Spring Cleaning Used to be Unavoidable—Here’s Why

Sun, Mar 22, 1931 – 3 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

Do you feel the call of spring cleaning when the weather starts to warm up? While today it’s largely personal preference whether we spring clean or not, it was a practical necessity up until about 100 years ago.

Why Was Spring Cleaning Necessary?

Until the 20th century, homes in the United States were typically heated with wood or coal during the winter, and candles and oil lamps were used to light rooms at night—all of which left soot and smoke coating walls, windows, and other surfaces. Few roads were paved back then, so dirt, manure, and other detritus would get tracked indoors. Bugs and vermin were a problem in many homes as well.

Families did their best to keep their homes clean during the winter months, but cold temperatures and bad weather prevented a thorough cleaning, since many cleaning methods necessitated taking furnishings, carpets, and bedding outdoors. So when spring came with its sunshine and warmer weather, it was time to clean the home of the accumulated winter grime.

Sun, Mar 26, 1905 – Page 59 · Evening Star (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.com

Depending on the area of the country, spring cleaning was typically done during April or May, when the weather was warm enough that the family would no longer need a sooty fire or stove to heat their home. The weather also needed to be pleasant enough that household furnishings could be shifted outdoors to be cleaned and windows opened to air out the home.

What Did Spring Cleaning Involve?

Spring cleaning in past centuries was labor intensive, and the task fell almost exclusively to women—who either did the cleaning themselves or (income permitting) oversaw the work of others. The children of the house were often also pressed into service, but husbands were not usually involved due to traditional gender roles.

Common spring cleaning tasks of the time included:

These spring cleaning tips we found in 19th-century papers on Newspapers.com give a sense of what the process was like during that era:

Sat, Jun 12, 1869 – 4 · New England Farmer (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com
Sat, May 13, 1871 – 3 · Aurora of the Valley (Newbury, Vermont) · Newspapers.com
Thu, May 23, 1872 – 6 · The Clinton Public (Clinton, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

Why Did Spring Cleaning Change?

In the late 19th century and early 20th, spring cleaning began to change. The invention of modern appliances—notably the vacuum cleaner—and mass-produced cleaning products made routine cleaning easier. And the widespread adoption of electricity, gas furnaces, central air, and paved roads greatly reduced the indoor dirt and grime that had made a thorough spring cleaning so essential.

By the mid-20th century, spring cleaning had become more of a tradition than a necessity in the U.S.—a reality that was reflected in a number of newspaper columns that questioned the need for an annual spring cleaning.

Thu, May 16, 1940 – 2 · The Gotebo Record (Gotebo, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Today, spring cleaning remains a part of American culture, with a 2019 survey revealing that 77 percent of Americans commit to spring cleaning every year. Are you one of them? Let us know in the comments!

Learn more about spring cleaning history by searching Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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10 thoughts on “Spring Cleaning Used to be Unavoidable—Here’s Why

  1. A couple of the artifacts of past cleaning eras are (1) the carpet beater – a tool with a wooden handle to which was attached a looping network of metal that was heavier than wire, all sort of like a steampunk tennis racket; (2) a wad of glorified modeling clay the size of a large fist. When kneaded and softened it was rubbed on wall paper to pick up coal soot, tobacco residue, and other adherent grime. In use the dirty surface could be folded in exposing cleaner matrix until the whole wad was black.

  2. Sometime as a young mother I realized that I was spending way too much time indoors on beautiful spring days “cleaning” things that had no visual dirt. Full of guilt, I quietly quit doing spring cleaning with exactly the rationale described in this article – central clean heat, weekly vacuuming , etc left the tradition obsolete . So glad the article seconded my decision that a bike rise or a walk in the park we’re much better use of my time!

  3. I still do spring cleaning and fall cleaning as well. 🙂 Living in a warm climate means bugs are year round and if not evicted will take over.

  4. I so wish I had someone to help with spring cleaning, moving furniture is so difficult to do now as well as removing and rehanging curtains. My mother always did spring cleaning thoroughly and the house was just so fresh afterwards.

  5. I always do Spring cleaning. It helps to keep me organized, good time for donating and discarding. I also feel good knowing my home is clean in every way. Makes the weekly cleaning much easier.

  6. I clean and take up rugs for the summer. A legacy of growing up in hot and humid NJ. Bare floors are much,much cooler. Windows still need washing after heavy pollen season.

  7. The Raleigh newspaper FINALLY got done earlier last month and should be featured on here!

    Odds are it will be two months from now on here!

    News at 5.

  8. In the 1960’s we moved a lot due to my father’s job, sometimes changing residences each year or every other year. My mother would supervise our packing our stuff, cleaning out closets and cabinets. If we stayed in the same place for two years, we didn’t clean the closets and cabinets that year. I was a young stay at home mom in the 1970’s when a neighbor said she was busy doing her spring cleaning and asked if I had started with mine. I said what’s spring cleaning? I had never heard of such a thing. I wasn’t moving, so I didn’t see what the fuss was about. My neighbor had had a different upbringing from mine.

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