Past, Present, And Future Of Cleaning
April 3, 2013

Past, Present, And Future Of Cleaning

Okay, I have to admit it…I hate cleaning. I know. I know. Clean houses mean less dirt, dust, bacteria, and allergens, but come on! I have so many other things to do than clean. But we clean our house weekly regardless, so I have had to change my attitude about cleaning. I make it a sort of exercise. Now, cleaning is just a task that helps me exercise and remove all the nitty-gritty that contributes to illnesses and allergies. Yeah, I can get behind those.

CNN recently reported about cleaning through the ages. From inventions that we now use daily to some of the weirder cleaning processes, CNN covered cleaning from 2800 B.C. to 2012. Here’s a highlight of these from the list, in no particular order.

Let’s start where they did, the beginning. Apparently soap and soap scum have been around since the ancient Babylonians of 2800 B.C. Soap-like residue was found clinging to clay vessels from this time period. It’s good to know that soap scum has annoyed us from the beginning.

Soap continued to make its impact on cleaning history in 1933 when Proctor & Gamble advertised Oxydol soap powder by sponsoring a radio drama. This lead to the longstanding and long-loved genre of soap operas, which have transgressed from radio to television and even onto the internet. Soap clings to lots of things, apparently.

Soap’s third impact came about in the 1980s when the maker of Dawn began donating dish-soap to help clean oil-covered wildlife. Still today, Dawn does this. Go Dawn!

Now onto some of the weird or funny cleaning facts. In the 1500s, the Scottish used stale human urine as a cleaning agent for laundry. This is definitely totally gross for today, but laundry detergent did not exist until 1913 when five businessmen from California invested to found America’s first commercial bleach factory for Clorox. I guess the Scots just used what they could to clean. I mean, urine does have ammonia, right?

Another weird cleaning agent happened in 1856 when people started using cut grass to sweep their carpets instead of tea leaves. Tea leaves left stains, so they thought cut grass would be the next best thing. Seems like that would leave stains, too. Glad we have the Swiffer today.

A funny moment in cleaning history happened in 1918 when “Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog advertises “Aids That Every Woman Appreciates,” featuring a home motor that can operate a fan, a sewing machine, a mixer, and even a vibrator.” A motor that would help women clean and satisfy their unrequited sexual needs? Hmmm…

Now, onto some of the inventions. In 1907, the Scott Paper Company introduced paper towels, which were designed to help prevent the spread of cold germs. See, before paper towels, they used cloth towels even in public restrooms. Because of the Scoot Paper Company’s invention, public restrooms became a less germ-spreading place. Less, not completely, germ-free.

The dishwasher was invented in 1886 by Josephine Cochran of Shelbyville, Illinois. She invented the motorized machine with racks to hold dishes in place so that soapy water could clean them because one of her servants chipped her fine china. She should have just cleaned the “fine china” herself. Plus, as far as I know, putting fine china in the dishwasher is still not recommended, but at least the other stuff gets clean in an easier manner.

In 1782, the first washing machine with a rotating drum received a British patent while in 1912 Lysol came to America from Germany, where it was promoted as a way to stop the Spanish flu and be used as birth control and a feminine-hygiene product. Lucky women. So glad we have moved beyond that.

The article ended with this little cleaning tidbit: “Washing machines are 98 percent and dishwashers 101 percent more energy-efficient than they were 20 years ago.”

So, what is the future of cleaning? Well, hopefully, a house that keeps itself clean. Yeah, a sentient house that dusts, sweeps, mops, vacuums, and keeps itself bacteria free. Oh, what a dream house that would be!

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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