dust particles attached to it, on the other hand, tend to remain at rest since they were at rest initially. So, because you’ve applied the force only to the carpet but not to the dust particles, their inertia causes them to keep their initial position. Therefore, dust particles are separated from the carpet, mixed with air and fall to the ground under the effect of gravity.
Now let’s get into some detail. If the location of an object is defined according to the system of absolute coordinate axes, and this object is not under the influence of other objects from outside, it will move without acceleration; that is to say, either stand still or move at a constant speed on a straight line.
This expression of Newton can be explained as follows: If it is not forced to change its state by the application of a force, every object remains motionless or in a steady motion.
That is to say more clearly: Unless any force is applied to it, an object that is standing still or moving at a constant speed maintains a steady state or a constant speed state (When the bus stops suddenly, you notice that the passengers are swinging forward. The reason for the swing is that the passengers maintain their constant speed before the stop.)
All our experiments show that; where and when an acceleration occurs, this acceleration occurs only by one or both of the following two causes. It may be due to the fact that the system used is not an absolute system of axes, due to the influence of other objects or for both reasons. No other reason is possible.
In the absence of these two reasons, the fact that an object does not accelerate is sometimes referred to as the inertia of that object, and therefore an absolute system of axes is called the inertial system.
The law allows us to expand the meaning of an inertial system. Therefore, if any system of axes is moving without acceleration relative to an absolute axes system, the acceleration of a particle point relative to the system will be the same as the acceleration relative to an absolute system. Thus, if the first law is correct, the system mentioned above is very likely an inertial system.
Carpet Beating in 19th Century
In his book, The House Servant’s Directory, Robert Roberts gives valuable information about historical carpet cleaning techniques.
Directly cited from the book: “Beat your carpets with your carpet rods until perfectly clean from dust, then if there be any ink spots take it out with a lemon, and if oil spots, take out as in the foregoing receipt, observing to rinse with clean water; then take a hot loaf of white bread, split down the centre, having the top and bottom crust one on each half, with this rub your carpet extremely well over, then hang it out on or across a line with the right side out; should the night be fine, leave it out all night, and if the weather be clear, leave it out for two or three such nights, then sweep it with a clean corn broom, and it will look as when first new (Roberts, 1969).”
More detailed information about carpet beating and carpet beating machines is given in the book Carpet Notes written by John Pray.
“There was a time when all work of this kind, done by hand, was preferred; but in the absence of men who do it thoroughly, and the lack of available space for such operations, the improved carpet-beating machines are heartily recommended. They do their work thoroughly, evenly; and in one place, at least, it can be said, that no danger exists from anything getting into the carpet from previous cleanings, as all dirt is carried off immediately. Where work of this kind is done at home, care should be exercised that the article is beaten on its back, in order that the dirt may be forced from the place where it has settled. The best instrument in use is rattan with a large loop (Pray, 1884).”
Other Historical Carpet Cleaning Techniques
If you want to learn about historical carpet cleaning techniques other than carpet beating, there are plenty of books about carpet cleaning history. I’ve cited some informative paragraphs for you.
In the book named Enquire Within upon Everything by Houlston and Wright, it is explained how tea leaves are used to clean carpets in early centuries.
“Persons who are accustomed to use tea leaves for sweeping their carpets, and find that they leave stains, will do well to employ fresh cut grass instead. It is better than tea leaves for preventing dust and gives the carpets a very bright fresh look (Houlston and Wright, 1863).”
In The American Woman’s Home, a book written by Catherine and Harriet Beecher,
detailed information about sweep schedule of carpets is mentioned.
“Unless a parlor is in constant use, it is best to sweep it only once a week, and at other times use a whisk-broom and dust-pan. When a parlor with handsome furniture is to be swept, cover the sofas, center table, piano, books, and mantelpiece with old cotton kept for the purpose. Remove the rugs and shake them, and clean the jambs, hearth, and fire-furniture. Then sweep the room, moving every article (Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1869).”
You can find information about what people used to do in order to prevent carpets wear off too quickly, as well.
“The oftener carpets are shaken, the longer they wear; the dirt that collects under them grinds out the threads. Do not have carpets swept any oftener than is absolutely necessary. After dinner, sweep the crumbs into a dusting-pan with your hearth-brush; and if you have been sewing, pick up the threads by hand. A carpet can be kept very neat in this way, and a broom wears it very much (Child, 1829).”
As you can see, there is plenty of information about carpet cleaning history. If you are interested, I strongly advise you to do further reading.
Modern Carpet Cleaning Methods
Modern carpet cleaning methods can be categorized into 2 types, named as hot water extraction and dry cleaning. As the name implies, hot water extraction is performed with hot water. Although it is generally called “steam cleaning”, no actual steam is involved in the hot water extraction process except steam that may escape incidentally from hot water. The cleaning solution which comes in contact with the carpet is between 50 to 120 degrees Celsius, depending on the heating power of the cleaning unit.
On the other hand, there are plenty of dry cleaning methods like dry compound, encapsulation, bonnet, shampoo, dry foam, and vacuum wash. Today, carpet cleaning companies mostly use hot water extraction.
Why Is It Dangerous to Jump out of a Moving Bus?
This question may seem irrelevant, except it is not. Why it is dangerous to jump out of a moving bus? You fell, you get hurt, but why? The reason behind this is the same with the carpet beating. The law of inertia. When you jump out, as soon as your feet (or wherever get into contact with the ground first) touch the ground they come to rest immediately. However, the other parts of your body continue to move because of the inertia of motion caused by the bus. Therefore, you cannot stop and fall forward.
Why It Is Advised to Tie Any Luggage?
The same principle applies here as well. Let’s say you have some luggage that you keep on the roof of a bus. If you don’t tie it, when the bus brakes suddenly, it might topple over. The reason is simple. The inertia of motion affecting the luggage will try to make it keep moving. But since the bus is decelerating at that very moment, the luggage can fall off to the ground easily.