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History of Cleaning

Updated on September 3, 2013

House Cleaning in Ancient Times

Before there was nearly any technology that could help with every day cleaning, there were ancient civilizations that grew incredibly creative in order to maintain cleanliness. The ancient Mesopotamian societies cleaned their living quarters with the byproducts of their agricultural harvest. Taking straw and other materials unfit for use, they wove them together with a stick and built a small broom. While a far cry from today’s technologically advanced brooms, the ancient people were able to clean their homes fairly well with their new tool.

It wasn’t only the Mesopotamians who were good at cleaning their homes with primitive cleaning tools. The Greeks and Romans took great pride in their ability to maintain cleanliness for it enhanced their perception of superiority in the Mediterranean and the known world. While ancient Mesopotamian cultures typically had grass or dirt floors, many of the Greek and Roman buildings were made of stone and required extra attention.

Luckily for ancient Greek and Roman rulers, there were plenty of slaves that could wash the stone and keep the building clean. Legions of these slaves were used in order to scrub the stone on a routine basis in order to remove the dirt and grime.

It should be noted that the house cleaning in ancient times was considerably different from what it is today. Without technology, it was harder to maintain the same level of hygiene that we currently take for granted. Even with slaves and primitive brooms, the ancient peoples were incredibly dirty compared to modern individuals. Bathing was infrequent, teeth were rotten, but arguably the only aspect of the ancient lives that had a measure of cleanliness was the cleaning of the home.

Organizing and Ancient Home

Much like modern homes, the ancient peoples needed to do more than just clean their homes. Most of them needed to organize many of the things in their home as well. Ancient cultures often had trade from distant lands and plenty of religious artifacts in their homes. Despite common perceptions, the ancients had a lot of possessions and they often were strewn across the home.

Organizing the ancient home was a difficult task as furniture was far more scarce than it is today. Therefore, space was a hot commodity and thus shelves were often made as an extension of the wall. In creating shelves out of the wall, it was much easier to store goods and prevent harm to them later on.

Ancient Cleaning Habits

Did people in the ancient times care much about cleanliness?

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What do you think?

What is your opinion on the habits of ancient people and their cleaning and organizing habits? Did they take it as seriously as most people do in our days?

Industrial Revolution and Cleaning the Home

One of the most interesting periods in world history is currently called the industrial revolution. Starting in Britain, the time period spans hundreds of years and many decades where much of the modern technology we have today was spawned. Mechanization helped to revolutionize the way that people did things and cleaning was on that list.

In Germany, the chemical industry was particularly well equipped for the industrial revolution. They made multiple discoveries and many of them were utilized directly in home cleaning products. People found new uses for the chemical powders when it came to removing stains from carpets, getting rid of scuff marks on porcelain, and a wide variety of other interesting applications.

Homes during the industrial revolution, however, were typically atrocious. Because many of the agricultural laborers or peasants started to move into the cities to work at factories, homes became smaller and the mess became larger. With such an urban environment not meant to handle the excess individuals, there was filth everywhere on went. It was an awful situation in most of the urban areas where factories were prominent. For these families, it was barely worth cleaning their homes at all. Few used new styles of brooms that look like our modern types (because they were created on an assembly line factory), but most disregarded cleaning altogether.

Nonetheless, there were those in the upper echelons of society that cleaned their homes throughout the industrial revolution. Many of the peer groups, such as Dukes, Earls, and other members of the aristocracy, hired dozens of servants in order to clean their homes and estates. These servants often carried many of the tools modern maids might have. There were cleaners for different parts of the house, they cleaned tile, stone, and even wood floor with cleaners that fit each. Wood oil was used for preservation purposes and in many respects the methods of cleaning the home in the industrial revolution were nearly as advanced as they have become today.

While it was true that many homes during the industrial revolution were being cleaned similar to today, the vast majority was completely different. The industrial revolution impacted only a small percent of the wealthiest people in a few western European countries. The vast majority of the world was still living in an era where cleanliness was similar to that of ancient or medieval times.

Culture and Beyond

The landscape of cleaning has changed dramatically from ancient times and even from the industrial revolution. The greatest changes in the current moment are the cleaning styles employed by different cultures in order to suit cultural and socio-economic needs.

In America and much of the west, chemicals are the primary method of removing any small type of stain. If there is ever a problem, with clothing, with furniture upholstery, or carpeting, most westerners immediately seek some type of chemical in order to get rid of it. In contrast, many of the people in Africa and Asia and even Latin America don’t have access to this type of technology. While there may be types of chemicals for them to use, most prefer not to utilize such potentially dangerous toxins.

India is specifically interesting when it comes to using these chemical tools in order to clean. Because of their Hindu and Buddhist faiths, many of the lower and middle class Indians prefer not to use chemicals at all because they are not natural. Instead, they try to get any stains out with traditional remedies that include food or some other natural herbs and plants. Obviously, there are economic reasons for using plants for cleaning purposes, but the cultural distrust of unnatural goods is evident as well.

The frequency with which people clean across the globe is also an interesting thing to analyze. Many in the western world are socio-economically affluent enough to either clean every few days or at least have a maid clean the home every single day. This offers them the ability to maintain a clean home no matter what happens, whereas many people in the rest of the world are working so hard to survive so they do not often have these opportunities.

More Cleaning

It is incredibly interesting to see the differences of cleanliness in the home between cultures as well. For example, westerners are considered to be more clean because of the financial means to do so. Yet, they wear shoes on the inside of their homes, which is a practice that no Middle East or Asian person who think to do. Walking on the inside with your shoes brings all of the filth from the outside world right into your home and yet the Americans and western cultures do not think twice about doing it. In contrast, the disrespect you show an individual in the Middle East or Asia if you wear your shoes on the inside is enormous.

Final History and Culture Points

Often it is difficult to imagine that ancestors thousands of years ago were actually interested in cleanliness. Fossil records and other archaeological evidence suggests that even before agricultural times, humans and our ancestors were interested in some type of cleanliness. As we became more sedentary and reliant on agriculture, we found that cleaning served a tremendous purpose.

Over the course of time, humans have developed a wide variety of cleaning methods depending on the time and the cultures. In ancient times and the industrial revolution either slaves or servants were the primary cleaners for the wealthy. Those without economic meals cleaned with a simple broom or brush and hoped that things would not get too dirty. Even today, the differences between western and eastern cleaning cultures is completely different. The geographic locations often inform cultural and socio-economic reasons for varying perspectives on cleanliness and methods that should be used in order to achieve such ends.

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    • Carpetprofessor11 profile image

      Nicky 

      16 months ago from USA

      very informative article. Thank you for your company information..

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