Spring Cleaning Rituals

Helping Mamma Wash. c. 1900. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The theme this month is “spring cleaning with a design twist.”

So far, I have focused primarily on the “design” aspect. What about the “spring cleaning” aspect? Ugh! Who really does spring cleaning any more? Who has time? Who has the energy?

Realistically, “spring cleaning” for a lot of us means that we might expand our normal cleaning routine just a little to clear out a closet, get rid of excess stuff, give a fresh look to a room, or deep clean or fix up something that needs it (in my case patio furniture).

Today, I wanted to look at the evolution of spring cleaning rituals. I find them to be quite humorous actually.

1861: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. At amazon.com.

Mrs. Beeton (Isabella Mayson Beeton) was just 24 when she published “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management,” providing cooking and household management hints to the Victorian middle class of her day. Many who purchased the popular tome assumed Mrs. Beeton was an elderly, stern woman with a lot of experience managing large households. It came as quite a surprise that the book was written by a very young woman, who was primarily a journalist and researched most of the information she published rather than experiencing it firsthand. Here is her exhausting prescription for spring cleaning, which I must note is published in the “Domestic Servants” chapter. It would be hard to motivate yourself to do this much cleaning in your own home without being paid to do so!

Periodical Cleanings – Besides the daily routine which we have described, there are portions of every house which can only be thoroughly cleaned occasionally; at which time the whole house undergoes a more thorough cleaning than is permitted in the general way. On these occasions, it is usual to begin at the top of the house and clean downwards; moving everything out of the room; washing the wainscoting or paint with soft soap and water; pulling down the beds and thoroughly cleansing all the joints; ‘scrubbing’ the floor, beating feather beds, mattress and paillasse, and thoroughly purifying every article of furniture before it is put back in its place.

This general cleaning usually takes place in the spring or early summer, when the warm curtains of winter are replaced by the light and cheerful muslin curtains. Carpets are at the same time taken up and beaten, except where the mistress of the house has been worried into an experiment by the often-reiterated question, ‘Why beat your carpets?’ In this case she will probably have made up her mind to try the cleaning process, and arranged with the company to send for them on the morning when cleaning commenced. It is hardly necessary to repeat, that on this occasion every article is to be gone over, the French-polished furniture well rubbed and polished. The same thorough system of cleaning should be done throughout the house: the walls cleaned where painted, and swept down with a soft broom or feather brush where papered; the window and bed curtains which have been replaced with muslin ones, carefully brushed, or, if they require it, cleaned; lamps not likely to be required, washed out with hot water, dried, and cleaned. The several grates are now to be furnished with their summer ornaments; and we know none prettier than the following, which the housemaid may provide at a small expense to her mistress: — Purchase two yards and a half or crinoline muslin, and tear it into small strips, the selvage way of the material, about an inch wide; strip this thread by thread on each side, leaving the four centre threats; this gives about six-and-thirty pieces, fringed on each side, which are tied together at one end, and fastened to the trap of the register, while the threads, unravelled, are spread gracefully about the grate, the lower part of which is filled with paper shavings. This makes a very elegant and very cheap ornament, which is much stronger, besides, than those usually purchased.

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

1952: The Homemaker’s Encyclopedia: Housekeeping Made Simple

The Homemaker's Encyclopedia: Housekeeping Made Simple. Available used at amazon.com.

In her Introduction to Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, English professor Nicola Humble notes that anti-Victorianism reached its zenith in the 1950s and early 1960s. A reaction against Mrs. Beeton’s household management techniques toward a more relaxed style was underway. In “The Homemaker’s Encyclopedia: Housekeeping Made Simple” (which I found a full 10-volume set at an estate sale a few years back) you can clearly see the shift in perspective:

Today, the trend is toward clean-as-you-go, which lets you look forward to, instead of dreading, the change of season. To some women, spring has never been the season of warmth and flowering. It has been the time when she brought herself to the verge of collapse turning the house upside down.

Before you get too excited about this relaxation of spring cleaning standards, wait until you read the list of “monthly” cleaning tasks. Amazingly, this list seems worse than Mrs. Beeton!

Monthly or at intervals

Bedrooms – Clean box springs with vacuum cleaner attachment, or brush well. Brush or wash curtains, as necessary. Clean ceiling and walls. (You may not be able to wash the ceiling, but a long-handled brush will help to keep the dirt away.) Wash windows, if necessary. Clean and wax venetian blinds or clean window shades. Clean out closets and drawers. Reline drawers. Wash woodwork. Clean lamp shades. Wash pictures and mirrors. Clean and polish wood furniture. Clean upholstery. Clean and polish floor. Clean rugs on both sides. . . .

If you live where summers are hottest, have rugs cleaned and stored for the summer. Have winter draperies cleaned and stored. Put away excess bric a brac. Put up summer curtains. Put down summer rugs. Slipcover furniture. Thoroughly clean porch and make ready for summer use. . . .

Thoroughly was floors and furniture. Have them given special professional care, if necessary. Have furnace cleaned and reconditioned. Have water heater drained and cleaned if necessary. Check household appliances for possible repair or reconditioning.

2010: The Modern Spring Cleaning Rituals

So where are we today? Do we still recognize the spring cleaning ritual? Personally, I have never met anyone who overturned their entire house in a spring cleaning binge. However, there are still those who think we all ought to. Who is the most aggressive spring cleaner today? Below is my list of 5 representative spring cleaning checklists, moving from easiest to hardest.

5.     Lysol has a pretty quick spring cleaning checklist emphasizing germ removal

4.     Casasugar’s checklist is two pages and includes tasks such as “dust ceilings” and washing out trash cans. I really like that page 2 of this checklist has a series of organizing tasks including items to donate, toss or recycle.

3.     HGTV’s spring cleaning checklist is a relatively reasonable 25 items, however, it does include some labor-intensive items like soaking your showerheads in vinegar, cleaning your window screens with kerosene and cleaning the oven.

2.      All Things Frugal has a relatively short list but some of the items are doozies: dust lightbulbs, beat sofa cushions with a broom to remove dust, remove and wash ceiling vents.

1.      Martha Stewart.  The mother of all spring cleaning checklists, of course, has to come from Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart’s Spring Cleaning Checklist, which you can download here, is 3 pages long and includes dusting your books and “resealing grout lines.”

How aggressive are you with your own spring cleaning rituals? Does spring cleaning strike you as critical or a bit obsessive compulsive?  What is the most extreme spring cleaning ritual you or someone else has done? Please share in the comments.