Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. Are you dirty? Email her.
I hope you’ll take this as a compliment despite the subject matter, but you are the first and only person I could think of to help with this.
We bought a Roomba about a month ago and have been singing its praises ever since. Well, I found the one loophole this afternoon. The Roomba is scheduled to clean on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, this morning, one of our dogs took a phantom poop in a room we rarely use, and we had no idea. You can probably see where this is going ... around 2:30, I left my upstairs office to discover an oh-so-familiar aroma, but the dogs were at daycare, so I had no idea what could be causing it. Lo and behold, our Roomba has been working away for an hour and a half smearing poop across the floor downstairs.
Thank God for hardwood floors, and the fact that I was working from home and caught the issue when I did. We know how to clean the hardwood—we did train the dogs after all (apparently not well enough, but the point stands). What I’m less sure of is how to go about cleaning/sterilizing the Roomba. From the attached pic, do you think it’s salvageable to where we can trust it to make the house cleaner in the future, or should we cut our losses? The Roomba put up a good battle, but we fear we’re going to have to send him into early retirement since there’s no way he’ll ever truly be “clean” again.
I very much do take this as a compliment! I mean, I never really thought to articulate it in precisely this way, but yeah, I can’t think of any better reason that someone should think of me than when they’re facing a house—and a pricey home-care tool—smeared in shit.
I’m gonna level with you: I don’t think that Roomba will ever be clean again. Deadspin’s own Barry Petchesky said it best: “Oh, that poor Roomba. I feel worse for it than for the guy, which is a weird reaction.” I mean, look at this thing.
I’ll also level with you and say that if the photo hadn’t been attached, I wouldn’t have believed the question was real. Want to hear something else unbelievable? Exactly a week later, another question arrived in my inbox about a Roomba vacuuming a home with dog shit. The universe certainly works in mysterious ways!
This is one of those cases where you have to weigh your interest in saving what is, admittedly, a very expensive item with your willingness to put time and energy toward what will, in all likelihood, be a fool’s errand. I cannot make that choice for you! If I were in charge of making that choice for you, my advice would be to scrap it and get a new one. Actually, my advice would be to scrap it and get a vacuum that isn’t a Roomba. Robot vacuums are undeniably cool, but they’re a dicey proposition when used in homes with accident-prone pets. Also? Don’t they terrify your little friends? I actually worry for your cats. If a damned cucumber can cause irreversible feline psychological damage, imagine what a vacuum-come-t0-life must be doing to them!
But let’s say, for the sake of argument—and because this is a cleaning advice column and not a landfill-advocacy column—that you want to take a stab at saving your poor machine. I admire your fighting spirit! The first thing you need to do is to find instructions on how to fully dismantle the thing. The letter didn’t specify the model in question, but I can at least point you in the direction of some dismantling instructions that may be helpful. Ifixit has photo-illustrated instructions on how to take a Roomba apart for cleaning. There are also a plethora of YouTube videos you can check out; here’s one to get you started on your merry way. They’re oddly mesmerizing?
Once you’ve dismantled your machine, the first thing to do is to wipe away as much of the crap as you can with paper towels (if the doody is entirely dry, you can skip this step). Then use an all-purpose spray, ideally one with disinfecting properties like Clorox Clean-Up, to clean each part. Because you’re working with electrical components, be sure to spray the paper towels with your cleaning solution rather than the machine itself so you don’t flood the parts. A soft-bristled toothbrush or one of those tiny brushes that come with beard trimmers may also be helpful tools for this endeavor. The other really important thing is to let all the parts dry completely before you put the thing back together.
I’ve been saving this question for either my next book or my last Deadspin column, whichever came first. It’s bittersweet to share this news, but the latter happened before the former: This will be my final Ask a Clean Person in this space. I’ll keep this short, because I’m a weeping mess right now, and you know how I feel about messes: You all have been the most extraordinary audience to write for, and I will miss you more than you can imagine. You’ve challenged me to do my best work, you’ve made me laugh, and most importantly, you’ve embraced my weirdness and enthusiasm for cleaning, of all damned things, with a level of passion and respect that I could not have imagined when I showed up at your doorstep nearly three years ago. It has been an honor to serve you.
But there’s good news to go with the bad, and here it is! Ask a Clean Person is moving to Esquire, where I will be a contributor-at-large. My podcast will also continue; if you haven’t already subscribed on Acast or iTunes, please do so!
I hope that many of you will follow me to my new home, and to that end, I want to encourage you to stay in touch. My email address, to which you should send ALL THE QUESTIONS, is email@example.com.
There is also, of course, Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr. And I have a newsletter! Go on and subscribe to it—I turned off the unsubscribe notifications, so I’ll never know if you quit it. Also, I’ve named it Tidyletter, which makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.
I love you guys so much. Thank you for being the best people in the world.
Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume).
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
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