What does "sanding a doorstep" mean?

Does it mean polishing the doorstep? Or filling it in with sand?

I read this expression in Charles Dickens' book, The Haunted House where it says,

I found the landlord of the little inn sanding his doorstep.

  • 1
    Since it is a doorstep (close to your veranda/terrace), polishing might be the correct one, I think. People usually don't pour sands on their doorsteps, they sprinkle them. Besides, the little inn in your updated question indicates that there are things "decorating" the doorstep.
    – Safira
    Nov 3, 2013 at 13:20
  • How do you fill a doorstep with sand? And to what end?
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 3, 2013 at 13:21
  • There is no further info on that. But I guess you are right, polishing it is.
    – user54495
    Nov 3, 2013 at 13:26
  • 2
    It could be sprinkling sand on the step to make it less slippery, but people did use blocks of sandstone for polishing (like navy holystone). Nov 3, 2013 at 13:48

3 Answers 3


It means the landlord of the little inn was scouring his doorstep, probably with sand and water as it is described as 'sanding'.

Stone floors and stone stairs are sometimes scrubbed with sand and water, sometimes with the hearth-stone, or with pipe-clay prepared after the following receipt: Boil half a pint of size [glue] with the same quantity of whiting and pipe-clay in two quarts of water; the stones must be first washed clean with water, and this mixture afterward laid smoothly on them with a flannel; when dry, they must be rubbed with a dry cloth or flannel. Stone floored kitchens and offices, stone hearths, stone steps, and balconies are usually washed with a flannel and water, and, while wet, scrubbed with the hearth-stone. Steps at the entrances of houses are washed and whitened every day in town, in the country scarcely more than once a week; stone kitchens twice a week, balconies only once. Webster's Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy, New York 1845 and later editions

  • 1
    Surely OP will have his own copy, like all the rest of us? Nov 3, 2013 at 14:29
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    I am not sure they have a Farsi edition. Nov 3, 2013 at 15:02
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    The modern-day equivalent would be of the proprietor removing bubble-gum stains on the pavement before the store, early on a Sunday morning. It speaks to the energy and attention to detail that can enable a man to earn a comfortable life from even the most mundane of occupations. Nov 3, 2013 at 18:32

The reference to doorstep sanding that I located is a slightly more simple method than that given by Roaring Fish, but from 75 years earlier.

In Madam Johnson's Present: Or Every Young Woman's Companion, In Useful And Universal Knowledge (1770) by Mary Johnson, page 162, she deals with how a maid should go about cleaning various parts of the house, including the following brief description:

Cold Water, Soap, and Sand, will do for washing Free-stone Slabs; and she should use a Brush for cleaning them; for rubbing with a Fire-stone spoils the Ladies Petticoats, and one cannot set a Foot on Slabs, so rubbed, without marking the Room, unless the Slabs be afterwards well cleaned with a dry Cloth.

The concept appears not to have died out entirely, as in The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950 (1990) By F. M. L. Thompson, Page 436, is found the following paragraph, depicting a typical Southern perspective of Northern England:

The caricature is of a dirty, grimy industrial region full of pits and blast-furnaces where the men wear caps, drink beer out of straight glasses, grow leeks and race whippets while the women stay at home, wear 'pinnies' and curlers and sand the doorstep.


In Yorkshire the thresholds were regularly scoured with holystone, a type of sandstone. It was common to see housewives on their knees with a pail of water and a rectangular or square holystone vigorously rubbing clean the Yorkshire stone doorways, steps and flags. They also edged the steps in a different colour.

  • 2
    Welcome to ELU. Please note that this site expects answers to be "as an expert would write them". This means that references should eb used to back up assertions. I assume you are implying that using a holystone is called "sanding"; if so this is missing from your answer as well as unsupported by references. If you're not saying that, then you're not answering the question.
    – AndyT
    Nov 23, 2017 at 17:32

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