Tuesday, June 5, 2007

a short history of cleaning

Do you want to clean green?
This post is (almost) totally unresearched and off the top of my head. But interesting and thought-provoking. (I hope.)

How did people clean before there were modern cleaning products? How do people STILL clean in many parts of the world where they don't have access to expensive cleansers?

And why in the world do we even bother cleaning our homes and our stuff, anyhow?

I think several discoveries and trends converged in the late 1800s and early 1900s to create our modern culture of cleanliness. The discovery of pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites, and the realization that sickness and disease could be prevented by improved hygiene were key developments.

The creation of a new subject of study - Home Economics - in the late 1800s as part of the American land grant university system brought applied science into the farmhouse and the domestic sphere. Eventually this new domestic science also had a profound effect on consumer culture, as women were "educated" in the values of pure products and safety standards, and encouraged to make discerning choices about the items they brought into the home, by considering such factors as quality, cost, durability, safety, and ease of use.

(Eww. Momentary flashback to all of my dreariest high school Home Ec. classes...)

At some point along the way the manufacturers of the consumer products jumped on the science bandwagon, touting the special germ-killing and deep-cleaning benefits of their products as selling points.

And then we consumers stopped thinking for ourselves. The scientific "experts" who were manufacturing our "necessary" cleaning agents had become sources of valuable knowledge and wisdom not to be questioned. Funny how the "science" that made new cleansers better, stronger and faster (in the name of making this world a better place) also made the cleansers more toxic, dangerous, and eco-unfriendly, isn't it?

What's even more ironic is that the solution to the ill health of our planet may rely on turning back the clock, and returning to the cleaning products and techniques of our "uneducated" great-great-grandmothers.

In many parts of the world, cleaning consists of sweeping floors and other flat surfaces, washing things with water, and disposing of refuse. In many religions and spiritual practices, cleanliness is considered a positive spiritual attribute. Daily devotions that involve ritual cleansing are common.

How do we bridge the two worlds? How do we clean ourselves, our homes and our possessions without destroying the planet with our germ and dirt phobias?

1 comment:

Lorraine Magnuson said...

The problem is that those wishing to lessen their impact on the environment are often at the mercy of the so called green cleaning products, which are not so green after all.