Cleaning and sanitization standards have been dragged into the spotlight in the last three years, thanks to the emergent menace of COVID-19. More and more attention is being lavished upon the new technologies and methods that humans can utilize in an attempt to create clean environments that promote societal recovery from this widespread viral infection.
Cleaning and sanitization have always evolved in line with advances in technology. This article lists some of the most important technological innovations that have changed the way we sanitize everyday items. Cleaning technology has also had very a significant societal impact. The task of cleaning has always carried a social stigma – from the misogynistic assumption that cleaning is the task of women to the street cleaning jobs available only to untouchables in India. Advances in technology have, historically, removed some of the stigmas associated with the essential work of cleaning.
Here are some of the most important advances in technology that have changed the way we clean and sanitize.
Cleaning the Body: The Roman and Greek Bath
Personal hygiene is immensely important, but it has not always been accessible to everyone. The Ancient Greeks, followed by the Ancient Romans, developed personal cleaning into a central social activity and invented plenty of technology in order to make this happen.
It was the Romans that truly embraced the technology of public bathing. They created elaborate public bathing houses which were awash (ahem) with inventive devices. In the Caldarium – or steam room – hollow chambers under the floor were heated remotely using a series of pipes connected to a central fire. This was then used to heat water and create steam.
After around 200 AD, a new cleaning practice was developed in the Roman empire. After bathers had been immersed in water and oils, they would then scrape themselves off with tools known as strigils. Strigils were metal implements used to remove the dirt that had been loosened by washing.
The Vacuum Cleaner
The vacuum cleaner was a groundbreaking invention that changed the human relationship to cleaning significantly. Vacuum cleaners, like many other innovations, started out as a luxury. Engineer Hubert Cecil Booth invented the first suction cleaner in 1901 in England. It was a far cry from the small, powerful cleaners used by professional cleaning companies today. Booth’s vacuum was huge, horse-drawn, and very expensive to hire. Resembling a fire engine, it would be lugged into wealthy areas of London where it would be stationed outside a home. Long pipes were then fed through the windows of the house, sucking up dust in an apparently miraculous fashion.
It was the American businessman William Hoover that first marketed the portable, affordable vacuum cleaner. He purchased the design from the asthmatic inventor James Spangler. These broomstick-like devices proved immensely popular after World War One when women, who were societally pressured into completing house cleaning tasks, had been forced into employment.
The vacuum cleaner has evolved significantly since its early 20th Century inception, but it still completes the same task: it sucks. Some of the changes in vacuum design have been miniaturization, battery power, bagless cyclone operation, and even robotic operation. British inventor James Dyson is famous for his innovative adaptations of the basic vacuum concept. Some Dyson vacuum cleaners have become known as design classics. In 1995, Dyson released the DC02, which featured a powerful cyclone sucking action. The DC02 featured millennial looks and bagless operation. It was also very expensive, which made it somewhat of a late 20th Century domestic status symbol.
Flying drones have been put to all sorts of uses since their increase in availability during the late 2010s. Drones are largely inexpensive flying machines piloted remotely. Although they have their origins in World War 2, drones were largely military machines until the release of the first commercial drones in 2006.
Drones are increasingly being used to help in cleaning efforts. Because drones can cover large areas of space, enter enclosed spaces, and don’t require humans to be present, they are perfect for spraying toxic cleaning chemicals in hard-to-reach places. Some cleaning companies that work with complex contracts have small fleets of drones that bombard areas with disinfectant without putting any people at risk.
Domestic robot vacuums are also very popular with homeowners. These beetle-like robots quietly roam around floor spaces, sucking up dust and avoiding obstacles. Although they take the labor out of vacuuming, they also come with a hefty price tag.
Ultraviolet sanitation has become far more prevalent as a concept in the last three years due to the Coronavirus pandemic – but that does not mean it is a completely new idea. The World Health Organization recommends leaving water in sunlight to remove viruses’ in some developing nations. On the London Underground, UV light is used to clean escalator handrails. This is a perfect application of the technology, as it can be used on the handrail in a concentrated fashion. If humans were exposed directly to UV light strong enough to sanitize an area, they would suffer serious health risks. It is for this reason that UV light is not considered a genuine solution to the COVID-19 crisis, no matter what the former president of the United States has to say about it. The World Health Organization has issued warnings against using concentrated UV light to sanitize areas of the body.