Unpack the facts: Five things you didn’t know about spring cleaning

A yellow clorox box with a wipe sticking out has the words "ye olde disenfectant" on it
Graphic by Amy Lowndes

With the arrival of spring comes blooming flowers, longer days and birdsong. But for many, spring also brings the Clorox wipes and lemon-scented cleaning sprays necessary to scrub the grime left over from our winter hibernations. Though spring cleaning may not be everyone’s favorite pastime, it has been a tradition in many cultures throughout history.

Take a break, drop the dustpan and learn about the origins and reasons behind this cleansing custom.

1) There are religious roots and cultural connections

As is customary, leavened food (called chametz) is strictly forbidden during Passover, a Jewish springtime holiday. Traditionally, in the days leading up to Passover, people observing the holiday would clean their homes in order to get rid of any traces of chametz.

Ancient Persians also practiced spring cleaning. The Persian festival of Nowruz, celebrating the Persian New Year on the vernal equinox, was traditionally preceded by ritual house-cleaning to prepare for the new year. The tradition, called “khooneh takouni” or “shaking of the house,” is more than 3,000 years old.

Finally, Chinese tradition also includes spring cleaning. Leading up to Lunar New Year — which typically occurs between late January and mid-February — people sweep floors, scrub windows and dust off furniture to symbolically remove the bad luck from the previous year. Once Lunar New Year begins, however, all spring cleaning ceases, as sweeping the house during the holiday is thought to sweep away good fortune.

2) …but also a practical premise.

In the days before vacuums and heaters, soot from fireplaces would accumulate in homes over the winter. It was thus common to dust and clean during March, once temperatures were warm enough to open the windows and let the breeze blow away winter grime.

Biology also plays a role: The increased sunlight in spring decreases levels of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), thus giving us a natural energy boost. And what better way is there to use this extra energy than by breaking out the broom?

3) Exemplary cleanliness

If you need some cleaning inspiration, just turn to Switzerland, which was ranked as the cleanest country in the world in a 2018 report by the Environmental Performance Index. In its rankings, the EPI accounts for factors such as air pollution and water sanitation; in 2018, the U.S. ranked 27th.

While Switzerland may be the cleanest country, the cleanest city belongs to our northern neighbor. Calgary, Canada, is considered to be the world’s cleanest city, despite its hefty population of around 1.3 million. The title for the cleanest U.S. city, meanwhile, goes to Portland, Oregon.

4) Where to dig up some dirt

At some point during your cleaning routine, you should turn to the trusty sponge, a universal image of cleanliness — right? Wrong. Actually, sponges are among the dirtiest household items, containing up to 10 million bacteria per square inch. For reference, that’s about 200,000 times more than what’s on the average toilet seat.

Dishcloths are also frightfully filthy. In one study analyzing dishcloths in U.S. and Canadian cities, researchers found E. coli on 25.6% of towels and salmonella on nearly 14% of dishcloths.

Tempted to purge your home of all sponges and dishcloths now? That’s not necessary. To keep your cleaning items clean, soak your sponges in boiling, soapy water after use, replace them every few weeks and wash your towels and cloths regularly.

5) Clean creatively

As college students, we’re often too broke (or lazy) to get all the fancy, brand-name cleaning supplies. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to hack the system. Vinegar, for instance, can be extremely versatile. Many stained clothes can be treated by spraying them with vinegar before washing, particularly wine and deodorant stains. You can also easily clean your microwave by heating up a vinegar and water solution until steam forms on the window, and then wiping it down with a (clean) dishcloth.

Baking soda can also be useful: Deodorize your mini fridge by sticking a box of baking soda in the back, or sprinkle and scrub some on grease stains. Happy cleaning!

Mady Colantes PO ’22 creates lists for TSL. She is from Seattle, and when not in shock over the lack of rain in Claremont, she enjoys reading and getting too excited over small things.

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