Spring cleaning is the process of thoroughly cleaning a house from top to bottom once the weather has lost its winter chill. In the past, inadequate heating in homes and small living spaces often meant that certain types of cleaning had to wait for spring. For example, pioneers who used straw tick mattresses, tended to wait till spring to refill these, so that they could use fresh dry hay for filling. Before modern dryers, washing drapes or comforters was complicated by cold weather and tight living quarters. Those in cold climates and had no other choice but to wait for warm weather to hang laundry outdoors to dry.
There are several suggested origins for spring cleaning based on religious practices. One of these is traced to the Jewish celebration of Pesach or Passover, which occurs in March or April each year. Prior to the celebration, the home is usually completely cleaned, and people also get rid of any leavened bread, called chametz, which are forbidden foods during the Passover days. Even crumbs of chametz or a few leftover specks of leftover grains from forbidden flours need to be removed from the home, and typically, Jewish families hunt for any possible chametz crumbs the night before Passover begins.
Another origin for spring cleaning is dated to the Persian New Year celebration, called Nouroz, which occurs at the onset of spring. Traditionally, Persian women clean everything in the house right before Nouroz begins, including floors, drapery, furniture, and ceilings. This is called khooneh takouni which translates to “shaking the house.” Twice a year in Saudi Arabia, a thorough cleaning of the Ka’aba is conducted too, which may relate to the khooneh takouni practice.
Later in history, many Eastern Orthodox Churches conducted a week long spring cleaning right before or during the first week of Lent. Other Christians may also use this time to clean the house from floor to roof. Obviously, anyone of any religion, inspired by warmer weather may want to take the time to get a house in order after the winter months.
Spring cleaning origins probably most date back to prehistory, and represent the time when it was easiest to conduct a good cleaning of living spaces. Extra light allowed people additional time to truly see the messy state of their caves, huts, or teepees. Warmer weather also meant that people could get things thoroughly dry. In agrarian societies, spring cleaning usually coincided with the beginning of planting. It could be an ideal time to organize seeds and get the home ready for the busy months ahead.
Some groups also conducted a winter cleaning right before the dreary cold of winter sets in. This is often the last opportunity to clean things like quilts, mattresses and furniture before cold weather makes it challenging to dry wet clothing. Today many Americans may also conduct a spring cleaning or organizing of their tax materials before the federal tax deadline of April 15th. If receipts or tax documents have been scattered through the house, people may want to organize and clean the home at the same time they organize and file their taxes.