Spring cleaning is a time-honoured tradition. About 3 out of 4 households in North America do some form of spring cleaning every year, according to a recent survey by the American Cleaning Institute.
While the precise origins of the ritual are unknown, many cultures consider it a yearly practice. The Persian tradition of khooneh takouni, calls for ‘shaking the house’ – i.e., cleaning it thoroughly – before the Norooz celebration on the first day of spring. In Judaism, the Torah calls for a complete removal of leavened products, known as chametz, from every room in the house, which requires a thorough cleaning. Orthodox Christians observe ‘Clean Monday’, on the first day of Lent, by eating certain foods, cleaning the house and doing a spiritual cleanse.
In Europe and North America, spring is a time to remove the dust and dirt that has accumulated over the winter months. Most people report focusing on the bedroom, with windows being a top priority, while others use the time to clean appliances, floors and behind furniture.
“This season is also well adapted for washing and bleaching linen, etc., as the work is better and more easily done than in the greater heats of July,” wrote Isabella Beeton in her seminal 1861 book, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which shaped the lives of a large part of the Victorian middle class.
“Winter curtains should be taken down, and replaced by the summer white ones,” Mrs. Beeton advised. “Spring cleaning must include the turning out of the nooks and corners of drawers, cupboards, lumber-rooms, etc., with a view to getting rid of unnecessary articles, which left there create dirt and harbour mice and other vermin…”
Her detailed instructions also included using the spring cleaning phase to sweep out chimneys, take up and clean carpets, paint and whitewash the kitchen, wallpaper rooms when needed, and, “generally speaking, giving the house, a bright and new appearance, for the approaching summer.”
If spring cleaning is on your to-do list this month, we have a few tips to help out:
Go one room at a time: Spring cleaning can be overwhelming, especially if you intend to tackle the whole house. Many experts suggest taking it room by room, as each room may have different cleaning needs, and may require different solutions. Think about starting in the bedroom, which may take more time as people often have trouble deciding what to keep and what to throw out. Once you’ve sorted your closet and cleaned the room, you’ll feel inspired to move on to other areas of the house. Or divide the house up into ‘wet rooms’ – bathrooms and kitchens – and ‘dry rooms’ – living, dining, bedrooms – and start with one category before doing the other. Remember to keep one sponge or rag dedicated for using only in the kitchen and another one for the bathroom, so you don’t spread bacteria from room to room.
Get organized: Map out a game plan for each room, with a list of everything you want to get done in that room. This way, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as each task is completed. When you’re in a room where items need to be purged, get three empty boxes and sort through what needs to be trashed, what can be donated, and what you want to store for future use. This way, you won’t end up with unmanageable mountains of things in the middle of each room. Keep a few plastic bags on hand to easily discard used paper towels and rags.
Think top to bottom: It may seem like a small detail, but it’s important to remember that dust settles downward. Start by knocking down cobwebs and dusting light fixtures and ceiling fans. Wipe down walls, starting at the top. Clean windows, picture frames and the tops of furniture. In a room with many knick-knacks? Move everything off surfaces and dust them thoroughly. This may be the one time in the year this is done properly! Don’t forget to go around the room and clean off the baseboards. In a bedroom, change the sheets after everything has been dusted. Leave the vacuuming and mopping until last.
Don’t break the bank: There is no need to run out and buy a ton of expensive tools and products to aid in your spring cleaning efforts. You probably already have everything you need, including a broom, a mop and a vacuum. Put your cleaning supplies together in a bucket or tote that can easily be carried from room to room. If you run out of any cleaning product, a mixture of baking soda, vinegar and warm water will likely do the trick. (Here are some other tips to make your own household cleaners from our April 2015 story, Guilt-free green cleaning.)
Do sweat the small stuff: Since spring cleaning is likely a ritual you’ll only engage in once a year (if that!) it’s worth paying attention to some of the small details that so often get neglected. For example, when is the last time you really cleaned out the inside of your microwave? Give it a steam clean by mixing two tablespoons of white vinegar with water and a few drops of a favourite essential oil, then blasting it on high for five minutes. Run your doggy’s toys through the dishwasher. Detach your shower head, soak it in baking soda and vinegar for a few hours then use a brush to clean all the holes out. Grab a pastry brush and get those last errant crumbs out of the bottom of your toaster. These small details may make a huge difference.
Once the house is cleaned top to bottom, you will feel proud and accomplished but also tired. So here’s one last tip: pop a few drops of vanilla extract into a mug and bake on low for about an hour. This will make the house smell delicious, and the aromatherapy will help ease your anxiety and help promote a good night’s rest.