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Illustration: Lachlan Conn

'Cleanliness is next to godliness' – it's an ancient and wretched proverb that has endured through the ages and against the odds. Today, it's unusual to hear it without a degree of irony. But why hasn't this prissy adage died out altogether?

Times might have changed, but the word 'clean' is still linked to ideas of virtue and even of utopia. Perhaps now more than ever, in fact, with rising interest in ‘clean living’ and ‘clean eating’.

In this edition of Notes, we delve into themes of purity and sterility. We'll look at the flipside, too: contamination, pollution and disorder. James Colley tries to launder his conscience; Zoya Patel describes a messy break-up with religion; Alice Gorman sweeps at cosmic dust and CB Mako enters an eerie, ultra-sterile isolation ward in the Royal Children's Hospital. 

And what stories can stains tell? Clem Bastow asks a vintage clothing restoration expert.

From our archives, catch up on conversations about sobriety, renewable energy, clean money and literary trash.

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