Have you ever wandered down the cleaning supply aisle at the store, searching for that one perfect product? When you spend all day working with both cutting edge and classic cleaning products like we do, you start to wonder about the stories and history behind the cleaning tools we all usually take for granted.
For a little New Year’s fun, join us for a walk down memory lane! Let’s explore the hidden history behind some the common cleaning supplies we all use each day:
In ancient Greece, people collected natural sea sponges from the ocean and used them to clean. In the Middle Ages, similarly, people used sea sponges to help wash their bodies. In the late 1930s, Otto Bayer, the founder of the Bayer company, took things into the modern era when he invented polyurethane foam by accident. Through many trials in creating this material, Bayer and his team of scientists realized that the material they created resembled natural sea sponges. Thus, the original plastic sponges were created.
Since then, many companies have improved the formula, and now, fortunately, you can find many sponges made of plant-based, biodegradable materials that can keep your home clean without harming the planet. Nowadays, materials such as walnuts, wood pulp, and bamboo are used for their sustainability and naturally antibacterial properties.
2.) Glass Cleaner
You probably grew up cleaning your bathroom mirrors with a bottle of bright blue glass cleaner, sprayed on until dripping and wiped clean with a paper towel. Windex is probably the most well-known glass cleaner available in the US today. It was invented in the late 1920s and became a household name through smart marketing practices. It was actually first sold to automobile owners to keep their cars gleaming!
Windex was originally sold in a glass bottle with a screw top but was moved to its most familiar packaging — the spray bottle — thanks in large part to a partnership between Henry Ford and George Washington Carver. Yes, a famous car maker and the legendary developer of peanut butter were responsible for ensuring that household glass cleanser was easy to apply. Today, we recommend going back to glass and amber bottles — though we’ll never say no to a spray top!
You may be surprised to know that there is an entire website devoted to the history of the vacuum cleaner (that would be vacuumcleanerhistory.com, naturally). For almost a decade, there was also a dedicated vacuum cleaner museum in Missouri.
There’s a lot of love for vacuums — and there should be! The secret history behind this common device is actually quite fascinating. An inventor in Iowa is largely credited with coming up with the idea for the first manual vacuum cleaner meant for household use, though the device was probably never built. This design used a simple mechanism to create suction to draw in air — and, with it, dirt.
In the late 1860s, the first workable home vacuum was actually created here in Chicago! This modern version of the machine used a fan and stood upright. Other versions from the time used gasoline as a power source, and were the size of carriages. Finally, in the early 1900s, the technology for the vacuum cleaners we know and love today was created, and according to Popular Mechanics, the “basic design and performance hasn’t changed much” since then.
4.) Dish Soap
If you’ve ever cooked with butter or oil, you know that dish soap is required to break down those fats and get your dishes sparklingly clean. But before dish soap, people actually created soaps made from animal fats, mixed with ashes and other materials.
In the early 1900s, companies and governments began to mass produce chemicals to make up for a shortage of raw materials caused by World War I. These modern chemicals were created to mimic the properties of raw, natural materials at scale, and were used to create large quantities of commercial cleaning products, including detergents.
Fun fact! Your dish soap is most likely not actually a soap at all — it is a detergent. Detergents are made of synthetic molecules that pull grease away and hold dirt until it can all be washed down the drain. The dish detergents we all generally use around the house today was created in the 1970s and hasn’t changed much since then.
Microfiber cleaning materials have become extremely popular because of how effective they are in trapping dirt and absorbing liquids. The modern microfiber was created in the late 1950s by Japanese scientists working in the commercial sector. Microfiber is superior at cleaning because it can be split at a very fine level, which helps it absorb more liquid and pick up more dirt. Most microfibers are made of polyester and other plastics, and can be cleaned and reused again and again.
Importantly, keep in mind that microfiber is not to be confused with microfibers, which are the tiny “microplastic” fibers that break off from synthetic fabrics when we wash them. This is a huge source of pollution, which is why we recommend using plant based, natural and biodegradable materials whenever possible. Sustainable and earth-friendly materials include cotton, bamboo, and cellulose.
6.) Paper Towels and Bamboo Towels
In the early 1900s, people primarily used reusable fabric cloths to clean their homes — as well as their hands and noses. As you can imagine, this created big problems during flu season, and significantly increased the likelihood of germs passing between people. As the story goes, a school teacher came up with the idea to have students use a small piece of paper to wipe their noses, to prevent from spreading any bugs to each other.
The news of this teacher’s ingenious idea reached Arthur Scott, who owned Scott Paper Company. The first paper towels were made from rejected toilet paper, and sold as disposable towels with the intention of being used once and tossed away. Within a few decades, paper towels became popular for their convenience.
Now, we can recognize that this convenience comes at a cost — waste. Fortunately, there are now many alternative options available here in Chicago and around the world, including bamboo towels that can be washed with your laundry to avoid creating more waste!
Looking for a Little Help Keeping Your Home Clean?
Here at Sweeping Dimensions, our primary goal is to make cleaning less stressful for our clients. Our experienced teams can help you take care of your most important spaces, so you can spend more time focusing on what matters most.
We also believe in passing along our green cleaning knowledge, whenever we can. We’re always eager to talk about how to make taking care of your home a more sustainable and enjoyable practice — because we know that the more people we can bring together in our mission for a greener world, the better off all of us will be!
To keep the discussion going and become part of our eco-conscious community, connect with us on social media today! Curious about how to put green cleaning practices into place in your Chicago home? Reach out online today for your free service estimate!