Classic yellow dusters

£1.50

The classic yellow duster. They are a household staple and a most excellent all round cleaning cloth. Sometimes they are a bit of a mean size and they will shrink a little when you wash them. So these are a generous 50x55cm size. Use them wrung out and wet as well as for dry dusting. Just remember WASH THEM SEPARATELY until they are very, very old. The yellow will run and you won’t be happy. So why are they yellow? Here’s what the BBC has to say:

The humble duster is a familiar household object but why do they often seem to be made of the same soft yellow fabric? The answer could lie in the naturally yellow cotton which originally came from China, according to Professor Beverly Lemire, a lecturer in material culture at the University of Alberta in Canada.

“The best of this hard-wearing cotton was made into trousers called nankeen trousers or breeches,” she said. When the trousers wore out, they would be cut up and recycled as cleaning cloths. “Very likely there were lower grade cottons that became associated with cleaning cloths and dusters,” she said.

The entry for nankeen in The Spinning World: the Global History of Cotton Textiles (2009) notes that Lancashire started to make nankeen cotton cloth by the late 1700s. “For a widespread utilitarian use, consumers need to develop an association between a particular type of object and its use,” said Professor Lemire. “This is why I think a mass market was created. Very likely Lancashire manufacturers were sourcing yellow cotton wherever they could as a means to cash in on the fad for this yellow fabric,”

Staff at the Royal Museums Greenwich said they had heard butter and cheese making could have a connection with dusters. “Dusters and cleaning cloths were traditionally made from rags recycled within the domestic environment before mass production,” a spokeswoman said. “Muslin cloths used in the making of butter and cheese were recycled in this way, the yellow staining proving so popular that enterprising weavers produced cloth dyed yellow for this purpose.”

But the connection could also be associated with flags, because the yellow flag was linked to disease on ships, she said.

When boats came into port they would wave a big yellow flag to show that everyone on board was disease-free. The colour yellow then became associated with cleanliness.” Charles Ashburner, chief executive of the Flag Institute, added: “The Q flag is a plain yellow flag and it originally meant your ship had disease on board and was under quarantine. “In modern use it indicates the opposite, that the ship is free of disease and the vessel is ready for boarding and inspection, but it’s very rarely used now.