A guide to the chores we can no longer do – from changing a lightbulb to resetting the fuse box

According to the Good Housekeeping Institute, people have forgotten how to wash up by hand. But it’s not the only household skill we need to scrub up on

Modern life is making us stupid. The latest skill we used to be able to do, but now needs to be relearned, is how to do the washing-up. According to the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI), people have become overly reliant on dishwashers and don’t know that there is a correct order to do the dishes (glasses first, roasting pans last). So it has produced a guide. Scrape dishes clean before you start, it says, change the water halfway though and wear rubber gloves so you can use extra-hot water.

The washing-up is not the only thing we need help with. According to a new YouGov survey, the majority of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t know how to bleed a radiator or change the fuse in a plug. Which seems a bit unfair – record numbers still live at home with their parents – but even among older people, these skills are not universal (a quarter of 35- to 44-year-olds can’t bleed a radiator).

Does it really matter, when there is a YouTube tutorial for everything from darning a sock to changing a tyre? “Life has changed,” says Trisha Schofield, director of the GHI. “But it’s sad that we’re losing all those skills. They can save us money, are often quicker to do than farming it out, more satisfying and relaxing.” And if nothing else, if we forget them, how else will we understand what the servants are doing in the Downton Abbey movie? Here are some other things we’re struggling with.

A lightbulb
A fifth of people have difficulties with lightbulbs. Photograph: Alamy

Changing a lightbulb

According to YouGov, 11% of people don’t know how to change a lightbulb (although a survey this year by Aviva put that figure at 21%). The hardest part is knowing which bulb to buy. Campaign for a single fitting and just two choices in wattage: atmospheric and dazzling.

Bleeding a radiator

The cold spots on your radiator are trapped air, which you need to “bleed” out, although 69% of people don’t know how to do it, according to the YouGov survey. Getting a radiator key (from a DIY shop) is the first true mark of adulthood. Turn your central heating off – assuming you’re not one of the 11% flummoxed by your boiler – put your key over the square bleed screw in the top of the radiator, turn slightly until the air comes hissing out and close when water starts to trickle out (a towel will come in handy). Then you have to do complicated things such as check the pressure on your boiler and turn the heating back on.

Sewing a button
Sewing a button is easy – when you know how. Photograph: Getty Images/Blend Images

Sewing on a button

Only 65% of people feel confident replacing a button, but it’s a fairly easy job. Anchor your thread on the inside of your fabric with a few stitches or a knot, then, on the outside, line up the button with the buttonhole. “From the back of the fabric, pull the needle and thread up through one of the holes and then push the needle down through the second hole,” says Schofield. “Repeat until the button is securely in place. On the last stitch, push the needle through the fabric but not the hole, and wind the thread around the stitching between the button and fabric to strengthen attachment. Push the needle back down through the material. Finish by making a couple of stitches on the underside of the fabric.”

Resetting the fuse box

More than a third of us don’t know what to do about a tripped switch. These days, you will hopefully have a modern fuse board or consumer unit. You will also know where it is, and have a torch handy. “Open up the front cover or lid and you are looking along the line of switches for whichever one might be in the down position,” says Mark Barnes-Rider, standards engineer with Certsure. Flick it back up. If it keeps tripping after a couple of times, “then that’s the time to call out a competent electrician”.

A messy bed
If only there was a way to make it neat. Photograph: gerenme/Getty Images/Vetta

Making a bed

Just 3% of people don’t know how to make a bed, according to YouGov – but it probably didn’t ask whether people were using flat sheets and hospital corners. “The trouble with fitted sheets is they’re an absolute devil to iron,” says Jane Urquhart, principal of the London Academy for Household Staff, reminding us that we don’t iron our bed linen anyway. So, hospital corners: tuck in the pillow end, then the bottom, “so it’s absolutely tight”. Move to the side of the bed and, about a foot from the corner, pull the loose sheet up on to the bed to create a kind of trapezium shape on its side. Tuck in the sheet below it and then fold the flap down, like closing an envelope, and tuck in. “The sheet should remain creaseless,” says Urquhart. “Whatever you’re getting up to in bed, it will remain good, tight, firm and beautifully made.”


Emine Saner

The GuardianTramp

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