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," 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. "Cleanliness," observed Jacob Burckhardt, "is indispensable to our modern notion of social perfection." 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.
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,...
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