Next week clocks go forward and days will be longer. Spring will arrive and traditionally people are motivated to have a clear out and give their homes a thorough clean to get rid of the winter ‘cobwebs’, both physically and metaphorically.
I, however, am no good at housework. I am not domestic at all. I am happy to do DIY which has a satisfying conclusive result, but housework? I know many people set aside a day each week when they clean the whole house, usually on a Saturday, but there are so many things I would rather do on a day off.
Cleaning seems such a never-ending chore, especially in our house where in a few hours it all needs doing again because we live on a dusty farm with dogs coming in and out. However, I do it grudgingly. Yet, after a good tidy up, we always look around in wonder and think: “The energy feels different. We should do this more often!”
A ‘spring clean’ traditionally involves cleaning the house from top to bottom. Cupboards and drawers are sorted and charities receive unwanted items as people clear out the clutter, sort winter clothes, throw out any outdated foodstuff. It feels good, after the long winter months, to freshen everything up and the house feels re-energised.
Did you know that the term ‘spring clean’ began in the mid-1800s as the brighter weather allowed people to clean out the layers of soot, smoke and coal dust that prevailed in their homes from the use of kerosene lamps and from the wood and coal burned for cooking and heating?
These days, houses do not have the same dirt, and modern electrical machines, utensils and a huge range of chemical products make the ‘spring clean’ faster and more efficient.
The idea of a ‘spring clean’ has existed for thousands of years and has its roots in many cultures and religions.
In Iran, the Persian New Year (Nowruz) usually falls around March 21 and, in preparation for the festivities, families clean the whole house, give away old unwanted items, undertake repairs, wash their beautiful colourful Persian carpets and put flowers in their rooms. This ritual is known as ‘khooneh takouni’, which literally means ‘shaking the house’.
Jewish communities also carry out a ‘spring clean’ in preparation for Passover, which this year starts on the evening of April 15 and ends at sunset on April 22. During this time, leavened food (Chametz) is strictly forbidden and so the house gets a thorough cleaning to remove all crumbs than might be around.
In Catholicism, on Maundy Thursday (the day before good Friday), church altars are especially cleaned, and people are encouraged to also cleanse their homes in what is known as Clean Monday. In Greece, this time is considered to mark the beginning of the spring season and kite flying festivities are part of the traditional celebrations. Sounds more fun than cleaning!
Chinese New Year festivities take place between late January and late February, depending on the lunar calendar, and with it comes the Ninyabaat holiday, a day for washing away the dirt and bad luck of the previous year and to prepare the home for receiving good luck in the coming year. These festivities are also a celebration of spring, and dustpans and brushes are put away, so they do not brush away the new good luck.
Cleaning product manufacturers offer special promotions of their products in anticipation of people’s desire to ‘spring clean’. I have never understood the need for so many different products and I only use bleach and some abrasive cream for the sinks – easy! In fact, do we really need such a huge variety of products?
It was after the last world war, due to the shortage of fats and oils needed for soap production, that new cleaning agents were developed as, until then, soap and natural products such as vinegar, lemon and bicarbonate of soda were used.
The chemicals we use today to clean our homes are undoubtably bad for us, our pets and the environment. Lemon continues to be a manufacturer’s favourite for scenting cleaning materials, however, lemon juice can be used on its own as the acidity is great for removing grease stains or for cleaning the bottom of burnt saucepans. It has antibacterial and antiseptic properties and is a great refreshing cleanser.
Bicarbonate of soda is also acidic and abrasive and used dry or made into a paste with water. It can clean ovens, clear drains, remove stains from carpets and neutralise bad smells from fridges, dishwashers and smelly shoes too. Mixed with vinegar it is even more powerful, especially for cleaning mould off walls and bathrooms, but the mixture should never be stored together as the gas from the chemical reaction can cause an explosion!
Apparently, tea leaves are also good. Tea’s tannic acid buffs up a great shine on mirrors (so does toothpaste) and tea leaves sprinkled on a dirty carpet remove odours. They can be used to cut through grease and to polish wood. If you leave a few tea bags in the toilet overnight, stubborn stains are easier to clean. Interesting, but I do not think I will be breaking open my precious PG Tips tea bags to clean the toilet just yet.
It is good to have these natural inexpensive products around the house and, more importantly, they do not do us or the environment any harm. Thus, in theory, we could get away with using them to clean our homes rather than use a huge variety of spray gun chemicals with synthetic odours emulating natural ones! Having now learnt all the above, I need to stop using the bleach.
It is not just their homes that people ‘spring clean’. Some countries have spring clean weeks where communities come together to remove litter from their environments. In April, Ireland is having its 21st campaign and, in the UK, the 7th Great British Spring Clean starts next week. In Portugal, the cleaning campaigns appear to be more localised with specific target areas such as beaches.
So, as nature renews itself with a profusion of flowers and sunny days boost our energy levels, we are motivated to open windows to expel the damp and let in the warmth and, although it feels great to have a clean and tidy house, my ‘spring clean’ will not be a thorough one. After all, on a lovely sunny day, the last thing I want to do is to clean the house!
So now you know!
By Isobel Costa
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.