Cleaning in China

It might seem like a strange topic, but one of the main differences that I have found between China and Spain is in the daily, common and boring act of cleaning. I am not referring to the usual expat complaint of “Chinese cities are so dirty!” (which, by the way, I don’t agree with, of course I wouldn’t lick the road but it is not so dirty as to feel aggrieved. I can’t stand people littering the countryside though, and, in general, Chinese people are unfortunately quite prone to it). But, as I was trying to explain, I’m referring to the act of cleaning my house.

When I first came to China, the first thing I did (after going to the bank to change money) was going to the supermarket.  Among other things, I was looking for a broom, a mop, bathroom cleaner, and the like. What seemed like an easy task proved to be quite hard: the Chinese cleaning utensils were unlike anything I had used or seen before.

Let’s start with the broom:


Brooms in China are doll-sized. They are around one meter tall, which means that you need to hunch your back while using it. I don’t know in other countries, but in Spain brooms have a longer broomstick that allows you to comfortably sweep the floor without suffering from backache later. However, Chinese people are used to the doll-sized ones and prefer to hunch their back. A friend of mine bought a human-size broom in Ikea (and they don’t come cheap) but her ayi (cleaning lady) refused to use it.

And what about mops? Mops in China are very weird: they are made of rags!


Maybe they are made of old clothes?

I had no choice but to use one of those rag mops during my first year in Beijing and I can assure they are useless. They are too soft, so they don’t clean at all, and are no good to dry the floor either as they get damp instantly and lose the small absorbent capacity they have.

To compensate for the useless mops, Chinese people preferably use this other kind of thing which I’m not really sure if it should be called mop or what. I’ll call it sponge mop for the sake of clarification.

How to use this sponge mop? You dip the sponge part in soapy water, pull the lever on top and the sponge folds itselfs, eliminating the excess of water. Then you proceed to mop the floor. It is not very useful if there is a sticky stain, as the sponge is too soft.

I don’t have a cleaning lady so I haven’t seen it for myself, but I’ve been told they prefer to just take a cloth, get on their knees and mop the floor. I don’t find it strange, given that with the mopping utensils they have it is really difficult to get a clean floor!

And what about the cleaning liquids? A few years ago I had a difficult time finding toilet cleaners, now they are available in every supermarket. But you still have to be careful when choosing one, as most of them don’t smell good! When I clean the toilet I want it to smell like, I don’t know, green forest, or lemon, or at least something recognizable as clean! But the toilet cleaner I bought last time stinks! (It is Mr. Muscle brand, in case you want to avoid it).

Another thing that is pretty different from Spain is the washing machine.

It looks innocent but I can assure you it is a washing machine from hell!!

Chinese washing machines are different from the Spanish ones in three basic aspects:

1. The machine door is on the upper part and the drum spins side to side. In Spain the door is in the front side and the drum spins up and down. “Well, who cares, right?”, you may be thinking. No! You should care! If the drum spins side to side it means that when it spins-dry the clothes get pushed to the sides, and as during washing everything has become a big knot, when they get pushed to the sides the clothes are pulled and made big. If there is any loose thread be prepared to say bye bye to your favourite t-shirt. But this has a bright side: when the washing is finished you just need to pull from one end of the big knot and all the clothes will come with it haha.

2. You can only use cold water. Well, this is not true, I have seen washing machines with hot water (in hotels and rich people’s houses) but I have never lived anywhere with a hot water washing machine. I don’t know why! I have heard it is to save energy, but the downside is that white clothes don’t really get very clean when washing them in cold water.

3. Chinese washing machines include a small bag inside that is like a fluff filter. As we don’t have them in Spain I had never realized that clothes produce such a lot of fluff! This fluff filter is a great idea to avoid clogging the washing machine.

That is what you get after a few washings!