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

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Spring is in the air! To many, this also means that it’s the time to declutter and clean out their homes.

Have you ever wondered why spring is marked as a time to clean?

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

Those of us who came from countries that do not have four seasons may not be familiar with it. But if you guessed that spring cleaning means the general cleaning of one’s home after winter is done, you’re right. Spring cleaning is all this and much 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. Spring cleaning is all this and much 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 necessary because homes were covered in soot from the sources of heating used in winter.

Before electricity, lamps fueled with kerosene or whale oil were used to light up homes. Fireplaces also burned coal or wood for heat throughout winter. When warmer temperature came, people scrubbed, dusted, and washed everything in their homes to get the grime and soot out.

Today, with electricity and central heating, we don’t have to deal with soot and grime anymore. However, spring cleaning is still done because we know it’s healthy for us to ventilate our homes and remove dust that accumulated during winter. We also have much more sunlight during spring which makes us more active and energized. Scientists say that with longer daylight, our bodies produce less melatonin which is 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. In Jewish custom, it is linked to Passover, which is observed in March or April. It begins with 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 on the Monday before Good Friday.

In Iranian culture, Nowruz or Persian new year falls on the first day of spring. This holiday includes housecleaning 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. You can make it simple by cleaning one area at a time. Get other members of your family to help out too. Your kids can clean their own rooms during spring break. Your older kids can also get an extra area to tidy up, for example, the den or living room, since they are the ones who use it a lot more anyway.

  2. Prioritize areas where moisture may build-up

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

  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. 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 carries a large amount of plant spores or pollen. The Weather Network has a daily pollen forecast to help you track these allergens. This way, you can prepare before ventilating your home.

  4. De-clutter/donate

    Time to keep winter gear like skates, skis, and winter jackets. Make sure to store them properly in your closet. 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 your backyard of branches, leaves, and other debris. 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. If it’s your first time to garden, read the Community Gardener Guidebook to know how to start. Finally, clean your deck and make space for your barbecue grill and patio furniture.

    Happy spring!

Article updated March 21, 2023.
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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