Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House

Home Comforts is something new. For the first time in nearly a century, a sole author has written a comprehensive book about housekeeping. This is not a dry how-to manual, nor a collection of odd tips and hints, a cleaning book, a history book, or an arid encyclopedia compiled by a committee or an institute. Home Comforts is a readable explanation for both beginners and experts of all the domestic arts — choosing fabrics, keeping the piano in tune, caring for books, making a good fire in the fireplace and avoiding chimney fires, ironing and folding, setting up a good reading light, keeping surfaces free of food pathogens, and everything else that modern people might want to do for themselves in their homes. But this reliable and thorough book on the practicalities of housekeeping is also an argument for the importance of private life and the comforts offered by housekeeping.

Cheryl Mendelson is a philosopher, lawyer, sometime professor, and a homemaker, wife, and mother. Home Comforts is based on her domestic education, which she acquired while growing up on a farm in the hills of Greene County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, from her grandmothers, aunts, and mother. Learning from the distinct domestic styles of her native Appalachian relatives and her Italian immigrant relatives, she appreciated early on how important domestic customs are to a sense of comfort and identity in life. She writes out of love and respect for her subject, and hopes to inspire others to develop the affection and respect for home life and housework she was fortunate to have learned.

Mendelson addresses the meanings as well as the methods of housekeeping with a keen sense of the history and values involved. The result is a warm, good-humored, engagingly written book with a message and a point of view, one that is overflowing with useful reflections and information. The clarity, breadth, and depth of the information collected here are unparalleled. You can read Home Comforts for thoughtful entertainment or use its ample index to help you find the answers to practical domestic questions. There is nothing quite like it.

Among this book’s unique features:

· A skeptical discussion of the excessive use of disinfectants in the home. · How to iron a dress shirt and how to fold sheets. · How to make up a bed with hospital corners. · How to do all basic sewing stitches. · How to choose proper sizes for sheets, tablecloths, and other household linens. · How to set the table for informal and formal meals. · Expert recommendations for safe food storage. · The most exhaustive and reliable information on fabrics, textile fibers, and their laundering, drying, and other care that exists for nonprofessionals. · A thorough explanation of care labels and why and how you should often (carefully) disregard them. · Housekeeping guidelines for people with pets or with allergies. · What to do about dust mites. · How to clean and care for wood, china and crystal, jewelry, ceramic tile, metals, and more. · Guides to stain and spot removal. · Extensive recommendations for improving home safety. · A summary of laws applicable to the home, including privacy, accident liability, contracts, and domestic employees.·

· 200 Elegant, Clear Drawings ·


  • Hardcover: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (November 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068481465X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684814650
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (379 customer reviews)
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4 thoughts on “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House”

  1. I bought this book without knowing anything about it. As a thirtysomething single man who just bought his first house, I’ve been looking for the practical information that I never got growing up (more my fault than mom’s), and after idly flipping through this book in the store, I was convinced that I’d found it. The amount of venom contained in many of the reviews here was frankly astonishing to me, and for a moment I wondered if I’d wandered onto the wrong page by mistake.
    Home Comforts is not “the fascists guide to spotless houses at the expense of friends, family, career, and joy”. Indeed, the author repeatedly stresses that her methods and schedules are suggestions, nothing more, and goes to great lengths to explain why each task should be done in the first place, and how to balance the effort against the benefits. I found nothing in it to suggest that I, living alone in my brand-new house, should be forced into hours of weekly drudgery in order to meet an irrational white-glove standard; what I found was a set of clear explanations that would allow me to make informed choices on how to set my own standards and keep up with them in a reasonable and realistic way.
    Attempting to read it from cover to cover in one sitting is indeed overwhelming, and I can see why it left some people feeling inadequate or with the false impression that the author was looking down her nose at the readers. I didn’t know most of those things either, and much of what I thought I knew was wrong.
    Some aspects that others find off-putting added to the charm for me. Who but a lawyer would, when faced with the complications of laundry care labels, reach immediately for the federal regulations governing them?Read more ›

  2. “Home Comforts” is a massive guide to the fundamentals of keeping house. An engaging writer (on a subject I NEVER would have thought I would care about), Ms. Mendelson provides a thorough reference to caring for one’s home and possessions, from the proper way to clean wood floors to how to lower one’s dry-cleaning expenses to safety matters. For someone like me who never really learned how to keep house, this is an essential reference.

    Yes, the author is often obssessive–and she freely admits to that charge. (Has Martha Stewart ever done so?) In fact, she details which chores she believes are essential and which tasks are obssessive. But her advice seems to be generally sound and thoroughly researched, especially when it comes to explaining the scientific & medical reasons of why certain tasks should be done in certain ways. (The chapter on dust mites is, frankly, slightly terrifying.)

    This isn’t a book about decorating or crafts for the home or time management (though there is some advice about organizing). There are dozens of other sources for those subjects–take this for what it is. It’s fantastic, and it’s changed the way my husband and I keep our house. I wish more books–fiction and non-fiction–could be so well-written.

  3. Mendelson’s lucid prose transforms the hot-button subject of homemaking (which is more than just housekeeping) into an activity worthy of time and attention. Without the slightest preachiness, she covers everything you need to know to run a home efficiently. Her gentle, practical tone eliminates any need for defensiveness, so it is possible to glimpse her vision of the pleasantness of order.
    The book is more like a detailed, well-organized textbook than a “helpful hints” manual. For example, the “Cloth” section begins with descriptions of modern fabrics, and thoroughly discusses everything relevant to choosing, laundering, ironing, folding, removing stains, sanitizing (for contagious diseases, lice, or poison ivy), and troubleshooting fabric difficulties. And she manages to make it interesting!
    My mother, whose home was perfectly maintained, used many of Mendelson’s techniques and scheduling ideas, but never passed them on to me (she preferred to do it herself so that it would be done “right”) so I grew up feeling that housework was something I couldn’t successfully do.Since there are few things more depressing than feeling incompetant, I’ve tried to learn homemaking through trial and error. This book would have eliminated much of the error, and provided a much shorter and more pleasant learning curve.
    I recommend this book to anyone who has a home or wants to be prepared to maintain one. It’s well worth the price.

  4. One of the highlights of the Cheryl Mendelson’s book is the suggestion for schedules – what should be done daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
    In the past, the only cleaning I did during the week was wash the dishes, clean the counters and take out the garbage. That left weekends as the only time to launder, dust, vacuum, and on and on.
    Needless to say, weekends were not a lot of fun and the feeling of peace that you feel when you’re in a clean home only existed for one or two days.
    Thank you, Ms Mendelson, for helping me find a way to have a comfortable home 7 days a week and time to enjoy my week-ends!

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