How did the tradition of spring cleaning start and why do we do it?

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Spring is in the air! And with its arrival, many are making plans to declutter and clean out their homes. Have you ever wondered why spring is marked as the best time to clean?

What is “spring cleaning” and how did it start?

For many of us who did not experience the four seasons in our home countries, this may be our first time to encounter this term. If you guessed that spring cleaning means the general cleaning of one’s home after winter is done, you’re right. But spring cleaning is that and more. It is also considered a tradition rooted in culture, religion and even our biology.

“If you guessed that spring cleaning means the general cleaning of one’s home after winter is done, you’re right. But spring cleaning is that and more. It is also considered a tradition rooted in culture, religion and even our biology.”

Spring cleaning traditions

In the early 1800s, general cleaning in spring was a necessity because homes were covered in soot from the sources of heating used in winter. In the days before electricity, families lighted lamps fueled with kerosene or whale oil, and their fireplaces burned coal or wood throughout the cold season. So when warmer temperature came, people scrubbed, dusted and washed everything in their homes to get the grime and soot out. Today, with the advent of central heating, we don’t have to deal with soot and grime. But spring cleaning is still common because we know it’s healthy for us to ventilate our homes and remove the dust that accumulated during winter. Another thing is that we have much more sunlight during spring which makes us more active and energized. Scientists say that with longer daylight, our bodies produce less melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. This is why we are more inclined to accomplish more chores in warmer months.

Spring cleaning is also related to cultural and religious beliefs. For example, it is linked to Passover in Jewish custom. Passover is observed in March or April and commemorates the liberation of Jews from slavery. It is ushered in by the general cleaning of homes to remove any trace of yeast or yeast bread (Jewish slaves in Egypt survived on unleavened bread, so eating any food with yeast is not considered Kosher). Similarly, some Christian faiths observe a cleaning ritual before Lent which includes cleaning the home, specifically their altars, on the Monday before Good Friday.

In Iranian culture, Nowruz or Persian new year falls on the first day of spring. This holiday includes a thorough house cleaning called khooneh takouni meaning “shaking the house.” Meanwhile, the Chinese also clean their houses the day before their new year (also called Spring festival) to get rid of bad luck and make space for good fortune.

Spring cleaning tips:

Inspired to do some spring cleaning yourself? Here are some tips:

  1. Divide the work

    General cleaning can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be. You can clean by area and on a staggered basis. Plus, you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Your kids can clean their own rooms during spring break. Assign the older ones an extra area to tidy up, for example, the den or living room, since they are the ones who probably use it a lot more anyway.

  2. Prioritize areas where moisture may build-up

    Clean areas like your washroom, basement and under kitchen sinks thoroughly. Mold can grow where there is moisture. It can cause allergies, sinus infection or breathing problems, not to mention develop an unpleasant musty odour. If you think that your home has mold, buy a mold test kit at any hardware store or call a professional to find out and address the problem.

  3. Remove allergens

    The most common allergens inside the home are dust mites, dander (if you have a pet), and pollen from plants and flowers. Make sure to vacuum carpets and rugs as well as couches and sofas (be sure to get the hard-to-reach places like the corners and under the cushion if they are removable). Wash or replace mats. Remove dust from cupboards, shelves, windows and other surfaces using a damp rag. Be careful about opening your windows in mid-spring, especially if a family member has allergies. This is the time when the breeze can carry a large amount of plant spores or pollen. The Weather Network has a daily pollen forecast that you can check to track these allergens. This can help you prepare before ventilating your home or if you need to leave the house.

  4. De-clutter/donate

    Time to keep winter gear like skates, skis, winter jackets and others. Make sure to store them properly in your closet. You may have to re-arrange your wardrobe to make space. This makes it the best time to check if you have clothes, shoes and other accessories that you don’t use anymore and give them to someone in need.

  5. Get your backyard ready

    Clear out your backyard and garden of branches, leaves and other debris. You may need to rake out the soil or take out weeds from your lawn. This may inspire you to start a garden this year (read 5 benefits of gardening you may not know to motivate you)! It’s the best time to prepare the area, choose what plants you like and start working on your garden. Don’t know where to start? Read the Community Gardener Guidebook to know what kind of plants to grow and the best ways to grow them. Finally, clean your deck and make space for your barbecue grill and patio furniture. Happy spring!

Article updated April 4, 2022.
Sources: What is spring cleaning and why do we do it? Abi Jackson,; How spring cleaning became an annual tradition, Maria Carter, Country Living; A brief history of spring cleaning, Cathie Ericson, SpareFoot blog; 21 things you didn’t know about Chinese New Year, Chinese New; and 10 cleaning hacks to make spring cleaning easier, Best Health. Retrieved March 20, 2019.

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Community Resources

Know more about hard surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers for COVID-19 from the Health Canada page.

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