I have a friend who starts cleaning for Passover around Chanukah time. I’m not kidding!

Of course, what she’s really doing is spring cleaning. In the winter.

There’s a saying: “Passover cleaning is not spring cleaning, dirt is not chametz, and children are not the paschal sacrifice.” So with that in mind, let us commence cleaning for Passover.

Here’s the general rule:

It is praiseworthy to be stringent on Passover. In fact, the Arizal states, “One who is careful about the most minuscule amount of chametz on Pesach is guaranteed not to sin the entire year.” It is partially based on this that many are extra stringent. Nevertheless, keep in mind that dust isn’t chametz (“leaven”). The main purpose of cleaning and searching for chametz is to remove any of it that one may come to inadvertently eat or derive benefit from during Passover.

This obligation of getting rid of chametz does not extend to inedible chametz, or tiny crumbs or particles of chametz that are soiled or spoiled. So the key areas to focus on are things that may come in contact with food, since we are forbidden to eat anything with even a trace of chametz.

See: What Is Chametz?

Here’s what you DON’T have to do:

  1. Anything coming under the heading of spring cleaning (e.g., organizing your clothes, going through every letter you’ve ever received, looking at your master’s thesis, washing the curtains, windows and bathtub) does not have to be done for Passover. (Wash your curtains before Rosh Hashanah instead!)
  2. Ditto for painting, house repairs and washing your car from the outside. (Do check your car for chametz. I once had the unfortunate experience of finding pretzels in a puzzle box in the trunk of my car—after Passover.)
  3. Walls and paintings also do not have to be cleaned. The exception is where your little ones smeared cookies or crackers on the walls behind your dining-room table and your cooking surfaces.
  4. If you’re not making the Seder and don’t need the use of a large oven, give it a superficial cleaning, tape it up, and buy a Passover toaster oven and/or microwave.
  5. You don’t have to have a clear laundry basket to sit down at the Seder. You will need to have plenty of clothing to last the entire holiday, but you don’t have to wash every sweater and pillowcase. It’ll wait for you.

Here’s what you SHOULD do:

  1. Sell all the chametz in your house, real or imagined, so if you do find some during or after the holiday, it wasn’t yours anyway and you’re fine.
  2. The day before bedikat chametz (the search for chametz), sweep and wash your floors (not like surgery is going to be performed on them, just to get them basically clean). If you have carpets, vacuum them and empty the vacuum bag.
  3. Everywhere that food has touched and is going to be in contact with food over Passover has to be cleaned, or made unfit for a dog to eat. So if you can’t get to every nook and cranny in your kitchen or dining room with a toothpick or a toothbrush—or you can’t bear the thought of even trying—spritz the area with some chemical/poisonous substance like Windex.
    Books people ate cookies over have to be shaken out. You do not have to clean your blinds with a toothpick or your couch with a toothbrush.
  4. Buy everything new that you can, and keep it for Passover from year to year—towels, tablecloths, clothes, toys, books. The more you buy, the less you have to clean. Put everything else in your closet, tape it up and say, “See you in eight-and-a-half days.”
  5. The dining-room table and chairs have to be cleaned with cleansing products. That shouldn’t take more than an hour. (Really, it shouldn’t!)
  6. The kitchen is the real challenge. But that shouldn’t take more than one day of cleaning, and another half day of koshering and changing over the dishes. I actually like cleaning the fridge because it gets so white and shiny, and it’s the only time of year I see it that way. (Just before it’s hidden under aluminum foil.)
  7. After you’ve touched your last bite of chametz, or maybe even before, wipe down (with Windex or a similar substance) all of the things your fingers touch while eating a meal, or right afterwards—like light switches in the kitchen or dining room, doorknobs or buttons on the fridge or stove, keyboards, etc.—to make sure that any residue has been removed.
  8. Delegate! Get the kids involved, your best friend, your husband’s accountant. Anyone willing to lend a hand.

A final word:

Remember, we are not trying to recreate the feeling of slavery. We are trying to prepare for a holiday that celebrates freedom. While it’s nice to sit down to a Passover Seder in a house where everything is clean and shiny, it’s even nicer to sit down to a Seder and stay awake for it. Reschedule your superfluous spring cleaning to the fall, and Passover cleaning will not wind up to be such a crummy job.

Happy Passover!