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The Cost of
Cleaning

Whether you preach the therapeutic benefits of a tidy home, or the thought of doing the housework fills you with dread, cleaning is something we all have to contend with from time to time – especially amidst a global pandemic.

But, keeping things spick and span doesn’t just cost us time, it also costs money – and potentially the environment. So, we surveyed the British public to explore the cost of cleaning (in every sense of the word) and here’s what we learnt.

The financial cost of cleaning

From the initial investment in a washing machine, vacuum cleaner or dishwasher, to purchasing cleaning products, keeping your home hygienic comes with a price tag.

In fact, according to our survey results, Brits spend approximately £12.61 per month on cleaning products on average and 16% of people spend over £20. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and this expense is even greater. Since the advent of COVID-19, 18% of people admit to spending more money on cleaning products than before. Plus, when quizzed on the products being bought, over half said they buy branded cleaning products over home-brand items. Why’s this? Well, for 30% of them it’s because they equate a higher price point with the product being more effective. They must believe it pays-off to pay more.

The cost in time

Fitting the housework in around work, social lives and other commitments can seem like a drag, but a necessary drag it is.

According to our research, the average Brit cleans the kitchen more often and for longer than any other room in their home. This works out to approximately four times a week, for 29 minutes – that’s nearly two hours a week, excluding the rest of the house. 43% of people even go as far as cleaning their kitchen every day, with 17% more women doing so than men. In fact, women are significantly more likely to clean any given room on a daily basis than men, apart from the utility room.

Plus, since lockdown, 30% of Brits are spending even more time cleaning their home, with extra special attention given to the hallway and utility room – both gaining an average of 2.5 extra minutes of cleaning time. What’s more, we’re cleaning the fridge almost four times more often and mopping the floor twice as often. That’s where a steam cleaner comes in handy!

The environmental cost of cleaning

Sadly, what helps us to maintain good hygiene may not be as healthy for the environment.  Our cleaning habits can lead to pollution, waste and energy usage. Even after passing through water treatment plants, traces of cleaning products can make their way into lakes, rivers and the sea, harming aquatic life, while packaging and empty bottles often end up in landfills.

Fortunately, some of the best washing machines and other dishwashers now come with eco settings that use less energy and there is wider availability of eco-friendly cleaning products. Nearly a quarter of Brits say they are happy to spend more money on an appliance if it’s better for the environment, and 22% say the same about cleaning products. 12% even commit to buying only eco-friendly products and 9% make their own cleaning supplies to ensure they don’t contain harmful chemicals.

But this environmentally conscious attitude isn’t shared across the whole nation. 1 in 10 Brits admit they would rather replace or throw away their blender, kettle or toaster if it was dirty than clean it and 11% of people would throw away or replace dirty clothing and bed linen. Not only is this a costly habit, but these items will likely end up in landfills that contribute to air, land and water pollution.

Brits’ cleaning habits

Just like we are all individuals, we all have our own cleaning habits. Some even include quirky cleaning hacks. For example, everyone’s heard of the age-old trick of using white wine to remove red wine stains. Almost a quarter of Brits have tried it, in fact, with more men having attempted it than women.

But don’t go painting men as domestic gods just yet, because 40% confess that they’ll regularly wear a pair of underwear multiple times before washing them! The wider population have also admitted to reducing their laundry load during lockdown by wearing things such as gym wear, socks and underwear more than once now than pre-lockdown. On the other hand, outerwear such as jackets, hoodies and jumpers are being cleaned more often than ever before.

The psychological impact of cleaning

Does a tidy home really make for a tidy mind? Potentially. Even those who find doing the chores mentally draining would probably still admit to finding a messy home more stressful than a clean one. This is especially the case in times like these, where we’ve found ourselves spending more time at home. For some of us, it’s even become our workspace.

On the other hand, becoming obsessive over cleaning can become equally as stressful and using it as a distraction from troubles can also be harmful. Lecturer in Health Psychology, Benjamin Ainsworth explained that “while some people really benefit from and enjoy a ‘spring clean’, others might use cleaning as a ‘coping mechanism’ that can actually lead to increased anxiety and stress.

“‘Excessive cleaning’ can also be psychologically unhealthy. While an extra wipe with some soap and water usually does no harm, it’s important to make sure that cleaning habits are in line with your own personal level of risk.”

The Experts

Lynsey Crombie

Lynsey aka the ‘Queen of Clean’ is the UK’s number one home cleaning expert, writing regularly for glossy national magazines, talking on the radio and making TV appearances on the BBC and ITV. She has written three books about cleaning and homecare, with a fourth on its way in 2021. She also runs a popular blog and Instagram page, where she shares her top cleaning tips.

Dr Benjamin Ainsworth

Benjamin is a Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Bath. His scientific research involves understanding the different behaviours people exhibit to keep themselves healthy and using digital technology to improve health through behavioural science. He also leads a UK government funded research project called the ‘Germ Defence’ study, that provides advice to improve infection control behaviours.

What are some of your favourite cleaning ‘hacks?’

LC: Well, for starters, using white wine to remove a red wine stain simply does not work, it just makes it worse. To remove red wine, you need some warm soapy water (not hot) with a splash of white vinegar to scrub onto the stain and leave for 15 mins, before blotting dry. Some tricks that do work are:

  • Using coca cola to remove limescale from the toilet -pour into an empty toilet bowl and leave overnight
  • Removing rust using tomato ketchup - dab the ketchup onto the rust using a wet cloth and let it sit for a while, before washing off
  • Applying shaving foam to carpet for effective stain removal, especially make up stains
  • Using hand sanitizer to remove stains when out and about

Do you have any tips for creating a cleaning routine that works for you?

LC: Plan. Write a list of the tasks you need to complete at the beginning of the week and tick off as you go. I have created a 5-minute challenge that works so well. You set a timer as you enter a room and when it gets to 5 minutes you stop. You will be surprised at how much you can get done when you are motivated. You should also involve the rest of your family. Cleaning is not just one person’s responsibility. The family that cleans together stays together!

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on people’s cleaning habits and attitudes?

BA: A challenge related to cleaning habits during COVID-19 is that we’ve had a lot of information presented to us, but it’s hard to work out what’s relevant and what’s likely to cause additional stress.

It’s so important to make sure you clearly understand how your cleaning habits reduce the spread of COVID-19. Regular cleaning (in combination with other behaviours, like handwashing, leaving parcels for a day before opening them and wearing face coverings) really can make a difference, even in a busy household with kids running around.

Have you got any hygiene tips to ensure people are cleaning effectively during the pandemic?

BA: Trying to improve hygiene habits that have been set over the course of a lifetime can be really hard. Making small changes can really help here – for example, leaving a bottle of disinfectant and a cloth by the front door to make it easier to wipe down packages. Similarly, leaving the cleaning products on the countertop (instead of under the stairs) can remind you to use them more frequently.

LC: You should adopt a two-step cleaning process in bathrooms and kitchens. Remove dirt and bacteria first using a detergent-based product and then go over with a disinfectant to kill germs. Also, in the current climate I would advise you to wash your clothes after every wear, if worn outside of your home.

Methodology

Statistics are based on the results of a survey of 2,000 members of the British public, which took place from 14/08/20-17/08/20. Additional insights were offered by Lynsey Crombie and Benjamin Ainsworth.