4 Things the French Know About Cleaning That You Don’t

updated May 1, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Morgan Schemel)

When it comes to cleaning, we all have habits that we’ve learned from our families. Whether you come from a bleach-loving household or one that’s figured out all sorts of home remedies to get a kitchen clean, the smells and techniques we inherited are part of our culture. And while I love America, sometimes other places do it better — like maybe Germany and, probably, France.

Assuming the French know some things about cleaning that Americans don’t (I mean, they know a lot more about wine and cheese, so why not cleaning?), I reached out to my French friend Clotilde to learn her secrets.

1. For the French, the smell of clean is … nothing.

“There’s something French about things that are unspoken,” says Clotilde. “If your house is clean, it shouldn’t smell of anything.” Unlike my own sensory memories, where I associate a clean bathroom with bleach, a kitchen with lemon scents, and the floors with a pine scent, for the French, if a house is clean, you wouldn’t know it by smell.

“There’s more interest paid on a house smelling distinctively yours, or smelling welcoming, then on smelling clean,” she adds. That doesn’t mean the French don’t like scents. Instead, they use it to create an ambiance. Candles smell great, but also add romantic light; flowers smell great, but create texture and beauty; lavender smells great, but could mean that you’re cooking. Scents are a byproduct of a welcoming home instead of one that’s just been scrubbed.

(Image credit: Katy Cartland)

2. The French clean in moderation.

You’ve probably heard that the French don’t “go on diets.” If they’re minding their waistlines, the phrase is je fais attention, literally meaning, “I’m being careful” or “I’m paying attention.” The same goes for cleaning. “The French don’t really let things pile up. Sure, Saturday and Sunday are the days most people do big tasks — like cleaning the kitchen floor or doing laundry — but they pick up clothes, toys, and do the dishes, daily,” Clotilde explains.

“Sundays are really days of rest. You can’t go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons in most towns in France, so there’s not so much of focus on Sunday as the day to get it all done before the start of the week,” she adds. “You need to do a little bit every day to keep up.”

3. The French only clean in the morning.

“I was at my grandparents’ house this winter, and my uncle was helping them find a new housekeeper. There was a housekeeper who was only available to come in the afternoons to clean their apartment — my grandmother said, ‘No, never! You only clean in the morning!'” Although Clotilde admits the rule may be a generational thing, it makes sense: Cleaning is something you do in the morning before the day gets underway. You want to get it done before you have guests over for lunch, cocktails, or dinner. And you want to get it done early so that you can enjoy a clean home all day.

4. To the French, cleaning isn’t really a chore.

The phrase for “cleaning your house” is faire le ménage — and we all know where we’ve heard the word ménage before. I know I’d find it sexy if I came home to find my husband scrubbing the floors! But to be serious: In this context, the phrase translates more to “make the household.” So even though cleaning may not actually be sexy, it’s not a chore, either. “Cleaning is just part of having a home that you make nice for your family,” says Clotilde. The French accept that cleaning is part of a routine to make the space around you more beautiful and comfortable.

Any more French people out there who want to share their cleaning secrets? Tell us below!