I’m not really an umbrella person, although my fictional Victorian umbrella factory museum appears fairly regularly in what I write. I have occasionally possessed an umbrella, but never used it very often, and usually it would disappear into the back of a cupboard, or just disappear. The idea of cleaning an umbrella never occurred to me, but I guess we are fortunate enough to live somewhere with clean air and so it has never been needed – even if I’d thought of it.

However in the past, when most homes were heated by coal fires, and most industry powered by it, keeping anything clean was a massive problem. I’ve read that people working in London would take a spare collar and cuffs to change into at lunchtime… back when collars and cuffs were removable.

Here is some advice from Ruth Drew, probably written in the forties or fifties, on how to clean your umbrella – just in case you need to or want to:

You would think that, in this country, umbrellas would have all the natural cleaning that they require, but it is surprising how often they become grubby in the folds. Cleaning, however, presents one or two difficulties.
Silk umbrellas have to be treated very warily. For example, you can affect both the proofing of the silk and the colour if you clean with spirit or shampoo, whether it is based on soap or soapless detergent. Quite a lot of grubbiness yields to sponging with plain tepid water, and this is as much as you can do. If the umbrella is made of nylon, it is perfectly safe to sponge with mild soapless detergent, and then with clear water as a rinse. In either case, you obviously then leave the umbrella open to dry, and, equally obviously, you are careful to dry the metal spokes with a clean soft cloth, so that there is no danger of rusting.

I think there is a typo in the original – I’m sure Ruth would have rinsed with clean as opposed to clear water!

I am intrigued by the shampoo – is it ordinary hair shampoo, or special umbrella shampoo? Hmmm… maybe I should investigate…

4 thoughts on “Treating silk umbrellas warily

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