This 1890s ad for Pears Soap promoted cleanliness in the service of imperialism, with the racially charged expression "the white man's burden"[1]

Cleanliness is both the abstract state of being clean and free from dirt, and the process of achieving and maintaining that state. Cleanliness may be endowed with a moral quality, as indicated by the aphorism "cleanliness is next to godliness,"[2] and may be regarded as contributing to other ideals such as health and beauty. In emphasizing an ongoing procedure or set of habits for the purpose of maintenance and prevention, the concept of cleanliness differs from purity, which is a physical, moral, or ritual state of freedom from pollutants. Whereas purity is usually a quality of an individual or substance, cleanliness has a social dimension, or implies a system of interactions.[3] "Cleanliness," observed Jacob Burckhardt, "is indispensable to our modern notion of social perfection."[4] A household or workplace may be said to exhibit cleanliness, but not ordinarily purity; cleanliness also would be a characteristic of the people who maintain cleanness or prevent dirtying.

On a practical level, cleanliness is thus related to hygiene and disease prevention. Washing is one way of achieving physical cleanliness, usually with water and often some kind of soap or detergent. Procedures of cleanliness are of utmost importance in many forms of manufacturing.

As an assertion of moral superiority or respectability, cleanliness has played a role in establishing cultural values in relation to social class, humanitarianism, and cultural imperialism.[5]



Since the germ theory of disease, cleanliness has come to mean an effort to remove germs and other hazardous materials. A reaction to an excessive desire for a germ-free environment began to occur around 1989, when David Strachan put forth the "hygiene hypothesis" in the British Medical Journal. In essence, this hypothesis holds that dirt plays a useful role in developing the immune system; the fewer germs people are exposed to in childhood, the more likely they are to get sick as adults. The valuation of cleanliness, therefore, has a social and cultural dimension beyond the requirements of hygiene for practical purposes.


In industry, certain processes such as those related to integrated circuit manufacturing, require conditions of exceptional cleanliness which are achieved by working in cleanrooms. Cleanliness is essential to successful electroplating, since molecular layers of oil can prevent adhesion of the coating. The industry has developed specialized techniques for parts cleaning, as well as tests for cleanliness. The most commonly used tests rely on the wetting behaviour of a clean hydrophillic metal surface. Cleanliness is also important to vacuum systems to reduce outgassing. Cleanliness is also crucial for semiconductor manufacturing.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Paul G. Pierpaoli, Jr., entry on "White Man's Burden," The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by Spencer C. Tucker (ABC-Clio, 2009), p. 696.
  2. ^ Suellen Hoy, Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 3.
  3. ^ Elizabeth Shove, Comfort, Cleanliness, and Convenience: The Social Organization of Normality (Berg, 2003), p. 80.
  4. ^ Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, as quoted by Douglas Blow, The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy (Cornell University Press, 2006), p. 1.
  5. ^ Kathleen M. Brown, Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America (Yale University Press, 2009), p. 327; Iris Marion Young, "The Scaling of Bodies and the Politics of Identity," as excerpted in From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology, edited by Lawrence E. Cahoone (Blackwell, 2003, 2nd ed.), p. 372; Nancy Cook, Gender, Identity, and Imperialism: Women Development Workers in Pakistan (Macmillan, 2007), p. 141.
  6. ^ C. Y. Chang and Francis Kai, GaAs High Speed Devices: Physics, Technology, and Circuit Applications (John Wiley, 1994), p. 116.

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  • Cleanliness — Clean li*ness (kl[e^]n l[i^]*n[e^]s), n. [From {Cleanly}.] State of being cleanly; neatness of person or dress. [1913 Webster] Cleanliness from head to heel. Swift. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • cleanliness — early 15c., from CLEANLY (Cf. cleanly) + NESS (Cf. ness). Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness. [John Wesley, Sermon On Dress, c.1791] …   Etymology dictionary

  • cleanliness — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ excessive ▪ personal ▪ His mother gave him a lecture about personal cleanliness. PHRASES ▪ a standard of cleanliness, a state of cleanliness …   Collocations dictionary

  • cleanliness — [[t]kle̱nlɪnəs[/t]] N UNCOUNT Cleanliness is the degree to which people keep themselves and their surroundings clean. Many of Britain s beaches fail to meet minimum standards of cleanliness. ...the importance of personal cleanliness …   English dictionary

  • cleanliness — n. personal cleanliness * * * [ klenlɪnɪs] personal cleanliness …   Combinatory dictionary

  • cleanliness — noun /ˈklɛnlinəs/ the property of being cleanly, or habitually clean; good hygiene Cleanliness is next to godliness. (proverb) See Also: cleanup …   Wiktionary

  • cleanliness — Synonyms and related words: asepsis, blamelessness, blotlessness, chastity, clean slate, cleanly habits, cleanness, clear conscience, daintiness, fastidiousness, faultlessness, freshness, guiltlessness, honor, hospital cleanliness, immaculacy,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • cleanliness — clean|li|ness [ˈklenlinıs] n [U] [Date: 1400 1500; Origin: cleanly pure, clean (11 21 centuries), from Old English clAnlic, from clAne; CLEAN1] the practice of keeping yourself or the things around you clean ▪ a high standard of cleanliness …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • cleanliness — /ˈklɛnlinəs/ (say klenleenuhs) noun the condition or quality of being clean or cleansed; freedom from dirt or filth or anything that contaminates: high standards of cleanliness. {cleanl(y) + i + ness} …  

  • cleanliness — see cleanliness is next to godliness …   Proverbs new dictionary

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