The Single Greatest Cleaning Lesson to Steal from the French

published Jul 12, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Little steps make big progress. Manageable, incremental baby steps add up to quantifiable change — and they’re less likely to result in burnout, which, we all know, could make progress come to a screeching halt! This is true in life and in house cleaning. Let me explain: After studying the cleaning habits of French grandmas, it’s clear the French have nailed the art of “do a tiny bit with frequency” approach. 

In fact, during my unofficial survey, every single French person spoke about cleaning with genuine pleasure. How often do you hear that in the United States? Of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule, while we in the States avoid chores until they become dreaded “big jobs,” the French efficiently address household messes as they occur. This creates a home that maintains a base-level clean, without the need to devote an entire day each week (or month) to damage control. (For that reason, some reports find that the French spend less time, total, on household chores.)

Want the same for your home? Here are three doable ways to help you maintain that base-level clean so that you can spend less time on chores.

1. Treat stains immediately.

If you’re anything like me, stains get addressed en masse during laundry day. This results in a lot of headaches. From now on, I’ll be borrowing a tactic I learned from the French: Treat stains as soon as you can, and they’re much less likely to stubbornly hang around. Marseille soap is a favorite for pre-treating, but many French folks also find coarse salt to be a great stain lifter.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Stop strange smells before they can linger.

I feel like half my time in the kitchen is spent playing a (very un-fun) game of “What’s That Smell?” But most French people don’t have time for those kinds of shenanigans. Many perform simple rituals to keep bad smells at bay. For example, they immediately scrub their hands with coffee grounds after preparing fish or garlic, and store vinegar in a small bowl to “capture” stinky smells. They’re also much more likely to make use of fragrant herbs, like lavender and rosemary, by placing small satchels around the house to impart a pleasant scent. 

Credit: Lauren Volo

3. Clean with stuff you already have on hand.

Tackling a dirty job can feel more daunting if you have to travel to the store and hunt for supplies. The French tend to make use of things they already own — much of which are environmentally friendly. Need to lighten a white shirt? Instead of bleach, soak it in a diluted lemon-water mixture! Your window needs cleaning? Try half an onion! While there’s no shame in buying cleaning products, it’s much easier to get into a daily groove if freshening up is as easy as slicing a lemon.

Are you a big-batch cleaner or a little-bit-each-day person? What works for you? Tell us about your methods in the comments below.