Ah, the time to turn the house upside down to clean every nook and cranny is here again, and it might make you wonder who thought about making this a yearly ordeal? And how did they all know when to start spring cleaning at the same time? Well, this beloved cleaning tradition has roots across a number of cultures, from the U.K. to China to even prehistoric times.
So, to give you that inspirational push to finish deep cleaning that deck or scrubbing that bathroom squeaky and shiny, let’s look at how this notorious tradition began and how it stands against the tide of our own time.
Wiping the winter away
As it turns out, spring cleaning’s most recent relative has to do with fireplaces. During the winter, houses were heated by fireplaces and you’d have to keep it sealed all the time in order to prevent that heat from escaping. This meant that the house would get saturated with soot and grime, so the coming spring gave families an opportunity to finally air out the house.
Even now with centralized and cleaner heating systems, the passing of winter into spring still gives us an opportunity to get more active and clean out the house in a warmer temperature, so things haven’t really changed all that much.
Across several cultures
The world is full of possible ancestors of our beloved tradition, and it’s because they all saw the general benefits of spring cleaning. In China, for example, it’s still believed that making a deep clean of the house in preparation for the lunar new year brings good fortune because you take out the bad vibes and misfortune that have accumulated over the year and avoid sweeping the good ones that come with the New Year.
Families in Iran celebrate the Now Rouz, or Persian New Year, which begins in March 21st. One of the traditions of this celebration is the Khooneh takouni, a vigorous cleaning ritual in which every corner and the household item is thoroughly cleaned. Once they’re done, the Now Rouz can begin and spring arrives once more.
Ancient families cleaning ancient houses
The two traditions we mentioned above are just some of the many ‘spring cleaning’ traditions that have existed all over the world throughout history, so is there any scientific explanation for why we prefer to do this mammoth of a cleaning effort around spring? Well, some people believe so, and it goes way back into the times when we called caves “home”.
In short, winter means the days are shorter, so our exposure to sunlight is reduced, which in turn makes us produce melatonin, the ‘sleepiness hormone’. This, combined with the need to protect ourselves from the cold, meant we spent a lot of time in our shelters. With the coming of spring, bacteria (along with bad smells and other nasties) would activate fast, so with our vitality restored by the longer exposure to sunlight, our ancient selves would do their own version of cleaning up.
Not just tradition, it makes sense
Despite the days when most houses were heated with coal, oil and wood being long gone, keeping the house shut for most of the winter is still the norm across the bigger part of the U.S., so airing it out and using the warmer, longer temperatures to clean still makes a ton of sense. The cultural significance might be different around the world, but the answer is that all of our cleaning rituals follow a simple logic: It’s a little less hard to clean now.
Habits are now changing
People lead a very different lifestyle nowadays, and it makes sense that their cleaning habits change around that lifestyle as well. Spending more and more time outside has become the norm for many, even during the winter, so the house doesn’t feel as stale as in the past.
Another reason is that more people than ever are hiring cleaning services, following a clean-as-you-go approach that just keeps the house in a cleaner state for longer. This option is particularly effective for people who appreciate their precious free time, so why not try it out yourself?