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1997 National Cleaning Survey

Are You a Clean Extreme or a Dirt Dodger?

Results of a national study by The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) reveal that American women fall into one of five distinct cleaning personality groups, defined as "Clean Extremes," "Mess Busters," "Strugglers," "Dirt Dodgers" and "Mop Passers."

These groups range in their attitudes from women who would rather clean their homes than almost any other activity ("Clean Extremes") to those who feel comfortable delegating the housework to others as a way of reducing potential sources of stress ("Mop Passers"). Somewhere in between are "Mess Busters," who work hard at keeping their homes clean, yet are tolerant of the inevitable messes that characterize family life; "Dirt Dodgers," who spend more time and energy avoiding cleaning than getting the job done; and "Strugglers," for whom housecleaning is part of a balancing act along with family, friends, work and leisure time.

The survey also revealed that six out of 10 women prefer to do the housework themselves, rather than enlisting help from a cleaning service; and that, on average, women spend nearly 10 hours each week on cleaning their homes.

The 1997 SDA National Cleaning Survey, which included interviews with approximately 500 adult women, was conducted by Eileen Donahue, Ph.D., co-author of the best-selling book and CD-rom that explores personality traits, Who Do You Think You Are?, and researcher David Michaelson, Ph.D.


The Five Cleaning Personality Profiles

The SDA study reveals that today's women differ significantly in their attitudes and behavior toward cleaning. One in four women (25%) are "Clean Extremes." Like "Mess Busters," "Clean Extremes" strongly agree that "it's important that my home be clean even where people don't see." A clean home gives this group a sense of pride and personal satisfaction, contributing to an overall feeling of well-being. However, these women take their attitude toward cleaning several steps further, and are more likely to say they can't relax unless their home is spotless. Most agree that they would rather clean than do almost anything else.

While it wouldn't be uncommon for "Strugglers" to let the bathtub go unscrubbed for lack of time, "Mess Busters," which comprise 24% of women, like their home to be clean even in areas where others are unlikely to look. "Overall, these women are hardworking, efficient and energetic, which is reflected in the way they keep their homes," explained Donahue. "They don't fret about housecleaning; they just do it."

Twenty-one percent of survey respondents, considered "Strugglers," do not consider housework to be an important part of their day-to-day lives. Ironically, "Strugglers" spend more time each week on cleaning than any other group, yet only 10% have a high level of satisfaction with how clean their home is. This can be attributed to the fact that "Strugglers," who tend to be married (73%) and have the largest households, simply have more to do at home than their counterparts with other cleaning personalities.

"Our research suggests that "Strugglers," who typically have two children, feel overburdened by the number of commitments in their lives, such as work, family and friends," commented Donahue. "Often for these women the housework just builds up faster than they can take care of it."

Eighteen percent (18%) of women fall into the category of "Dirt Dodgers," with the pervading attitude that they clean only when they absolutely have to. "`Dirt Dodgers' find it difficult to keep their home neat and organized. They're also much more likely than others to have a hard time working up the energy to clean," added Donahue. "Their level of satisfaction with the cleanliness of their home is also lower than that of many other women."

The smallest segment of women (11%) are "Mop Passers." This group has a strong sense of pride in having a home that's clean and clutter-free. They just don't do the job alone. Sixty-one percent (61%) get help from a spouse and one in five (20%) have a housekeeper. "Keeping house is definitely not a priority for this group," noted Donahue. "Overall, these women devote the least time to cleaning, spending an average of six hours each week, and 89% report having some type of help with the work."

The SDA study also revealed several situational and demographic factors that are key in influencing women's attitudes toward housecleaning. For example, "Mop Passers" tend to have higher incomes, enabling them to afford outside help. They are also more likely to be homeowners than women in other groups. "However," added Donahue, "we also found other groups of women whose attitudes toward cleaning are more reflective of their inner psyches than their lifestyle."

Whatever their personality, most women agree that the problem with cleaning is that the house just gets dirty again. The challenge, says The Soap and Detergent Association, can be made easier by following these tips: 1) Assign top priority to cleaning first where it's most important. That usually means getting rid of kitchen and bathroom soils and bacteria; 2) Make a schedule to handle "tidy up" jobs and try to involve the whole family in helping out; and 3) Read product labels to select the right cleaner for the job and follow all instructions carefully.


Cleaning: It's All In Your Head!

When researchers compared findings from a recent survey of women's attitudes toward cleaning with 35 different aspects of personality, they found that women who are "Clean Extremes" share more than a love of spotless counter tops. As a group, these women have a high energy level, are trusting of others and have a positive self-image.

In the study, which was conducted by psychologist Eileen Donahue, Ph.D., and researcher David Michaelson on behalf of The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), the "Clean Extremes" were also found to be more focused and less anxious than "Dirt Dodgers," who clean only when they absolutely have to.

The 1997 SDA National Cleaning Survey, which included interviews with approximately 500 adult women, defines the three other cleaning personality groups as "Strugglers," "Mess Busters" and "Mop Passers."

"This research shows that there is a tremendous level of consistency between personality traits and attitudes toward cleaning," according to Donahue, co-author of Who Do You Think You Are?, a book which identifies and interprets personality characteristics. "Women who feel similarly about cleaning are more than likely to have some of the same personality features. For instance, we learned that `Mop Passers', who prefer to get help cleaning the house from family members or a housekeeper, are the most relaxed and easy going of the five cleaning personality groups."

Donahue urges "Strugglers" who fall short of their housework goals, as well as "Dirt Dodgers," to try to think about cleaning differently. "Obviously, housework is no match for a massage as a stress reducer. But those who like to clean showed a tendency to enjoy losing themselves in the simple routines of cleaning. Remember, escapism can come in many forms, and in this day and age of non-stop living, you sometimes have to be creative. Even if you can't work up a genuine enthusiasm for cleaning, you'll find it a lot less stressful if you just do the housecleaning, rather than dreading it."

And what if this new attitude doesn't bring you any more satisfaction? "Well," says Donahue, "the worst thing that can happen is that you don't feel more relaxed. But at least your kitchen or bathroom will be cleaner. And that, in and of itself, may end up making you feel better after all!"


Cleaning Facts

  • American women spend an average of almost 10 hours each week cleaning their homes.
  • Three in four women (77%) get some help with the cleaning. This help is typically provided by husbands (39%) and children (32%).
  • Only one in 10 women report having a housekeeper or cleaning service.
  • Most women prefer to clean their homes themselves. Among the 90% surveyed who do not currently have outside help, two in three (63%) would not use a housekeeper or cleaning service if they were given the opportunity.
  • American women are divided on the quality of work performed by housekeepers and cleaning services. Women are just as likely to say these services would do a better job (19%) as they are to say they would do a worse job (14%). Half (48%) feel the work performed by housekeepers or cleaning services is the same as they would do themselves.
  • Saturday is the day that most homes are cleaned. Fifty-two percent (52%) of women report that they are most likely to take care of house cleaning on Saturday.
  • Six in 10 women prefer to clean in the morning.
  • Two in three women (63%) put more effort into cleaning kitchens than any other room in the house.