The place where we spend about one-third of our time should have due attention, that our sleep may be sweet and refreshing. I believe, from extensive observation, that there is no part of housework so neglected by the average housekeeper as the care of beds. Let us be charitable, and say it is mainly for want of knowledge on the subject.
There are various ways to construct a good and healthful bed without the use of feathers. A moss or hair mattress over a good set of springs, with a home-made cotton comforter above, is probably the best bed one can have. But hair is so expensive that comparatively few families use it, besides it is not always pure and clean. However, a hair mattress can be renovated at home. The cover can be taken off and washed; the hair washed, scalded, and dried, and then picked apart loosely again, put back in the cover, and tacked as before. This is far better than to send it away to be renovated.
A husk mattress will answer the purpose of moss or hair very well, provided you have good springs. Whatever the bed may be, I consider the home-made comforter as indispensable. None but the very best of cotton should be used, so it will not pack and get solid. Six or seven pounds is sufficient. For winter use, they should be made of wool. The covering may be of the very lightest quality of bed-ticking - what is called straw-ticking. A thin unbleached muslin, when tied or knotted with some bright color, is pretty and serviceable. It should be made about the size of the mattress. This is the very best contrivance to protect the heavier and more stationary mattresses, as it can easily be thrown out upon the line to air and sun once a week, and it can be washed once or twice a year. Most people entertain the erroneous idea that comforters must be taken apart to be washed. If the best of cotton is used, washing will not hurt them; the inside needs to be cleansed even more than the outside.
A cheaper bed, and one that is equally as comfortable as a hair mattress, may be made as follows: Fill a common bed-tick with split husks, wheat or oat-straw; above it place the home-made mattress or comforter above described. Split husks are very durable. Oat-straw is soft and comfortable, and convenient to shake up and air thoroughly every morning, and can, with a trifling expense, be replenished once or twice a year, or, indeed, at any time after the bed has been occupied by a sick person. Constant use is a serious objection to mattresses. I wonder they are so commonly used when they are so heavy and inconvenient to move about and difficult to renovate. Surely, they would not be if the importance of sunning and renovating beds were better understood.
Concerning feather beds, I am compelled to say that they scarcely possess a solitary virtue, not one redeeming quality to justify their use. As a rule, elderly people are prejudiced in their favor, and imagine nothing else can make them comfortable. Doubtless, in most instances, a thick homemade wool mattress over a soft oat-straw or split-husk bed, with a good set of pliable springs, would be equally as comfortable. It is justly claimed that feather beds are soft and warm - warm because they do not so rapidly conduct the animal heat from our bodies; but we do not want present comfort at the expense of future health. The comfort they afford is more than over-balanced by the injury they do us. They invariably increase any tendency to nervousness, and aggravate pulmonary disorder. They cause a general sense of oppression and lassitude. They weaken and impair our every vital function. They make us more susceptible to colds and to all changes of the weather. They retain the dampness of perspiration and thus develop the germs of disease. Besides this, there is more or less dead animal matter belonging to the feathers which is constantly undergoing decomposition, and the odor therefrom is very offensive and unwholesome.
Hence, if they are to be used at all, the greatest care should be taken to prevent them from becoming completely saturated with their own impurities, to say nothing of what they receive from the human body.
The skin is a respiratory organ; it both inhales and exhales. It contains about two and a half million pores, which are constantly at work giving off waste matter, and also absorbing the elements about them. It is authentically stated that at least eight ounces of excrementitious matter is conducted through these pores during the average time of sleep - eight hours.
The bed upon which we lie and the covers of the same serve as a receptacle for these foul emanations. The perspiration loaded with waste matter deposits its impurities and leaves them there to be reabsorbed by the skin unless they are dissipated by air and sunlight. It is difficult to get impurities out and pure air in through the close ticking.
Few beds get sufficient hot summer sun and wind to purify them. The general idea that a bed can be kept pure by exposure to the air twenty-five or thirty minutes, or even an hour, each morning, in a close, dark bedroom, together with one day's sunning during house-cleaning time (which comes once or twice a year) is absolutely ridiculous. Imagine the impurity of such a bed !
It is a great mistake to plan a house with small bedrooms.
They should always be large, and have a sunny outlook, if possible. We can often utilize the sunlight as It streams in through a large window and save carrying beds, bedding, and pillows down stairs. Remember that sunlight means life to people as well as to plants. I wish I could impress every reader of this chapter with the importance of airing the top mattress (or home-made comforter) and all the bedding in the real sunlight once a week, or once in two weeks at least. A day should be taken as regularly for this as for the family washing, and the housekeeper should so understand her duty.
The bed and windows should be thrown open each morning, and left so at least two hours.
How important it is that this moment's work should be done before leaving the sleeping-room.
There is but one way to keep a bed in a wholesome condition, and that is by sufficient contact with pure air, sunlight, and water. It is just as important that our beds be physiological as that our food be wholesome.
It would be better to abandon the feather pillow, also, although they are less injurious than beds of the same, as the head is not so entirely covered from the outer air. Good pillows may be made of the inside of corn husks finely split; or the moss or hair that upholsters use (if the latter has been subjected to a cleansing process as before described). A pad made of extra good cotton and covered with cheesecloth, placed over husk pillows and tacked at the corners, makes them softer and prevents the rustling. This can be washed and renewed occasionally. For children especially, it is far better to substitute something for feathers.
The quantity and quality of the bed covering is just as important as the proper construction of the bed. It should be as light as possible to insure warmth. Like the bed, the covering should be of such material as will absorb dampness and impurities as little as possible. Comforters made of cotton batting (and often the poorest quality) so generally used in this country are very objectionable. They are compact and heavy. Their use requires too much weight for sufficient warmth. They render respiration less free, and retard circulation. A sense of languor and weariness frequently follows their use. A light, puffy, wool comforter is superior to anything else for warmth. It requires about three and a half pounds for each comforter. The wool can be purchased of wool-dealers in the spring, or of some near farmer. It must be thoroughly washed twice, in good suds, rinsed well, dried and taken to the woolen mills. See the superintendent and order your batting to be made without oil, in order to prevent the disagreeable odor of the grease used in woolen mills. Explain your request, and demand that they grant it. Comforters made of wool wash very nicely, even better than the best grade of cotton. The process for washing them most successfully is very simple. Soak them half an hour in a tub of warm rain water, in which a small piece of soap has been dissolved Then stir and punch them ten or fifteen minutes with a smooth stick. This is a better way than rubbing on the washboard. Do not wring, but drain them thoroughly by laying them on sticks placed across the top of the tub. Rinse twice, letting them soak in each clear water fifteen minutes, at least; drain and dry, and I assure you they will look well, and be pure and clean. When they are about two-thirds dry, take hold of the lower edges as they hang upon the line, and shake them thoroughly. This tends to make them light and puffy. Quilts may be washed in the same way. This manner of washing bedclothes is simple and easy and there is no excuse for its being neglected. I am sorry to say a clean, sweet bed is an exception the world over.
Every garment worn during the day should be removed at night. The night-gown should also have a fair chance for airing during the day. The habit some people have of folding the gown and placing it under the pillow in the morning should be discontinued. Canton flannel gowns are best for winter. Every one can afford them. Make them plain, and the washing and ironing will be a light task. The body and limbs should be entirely free from ligatures and compressions of all kinds, during sleep. The circulation and respiration should be perfectly free.
Ventilation is another important item. It is an error to suppose that fresh air is essential only during the warm season of the year. It is just as necessary to our well being, physically and mentally, in winter as in summer. However, the volume of fresh air required in cold weather is not so great on account of its being more highly oxygenated, but we need it in due proportion. Impure air vitiates the blood, and is just as detrimental to health as bad food. It actually poisons us slowly, seriously, fearfully, and fatally. The carbonic acid in an ill-ventilated room does not do its fatal work very speedily, but it does it surely.
A very convenient and effectual way to ventilate a room is to raise one window as high as you desire and lower the top sash of another, on the opposite side of the room if possible. If there be but one window in the room open it at top and bottom. Notwithstanding the necessity of pure air, it is not well to sleep in a draught. The use of a screen, or a soft curtain allowed to fall loosely over the open window, is a good protection.