“Dust, dirt and stains remain inescapable foes for consumers worldwide”
reads the hyperbole in the Nielsen Report on global cleaning trends. They go on to shriek about the “fight against grime” that has become a multi-billion dollar business. Unwinnable, endless, and requiring a vast arsenal of toxins and science.
Really? Now, I can imagine in households with many children and large dogs, things can get a little bit messy, but to call dust an “inescapable foe” seems to me rather over-the-top. It’s not Voldemort, It won’t unleash the dementors if you ignore it. It’ll just sit behind the back of the sofa, harming nobody, emphatically not plotting world domination.
But the fact is, there is a huge industry geared towards telling you that your home is not clean enough. In the UK we have a pair of nosy old hags called Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie who go round on television telling single mums just that. The resulting shame-fest was a huge ratings winner apparently. But their efforts were a drop in the ocean, when you consider that Procter and Gamble have an advertising budget of $2.95 billion. And then there’s your mother-in-law.
Fight against the clean mania
Now, frankly, we have bigger things to worry about, and much better things to do with our time, so I’d like to propose a change. First of all, we have to stop giving these paranoia-merchants our money. The more money they have, the more money they will spend on infantilizing adverts featuring daft women going absolutely gaga with delight at the brilliance of their whites. And so the whole sorry cycle will continue. For Procter and Gamble, and all the other sharks that circle our insecurities, you home will never be clean, or sweet-smelling enough, or your knickers white enough. So just forget it.
You know how you go into the cleaning aisle at the supermarket and there are about a thousand different products? You have products for your dishes, products for your floors, different products for the kitchen and bathroom, because of course, there are different kinds of dirt there. Different products for bits of your house that you kids might lick, because you don’t want to poison them, and a different product for your dog, because you don’t want to poison him either. That’s before you even get to the laundry aisle, when you need a different type of powder depending on what your clothes are made of, what colour they are, and who will be wearing them.
These products might be very good at getting rid of dirt, but what they are truly excellent at is cleaning out your wallet.
However, it remains that things do have to be a bit clean. You don’t want to give up completely. Kids have accidents; work clothes must be washed if you plan on interacting with other human beings. So how can we do this without giving huge corporations money in exchange for chemicals and brainwashing? Well I’m writing this because I think I’ve found the answer. And the answer is soap.
About a year ago, as an experiment, I bought some very cheap soap. It was lurking forgotten on the bottom shelf in the supermarket. The place where they put the products that don’t have billions of dollars to spend to make sure they get the ringside box at eye-level. I have not since then had to buy a single other kind of cleaning product. It will clean every surface in your house perfectly, plus the clothes, plus, in a pinch, your kids.*
Now, as you may tell from the rest of the post, I’m not someone who normally gives cleaning a lot of thought. However, I really felt I had to share my thoughts on this because we are being lied to. Dirt is all the same. Really. It doesn’t matter whether it has set up home on your shoe, on the chrome taps in your bathroom or on your wooden floor, it is all the same.
So, here’s a round-up of why we should say f**k it to all the sprays and potions on sale and just use soap:
- It is very cheap, so not only do you have more money for chocolate and wine, which will make you much happier than a clean house will, Procter and Gamble will have less money to produce patronising adverts with.
- You only need soap, a bucket and a rag, which instantly clears out the chaos under the sink. Plus you can put the soap and the rag in the bucket, streamlining still further.
- Over-use of antibacterial products has been linked to the emergence of superbugs, and a lowering of children’s natural immune levels. Now, I don’t think we should live in a germ-ridden pigsty, but do you really need to disinfect everything in your house? I’ve seen products that claim to disinfect shoes. SHOES for crying out loud! Just wash your socks.
- And my personal favourite reason. It is non-toxic, so when my two-year-old “helps” me clean, she can get as wet and bubbly as she likes.
Also, frankly, you know what? It’s your house. Let it be as dirty as you want. As long as no-one is in danger of getting a tropical disease from the over-flowing sink, screw it. Being clean is not a moral imperative.
*It doesn’t clean glass very well. This is the only exception I have found so far.