We can’t help wondering about spring cleaning’s origins as the annual tradition of purging approaches. Why do we do spring cleaning and when did spring cleaning start? It turns out this ritual cleansing has a long history.
Why do we spring clean?
It’s unclear when spring cleaning first started, but it’s safe it say the tradition has been around awhile — probably since the first family moved into a home only to turn around six months later and wonder, “Where did all this clutter come from?!”
Spring cleaning is often tied to holidays or important dates in different religions, which isn’t surprising given both occurrences are linked to the idea of rebirth and renewal. Members of the Jewish faith clean the home and remove breads made with yeast, also called chametz, which are forbidden during Passover in March or April, the Jewish holiday celebrating the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt.
Catholics follow this exercise, reserving the three days after Palm Sunday, which celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for a top-to-bottom clean. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Great Lent begins with “Clean Week.” It’s custom for adherents to attend confession and to clean the house during this period.
On the first day of spring, Iranian families celebrate Nowruz, also known as Persian New Year, by scrubbing every nook and cranny, filling the house with fresh flowers, and buying new clothes to welcome spring. This process is called khāne-takānī, meaning “shaking the house,” and it cleanses the home of misfortune and evil and readies it for the customary New Year’s visitors.
If you exclude religion from the equation, the question of why spring cleaning exists is simply that a thorough purification in the 1800s required opening all the doors and windows to sweep out soot and grime. It wasn’t until spring that it was warm enough to do this.
A biological explanation for why we clean in the springtime has to do with melatonin production. In the winter our bodies are exposed to less sun, which decreases melatonin production and increases sleepiness. When days are longer and our bodies see more sun, melatonin production increases as does our energy. It’s possible then that cleaning is just one way we choose to spend our newfound vigor.
No matter the reason, we should all give thanks that we have the benefits of modern technology to make spring cleaning easier. The next time you get a mouthful of dust after trying to clean the fan blades for the first time since, well, last spring cleaning, just imagine how the housewives of previous centuries felt having to dust and sweep their homes without robot vacuums and (and then try out our pillowcase fan-cleaning hack).
“Swept and dusted sitting-room & kitchen 350 times. Filled lamps 362 times. Swept and dusted chamber & stairs 40 times,” one woman wrote in 1864. Yikes. We don’t envy her!
When does spring cleaning start?
It’s totally up to you when you start your spring cleaning, but syncing up with the first day of spring is an easy option. This year, spring starts on March 20 — of course, it’s never a bad idea to get a head start!