How to Clean Like an Italian (Well – How to Fake It)

Procter & Gamble conducted a study in 2006 on the number of hours per week women around the world cleaned.  In America the number was 4. In Italy:  21 hours. Yes, 21 hours. This number seems nuts but does not really surprise me. If you step into any Italian home, what would surprise me is if you found if dirty.

These people’s homes are spotless. I mean, look at the toothpaste at my in-laws’  house – note the STAPLES keeping the tube in place: menta

For those who don’t live in Italy, they could be judging the level of cleanliness based on public spaces – in which case Italians fail miserably. Italians tend to think for themselves. THEIR homes will be clean, but why do they need to keep the park or street clean if it is not their property?  This part of Italian life makes me very sad. Trash all over parks. For sure this aspect of Italian cleanliness could use some help. We need to get some “Don’t mess with Texas” action going on over here. (“Don’t Mess with Texas” was a slogan aimed at reducing litter on Texas highways by the Department of transportation. This phrase was actually shown on road signs throughout the state as well as on commercials and reduced litter by around 70% in the late 80’s. Eventually the slogan because a cultural icon and is used to this day.)


Don’t Mess With Texas courtesy of A. Ward


Italian Ironing

Crazy Italian Iron

But back to obsessive cleaning Italian women. Where are they finding this kind of time?  Why are they ironing underwear and socks?  And not only are they ironing undies, look what kind of “iron” they are using.

Look at this monster. It must take at least 15 minutes just to get this thing out and set up. In addition to industrial size irons, they have separate cleaning products for every imaginable cleaning need.  Keep in mind that Italian homes are small, space is limited and,  and they use this precious space for things like cleaning chemicals and professional steam irons.  Why are they doing this?  According to Federica Rossi Gasparrini, chair of Federcasalinghe (Housewives’ Association)  she states: “No woman will forgo a clean house, even if she works. It’s part of love for the family.”  As always family comes first in Italy.

I love my family too, but I prefer to play with them at the beach as opposed to clean all day. The point of this post is to tell you how to cheat – yes – to make it SEEM as if you are an Italian woman with 21 hours to clean, but really you are an American with only four hours to clean. When company comes, I magically turn into a good Italian woman, cleaning for 21 hours. But for all the other times, here are my shortcuts.


1. Put things back where they belong – immediately!

The rule is not to touch anything twice if you don’t have to. Once you use it, put it back immediately. Don’t leave the salt, oil and vinegar on the counter after making your salad, put it up as you go.

2. Make your bed every day

A few months ago, this article came out about the benefits of making your bed.In the comments, I saw lots of people saying it was a waste of time to make the bed. I USED to be able to relate to that way of thinking. I admit when I lived in Texas and our bedroom was at the end of the hall and out of sight, I didn’t make my bed every day. And every time I went into that room with the unmade bed, I felt a little  – I don’t know:  BLAH. When we moved to Milan, our apartment was so small and every room could be seen from the entry hall. Mandatory bedmaking ensued. I realized that it only took 3-4 minutes to make the bed and also realized how nice it made me feel to see the beds made. Beds take up a lot of room and if they are a mess, the whole room looks a mess. ALSO, if the bed is made, it makes for a great workspace for other things like folding and ironing. Look at the difference:

2012-10-22 14.06.43

3. Empty and load the dishwasher

Another thing I used to hate to do. But what a downer to come home to a sink full of dirty dishes. So one time I timed myself to see how long it took to empty the dishwasher and load it. It was something crazy like 10-12 minutes!  That is it!  Makes all the difference in the world coming home to a clean sink. And anyway, loading the dishwasher in Italy is not so bad, as you can see from this commercial – my exact experience every day:


Ok, so you make your bed every day, dishwasher is loaded, sink is empty, house is somewhat clutter-free based on your daily habits. These habits will make you feel less overwhelmed and more inspired to clean. What next?

1. De-Clutter the house

Go through the house and pick up. Shoes away, papers on the desk, take the trash out, pick up toys. Whatever your circumstance might be, put everything where it belongs.

2. Dust

Working from the top down, dust all surfaces. I like to use a Swiffer duster because it gets between small areas so you don’t have to move everything. See?  This would NEVER work for an Italian. And again, I am not suggesting you never move your books when you dust!  But when under pressure for time, this works just fine.

3. Clean surfaces

I start in the kitchen and spray down all the surfaces with a multipurpose, antibacterial cleaner, including the cabinets. Let it sit for a while and then clean. Ditto for the bathrooms. Again, this would be a big no-no for an Italian because of their love for specific cleaning products.

4. Floors

The vacuum is my best friend. Use it not only for the floors, but also the couch or even crumbs that get in your kitchen cabinets and drawers! Ohhhh, even for my kids’ backpacks that are full of crumbs. For cleaning the floors, I admit for the cooking area of the kitchen and the bathrooms, I just use a damp cloth and my all-purpose cleaner and do it by hand. Getting out the mop and bucket?  No thanks. Also, doing it by hand ensures I get all the corners. It is amazingly fast.

5. Washing and Ironing

Ok, most Americans have a dryer. Already we are ahead of the game in a huge way because hanging out the wash piece by piece, then taking off each piece takes forever. But what about getting that freshly pressed look on every article of clothing we wear?  I have found that if you remove the wash from the dryer while it is still hot and fold it immediately, the clothes will come out pretty close to an ironed look. Obviously you will not get that crease on the sleeve of your t-shirts, but it works relatively well. And clearly I am not including things like dress shirts or items that always require a trip to the cleaners.

What happens when you DO have to iron?  I have found that ironing on my bed or table works just fine. Of course you have to protect the surface from the heat, but it is much easier than fighting with the ironing board. And also, you have a much bigger space to work with. (I guess it is clear, I REALLY don’t like to have to get things out and set them up)

Sometimes though – I DO hang out the wash (as mentioned in a post ages ago), because the experience is similar to that of loading the dishwasher:


Even though cleaning is an incredibly sexy event in Italy (as evidenced by these advertisements), on the off day it is NOT a sexy event, I do try to make it as pleasurable as possible. Good music, a tall, cold drink or maybe a movie I have seen 1,000 times to keep me company.

35 Comments on “How to Clean Like an Italian (Well – How to Fake It)

  1. I’m still flabbergasted at the sheer amount of time they spend cleaning – 21 hours?!? Holy cow. And yes, they really ought to address their public spaces! Their cleanliness rating would be much higher if they kept their exteriors as clean as the interiors!

    • I know!!! I had some pictures of this park that is on a tiny hill right near the Colosseum in Rome FULL of trash! But it did not come out very clear, so I did not use it. It is so sad. I regularly stop people when I see them throwing their trash on the street. Once hubby almost got into a fight because of this. ha, ha, ha….I am always the trouble maker. Anyway….They need to start the “don’t mess with” campaign.

    • I know Nancy!!!! Isn’t that the craziest thing EV-ER?!!??! And they do it too. And their homes are spotless…..walk around all day in white socks and they are still white at the end of the day.

  2. I’m impressed by the amount of time Italians put into cleaning. I just spent the last two days cleaning my house getting ready for my husband’s birthday and within 24 hours it looks like it needs cleaning again. The problem is that I want to do other things than clean!!

    • Hi Kathy!!!! I know!!! Isn’t it a downer? Clean like a maniac…and then it is just a mess all over again. 😦

      Sometimes when I am cleaning, I think of what it must be like to be Oprah. I heard she has her sheets changed every other day. Can you imagine how fab it must be to come home to a spotless house every day?

      Anyway…wish Wayne a happy bday for us. Your bday is right around the corner too! Maybe we can have a big celebration when we come to Texas. 🙂 Take care!

  3. I need that crazy iron! Surely I wouldn’t iron in as many wrinkles as I currently do if I owned that beast! I agree – it is really a mystery why their house is so clean but public places so dirty.I just can’t stand it when people litter! The entitled “someone else will pick it up” attitude just drives me nuts!

    • Ok Lyn….you are right that the beast is super effective and it probably cuts ironing time in half because it IS so effective. Still! UGGG… I would not want to have to get that thing out of some tiny closet every time! And yes……The public spaces?…such a shame……such a gorgeous country, but when it is all covered up with trash? TOTAL downer! You know Umberto almost got into a fight with an ambulance driver over this issue? I scolded the driver on the street at a stoplight for throwing his cigarette out the window and he started yelling at me from the ambulance. Then Umberto started yelling at him for yelling at me and being a bad role model for kids by littering. All of this carried out at the traffic light. People honking for the ambulance guy to go at the green light. It was so so funny.

  4. Great tips! I should start with some of these myself…. I as you prefer spending quality time with the family instead of washing, so this helps a lot! Thanks! 🙂

    • Hi Hanne! YES! for sure! I have spent years looking for shortcuts. The real key is the clutter part. Keeping that under control makes the cleaning part seem more manageable. Anyway…thanks for stopping by! Now go and enjoy the park!

  5. OMG!! I couldn’t agree more with you! Italians really are obsessed with cleaning..and ironing! Whenever I visit a friend in Italy I never understand how they can have such a clean house. The bathroom seems new and untouched, the floors are shining, the kitchen sink looks like it has never been used before.. and everybody irons everything. So boring really, it takes too much time.
    Brilliant article. I love the way you write! Ciao bella xx

    • Hi Alida! I know! I admit I know my house is not up to Italian standards – but I really try to find a good balance. Decently clean, disinfected and in some kind of order. Then it is mare time! 🙂 Thanks for your kind comment…..big baci!

  6. This is crazy, I didn’t know Italians love to clean that much, this is a huge surprise to me ! I had an Italian colleagues, and he always smelled a bit sweaty and his office was a mess, it’s difficult for me to imagine his house clean 😀

  7. These are indeed good tips. I am guilty of never dusting. I guess I haven’t been able to find the best way. I do sweep, vacuum and do laundry quite a bit. Sometimes I clean the bathroom sink with toilet paper. And I keep a diluted bleach spray bottle in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

    • Hi Mani! I never saw this comment! Anyway…..I use the toilet paper trick too! Thought I was the only one! Have a good week!

  8. My grandmother washed drapes, windows, and beat the rugs for spring cleaning – her house was spotless. My mom did the same. I had great examples from my Italian side of the family!

    • Hello! not sure how I missed your comment! Sorry…..responding almost a year later! 🙂 🙂 anyway…..My dream to have all the curtains cleaned….ALL THE TIME! Anyway….having an orderly and clean home really does make for a better quality of life.

  9. Diana, an inspiring post….4 hrs a week is more like me. I love the “Don’t Mess with Texas” sign. And, i’ve always been confused by the trash and lack of care in public places compared to the tidiness of Italian homes. I just loved this post…and thanks for the shortcut tips:)

    • Hi Susan…errrrr……I am finding ALL kinds of missed comments today! So I will respond almost a year later! Anyway….yes….the common areas are a TOTAL downer! Hubby almost go into a fight because of this….well…because of me. Because we were crossing the street in Milan and an ambulance driver at the stop light threw his trash out the window… I told him it was not a nice thing to do (all of this while the light was red)….he started screaming at me…so hubby started screaming at him and told him how uncool it was to: 1. scream at me 2. throw trash out the window 3. be a poor role model…. being an ambulance driver…what kind of role model was he for the kids who witnessed this behavior…..ha, ha, ha…it was fabulous…people honking…..driver screaming….hubby laying into this guy in the middle of the street….me? i was on the other side of the street with my kids waiting for him. ha, ha, ha, ha….ANYWAY….the Italians kinda think for themselves….my love life, my good life, my vacation, my home, my appearance, my family, my friends……not so much about OUR community.

      • Your hubby sounds like a great guy! How dare anyone treat you that way….the driver sounds like a typical scum bag. I’m impressed with you too Diana, for voicing your opinion to him about throwing trash out the window. Good for you!!

  10. The Dutch are incredibly clean too. The exteriors(garden, park and public places) are clean too. I am renting out my villa to an Italian so this information is good news.

  11. You describe the very same approach to housework that I saw at work when I was a child. My family lived in the Italian-American part of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, New York. Every mother took the upkeep of her house very seriously. A messy house was considered the mark of a woman who was lacking in character. I never understood where this came from. I will give the housewives credit. They did a beautiful job of keeping their homes, gardens and stoops clean and in good condition. Even those that lived on a modest income kept their property in good condition.

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