Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite: Getting Rid of Vermin

Getting rid of bugs is a topic that comes up quite a few times in housekeeping manuals during this time. Most people lived on farms. Even city dwellers would often have a few animals. This close contact meant that fleas and lice were a big problem. And just like today, Tudor households had to deal with the threat of moths getting into their clothing. Most of the remedies for getting rid of bugs involved overwhelming the vermin with either good or bad smells. One common remedy for bugs were “sweet bags” . These small bags would contain sweet smelling herbs that would keep moths and other bugs out of linens. Some of these herbs, like wormwood, have been shown to repel bugs. Gervase Markham’s recipe in The English Housewife calls for herbs such as marjoram, rose leaves, and spike. The sweet bags would be similar to how we use mothballs or cedar chests to keep bugs out of clothing.

Bed bugs in Hortus Sanitatis, 1536

Another suggestion, from John Partridge’s book Widdowes Treasure, was to make a fire and put quicksilver in the fire, and then hang clothes over the fire. It was believed that the smoke would kill any lice that might be in the clothing and would keep the clothing from being infested again.


If you visit Agecroft Hall, take a peek into the garderobe. You might notice that there is clothing hanging up in there. This demonstrates another trick for getting rid of bugs! It was believed that the bad smells from the bathroom would kill vermin in the clothing. Would you want to do this with your clothing?


Source: Spring Cleaning: A Spotty History by Donna Seger

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