Spring Cleaning: New Twist on an Old Tradition

When I was growing up in the 1940s spring cleaning was an annual event. Housewives prepared for spring cleaning with military precision. Because Monday was wash day, housewives usually started their spring cleaning on that day. But spring cleaning could last days or even weeks.

My mother took down all of the curtains in our house and washed them by hand or in the washing machine. I thought the washing machine was a metal beast, and actually, it could be dangerous. One day I heard my mother call me from the basement. Though her voice sounded calm, I sensed an urgency in it, and ran down the basement stairs.

My mother’s hand and upper arm were caught between two rubber rollers. This wringer mechanism squeezed excess misture from clothes and you had to “feed” the clothes into the wringer one by one. Fortunately, I was able to reverse the rollers quickly and my mother wasn’t injuired.

Like the other housewives on the block, my mother laid our scatter rugs on the front porch to freshen them in the sunshine. Larger rugs were hung on the clotheline and mother beat them with a rug beater. But the “star” of my mother’s cleaning equipment was her vacuum cleaner.

A traveling salesman managed to sweet-talk my mother and gain entry into the house. The salesman spotted my father’s ash tray (he didn’t know about the dangers of smoking) and dumped its contents in the middle of the rug. My mother gasped in alarm. “Don’t worry,” the salesman said. “This vacuum will pick it all up.” And it did.

My mother was so dazzled by the demo and sales pitch that she bought a vacuum cleaner. To say my father wasn’t pleased is an understatement. Young as I was, I picked up on the fact that this was an expensive vacuum cleaner. Howwever, it was efficient, just as the salesman said, and we used it for years.

The electric vacuum and washing machine were invented in 1903. Most families had these appliances, and a few had a mangle, an electric appliance that ironed flat items. Commercial laundries had dryers, but they weren’t avaiable to the home market yet. Housewives dried their laundry on outdoor or indoor clotheslines.

Our pully-type clothesline went from the kitchen window to the garage. This was a simpler time, a time when nobody locked their doors and when modesty was alive and well. My mother hung underwear inside a pillow case so nobody could see “unmentionables.” In my mind I still see sheets flapping in the wind and smell the wonderful outdoorsy smell of those sun-dried sheets.

The concept of spring cleaning is also etched in my mind.

After I married I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing my spring cleaning. What was wrong with me? Nothing was wrong. I lived in a time of electric or gas dryers, dishwashers, dusbusters, and powerful detergents. Cleaning equipment had improved so drastically that I did a little spring cleaning all the time.

Spring cleaning is an old idea, but it’s still a good idea. Today, spring cleaning may include home inspection, trying new products, identifying and removing mold, and maintaining your home.

INSPECT YOUR HOME. Cleaning gives you the chance to look at things close up. I didn’t know we had a cracked window until I looked behind a blind. Apparently the neighborhood boy who mows our lawn had hit a stone and the stone cracked the pane. So check your windows, look for cracks, peeling weather stripping, and other signs of wear.

CHECK FOR MOLD. Though molds are a natural part of your environment, some molds cause health problems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold can cause allergic reactions and asthma. Mold grows in damp places so look for moisture as you clean. Fix a moisture problem right away because mold can get worse.

TRY NEW PRODUCTS. A vast array of cleaning products are available to us. I think the new static-charged dust mops and dust cloths are one of the best inventions yet. Stovetop cleaner is another time-saving invention. I use it to clean my stovetop, my oven window and toaster oven window. Stovetop cleaner also removes spots from counters.

MAINTAIN YOUR HOME. I’ve moved so many times I’ve lost count, but I learned a lot from realtors. One thing I learned is that clean places sell faster than dirty ones. Good cleaning practices also protect your home. “I don’t know why, but empty houses get dirty,” a realtor explained. “Dirt builds up and the property starts to deteriorate.” Cleaning may be boring, but think of it as a way to maintain your home.

So I guess our grandmothers and mothers were right about spring cleaning. Thank goodness we have an array of appliances and products to help us. Spring cleaning is an old idea with a new twist. Put on your gloves and get to it!

Copyright 2006 by Harriet Hodgson


Harriet Hodgson has been a nonfiction writer for 27 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journlists. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from http://www.amazon.com. A five-star review of the book is also posted on Amazon.



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