Cleaning Tips

I love reading about how to clean things around the house. I could spend hours reading instructions for the correct way to vacuum lampshades, suggestions for cleaning solutions for hardwood floors, and tips for how to clean baseboards. I’ve read books like “Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook,” and “Home Comforts” from cover to cover, both books about how to clean, disinfect, and maintain home furnishings and finishes. Magazines like Real Simple are a joy to my heart, because they do comparison tests of cleaning products and supplies, and write up detailed explanations of their methods and findings.

Part of it is that they make it so appealing. They make new brooms and cleaning cloths as sexy as a new sports car, and their descriptions of cleaning methods are so soothing; they sound so orderly and efficient. The process of mopping the kitchen floor sounds as graceful and effortless as the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. They use phrases like “a few drops of liquid castile soap” and “a little squirt of dishwashing detergent.” They talk about gently buffing, lightly rubbing, swishing.

Just like articles on parenting that make diffusing a raging tantrum sound like picking daisies (“Simply repeat, ‘I understand you are disappointed. This is my decision. When you calm down, we can get on with our day.’” Because, yeah, that’s exactly what I say. I’ve never shouted at the top of my lungs, “YOU CAN JUST STOP YELLING BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT GETTING IT AND IF YOU KEEP THIS UP, I’M GOING TO SELL YOUR WHINY LITTLE ASS TO THE GYPSIES!!”), cleaning articles make keeping the house clean sound so simple. Stash containers of wipes in each room, they suggest.  Every now and then, you can use one to wipe down the doorknobs and switch plates. It sounds so logical.

My obsession with cleaning products and tools is only slightly less than my obsession with office supplies (which could be charitably described as “boundless”). Those little parenthetical comments about suggested products after cleaning instructions (e.g. “[Such and such brand cleaning product], $3 for a pack of 50, Target”) are as tempting and dangerous to me as the siren’s song was to Homer. They call to me to seek them out, to purchase them, to stash them under my sink (because let’s be realistic, shall we?).

They offer instructions for cleaning things that I would never in a million years think to clean (and probably never in a million years bother to clean). Sliding-door tracks, the refrigerator coils, the vacuum cleaner. In twenty plus years of keeping my own house, it has never occurred to me to clean the vacuum cleaner. I pay a little attention to the bristles on the attachment when I’m done vacuuming, but wiping down the canister with a damp cloth? I’m about as likely to do that as I am to invite my children to make glitter and glue collages on the dining room rug.

The truth is that reading about all this stuff is far more appealing than actually doing it. Oh, I’ll do something now and then—make vinegar “ice cubes” and occasionally toss one into the garbage disposal and grind it up, but that requires so little in the way of effort. The only things I have to do are pour vinegar, and toss the frozen cubes down the drain. The freezer and the garbage disposal do the majority of the work. (If you do this, maybe label the Ziplock bag they’re in so your husband doesn’t use them as actual ice cubes in his iced tea. He will not thank you for your efforts at keeping the drains fresh. Not that this happened to me or anything.) When it comes to using that rubbing alcohol-water-dish soap concoction to actually clean anything, I am a failure. I buy the products, make the mixtures, and they sit quietly on a shelf, sad and forgotten.

But surely, I can hear you say, you clean your house. So wouldn’t you use those things? In theory, yes, but my mental image of the cleaning that these books and magazines talks about is intense, dedicated cleaning. My cleaning consists more of either forcing my children to pick up the dog toys and vacuum the various rooms, or seeing something that’s so repulsively filthy that even I can’t bear it anymore and cleaning it (like the baseboards, or the windowsills). In my fantasy world, I devote an hour or two to cleaning the house every day, using these ecologically responsible, non-toxic cleaning solutions. I swish, rub, and buff. I wear an apron to keep my housedress clean.

In reality the only thing I would use an apron for is to help me work the cork out of the fucking wine bottle.

Every now and then, I’ll get a free weekend and go on a marathon cleaning spree, and then I remember--I actually hate cleaning. This past weekend was just such a weekend. I spent two and a half hours cleaning out the refrigerator. Two and a half fucking hours. It progressed from being no big deal to being completely disgusting. The top shelf or two—no big deal. Toss some stuff that was expired, pop out the shelves, wipe them down. Then I got to the cheese keeper drawer, and that son of a bitch  has to be completely emptied to even be removed. The vegetable drawers were just repulsive (when you can’t tell if it was celery or scallions, I think it’s safe to say it’s been in there too long).

Probably the fact that I can never remember how to take the pieces apart when I’m cleaning it is an indication that I don’t do it often enough (combined with how nasty the vegetable crisper drawers were). But here’s the thing: I swear to god the people who design refrigerators (and toilets) don’t have to fucking clean them. If they did, they wouldn’t make them so hard to take apart, and have so many little crevices out of which dust and crud need to be wiped.

After I finished with the refrigerator, I was pretty well spent, but I decided to do a bit more. Can anyone explain to me just how filth gets into the space between the drawer and the piece of cabinet under it? Like, when the drawer is pushed in, and you look at the ledge immediately below it, in my kitchen it’s caked with crud. How the hell does that happen? And speaking of gathering dirt, here’s a word of advice if you’re planning on remodeling a kitchen, contemplating an island, and thinking of having it have shelving. Put fucking doors on the shelves. Even if they’re just simple glass ones. I do my prep standing at my island, and the amount of just downright disgusting shit that collects in the shelves under my island is mind boggling. And soul-killing. Because the amount of time it would take to remove all the cookbooks, magazines, and small appliances that live on them, wipe them out, and return all that stuff is probably another two and a half hour task. So, you’re welcome. Please benefit from my suffering.

The worst thing about the whole process was that every chore led to another one – as I cleaned out the fridge, I had to empty the trash to get rid of the stuff that I was throwing out. When I took out the trash bag out, I realized the inside of the trash can needed to be rinsed out. As I went outside to hose out the trash can, it occurred to me that the flowers needed to be watered and deadheaded. When I walked back in the front door I realized the door was filthy and should be wiped down. It sucks when you’re ADD and OCD. I finally stopped trying to do things and just started a list.

I wish I was the sort of person who had two hours every day to apply all the wonderful cleaning ideas I read (which is to say, I wish I was independently wealthy. That's it--next time I'm marrying for money). I wish I was the kind of person who cleaned her vacuum cleaner. I wish I was the sort of person with a container of wipes in every room, and that I wiped down my doorknobs regularly. I am none of these things. Instead I am the sort of person with one container of dried out cleaning wipes under the sink in the kitchen who walks around thinking about how disgusting sticky doorknobs are.


Sarah (est. 1975) said...



Tracy said...

Yeah, I don't believe I've ever cleaned the refrigerator coils...

bidetsprayerman said...

A great aid in cleaning the most challenging bathroom area = the toilet is the Hand Bidet Sprayer. Made for cleaning yourself first and foremost it also makes cleaning the toilet a breeze by providing a powerful water spray you can direct under the rim and everywhere. See

Unknown said...

I think you need to stop reading those magazines. Who the eff cleans the vacuum cleaner?

Tracy said...

Well, not me, that's for damn sure. But I love reading about it.

Monique Fletcher said...

Reading articles about cleaning is certainly helpful. It can make cleaning chores more exciting and enjoyable. Though sometimes, thinking where to begin seems to be difficult, and lead to procrastination. Haha! Well, regardless if a person hates cleaning, it’s undeniably a necessity. I can feel how anxious you are to learn more things about cleaning, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine given your eagerness to accomplish the task. Well, it’s a pleasure reading your post, Tracey! All the best!

Monique Fletcher @ SafeClean Hillingdon

Tracy said...

Thank you, Monique! I actually love the results of cleaning--having a clean, tidy, pretty house--it's just the effort of cleaning that makes me tired. :) Thanks for reading!