Homes Around the World

I Still Use This Simple Floor Cleaning Trick That My Family Learned in Italy 35 Years Ago

published Aug 4, 2022
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Credit: Katie Currid

Growing up in a military family generally means a couple of things: lots of moving around and exposure to many different cultures. Some families get luckier than others with these moves and in 1988 my family hit the jackpot. Just as I was finishing junior high (as we called it back then), my dad got his orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) to Northern Italy

I was pumped and immediately started to teach myself Italian phrases using 3” by 5” cards. I still remember one card specifically: Adesso means now. And before we moved, for my final project in World Geography class I chose Italy. My research led me to tons of gorgeous pictures of mountains, beaches, sports cars, and food. (So much food!)

Once we arrived in Europe a few things jumped out at us immediately about the Northern Italian way of life. As a teenager with very strict parents, I noticed the ubiquitous ceramic pitchers of wine on the table at restaurants and in every kitchen. Wine, wine, wine. There was almost as much wine as there was water to drink! There was no American candy and all of the snacks were totally different. No Cheetos or Twinkies. There were hazelnuts or real fruit in most of their snacks. The cars were different and much smaller. And the culture — to me at the time — felt much slower.

There were no supermarkets, only small grocery stores. People would shop for produce at an outdoor market every day. One of the more memorable aspects of life in this small Italian town was an elderly man with a robust, dark beard driving a rickety old cart full of fresh fruits and vegetables around the back streets of the town calling out what he had for sale each day. In his sing-song voice he would call out through his loudspeaker like someone selling peanuts at a baseball game, “Melone! Fragole! Spinachi!” around the town, bringing a rainbow of food to any home chef who wanted it. My mom didn’t learn very much Italian during our tenure in Aviano, but she could mimic the verdure man perfectly.

The other families on our street were very welcoming and wanted to practice their English, so my mom made fast friends with them. Our house in Italy had really hard marble floors, not because it was a fancy home, but because in Italy, marble was everywhere. We noticed when it came to cleaning that no one around us had mops in their home. Instead, they used basic items they already had to clean their hard floors, like old towels and a broom. My mom, who learned this trick from her friend Vittoria, loved this technique and adopted it right away. It made it much easier to clean rather than crawling on your hands and knees. She had never used a mop, especially those with detachable heads, which are impossible to completely disinfect or dry. A towel always seemed cleaner to her.

Instead of reusing a mop, you use an old kitchen towel (any small towel will work). Get the towel wet in the sink or a tub of soapy water for a big mess, wring out the excess liquid, and lay it flat on the floor. Next, take your regular broom and use it to push the damp towel around the floor, flipping it over and spinning it around as needed to use every part of it. You can dunk and rinse the towel over and over. When you’ve finished, wash and hang the towel on your balcony and reward yourself with a glass of wine.

This trick obviously isn’t complicated — it’s basically a DIY iteration of the Swiffer — but its simplicity is exactly why my mom and I love it. I still use this technique when I’m cleaning a large area of my floor because I appreciate using things I already own for another purpose. 

The next time you are cleaning your floors put on some Italian pop music and try it out. If you like it, you can even consider getting rid of your Swiffer altogether.