Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.
I am a slightly cleaner person for having followed your advice over the past year or two, but sadly, I don’t think vinegar and baking soda can help me here. (Unless it can?) I debated whether to send this question because it seems kind of silly, but here goes: Do you have a unified theory of dusting?
Earlier this summer, after wrapping up a podcast recording, my guest asked me if there were topics I wouldn’t address in this column. It was a leading question, of course, and what he was looking for was an answer along the lines of, “I won’t talk about how to clean up the mess from a coke-fueled nosebleed.”
Except that you and I both know that I basically live for questions along the lines of, “How do I, um, clean up the mess from a coke-fueled nosebleed.”
With that said, I did have an answer to that question about things I was hesitant to write about! The answer is dust.
Yeah, I know. It’s not a very interesting answer. Which is exactly why dust is the topic I’ve avoided taking on—I was bored just thinking about it, but now I have this little story to tell you, and hopefully you’ve been mildly amused at the notion of me struggling with how to make dust interesting.
There’s also this problem: When I do talk about dusting, here’s what happens:
I know! I go right for the gross-out, which is immature and not terribly helpful. I’m going to do my best to be mature and helpful today.
I suspect that you have a pretty good handle on why dust happens, but a brief word of explanation is appropriate, I should think, so: Dust tends to come into your home from outside, through door and window frames, air-conditioning vents, chimneys, etc. Naturally, if you keep your windows or doors open—even if they’re screened—more dust will get into the home. Within the home, you—and your pets, if you have a dander-producing type of animal—are also responsible for creating dust due to the fact that we are constantly molting.
There is also the matter of your stuff. Your stuff can both produce and encourage the buildup of dust. Clutter—especially in the form of knickknacks, textiles, and paper goods like books, magazines, and newspapers—lends itself to the development of a dusty environment. This isn’t to say that you need to pitch your entire cuckoo clock collection, but doing so sure is going to cut way back on the amount of dust accumulation happening in your home, and will also make the process of dusting so much easier. Running a cloth across an empty surface is a lot less taxing a chore than is removing 67 fancifully carved timekeeping devices from a shelf in order to wipe away the layer of human skin and pollen that has collected thereon.
However! If you absolutely refuse to pare down your cuckoo clock collection, I’ve still got some help for you. But let’s start with the best thing to use for removing dust from clear surfaces.
When it comes to general surface dusting, skip the paper towels or cut-up T-shirts, and get yourself some microfiber cloths. Microfiber is ideal for dusting because it will grab the dust and hold it in its fibers, as opposed to just sort of pushing it around.
Microfiber has a few other fine qualities worthy of mention. It can be used either wet or dry; it does not require the use of any other products like dusting sprays or glass cleaner (more on dusting sprays in a sec); and it’s machine-washable for up to 300 uses, which makes it incredibly economical.
When it comes to laundering your microfiber, use cold water and a low- or no-heat drying cycle, or air-dry the cloths, as heat will melt the fibers. Even more importantly, avoid the use of any kind of fabric softener. I swear this isn’t part of my campaign to eliminate the use of fabric softener (but seriously, fuck fabric softener)—in the case of microfiber, using liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets will destroy the electric charge that makes the cloths so effective on dust. The same goes for bleach. I like the way that Autogeek put it, so I’m biting their style: “No fabric softener, no bleach, no heat—that’s all you have to remember!”
One last thing to know about microfiber before we move along is that it comes in different shapes and sizes for different purposes. Give that page a quick scan: You’ll see microfiber cloths designed for use on glass or stovetops, microfiber mops for deep cleaning, and on and on. Chances are, if you’ve got something in need of dusting, there’s a microfiber cloth for just that purpose.
Feather dusters may seem a touch on the ridiculous side, and in a way they are, in that they evoke a very specific image, for me at least, of Yvette from Clue and her teeny-tiny French maid’s uniform.
And yet! They are incredibly effective for dusting, especially when it comes to regular upkeep of knickknack-laden surfaces. (Remember those cuckoo clocks?) You’ll still have to remove everything from time to time to do a deep cleaning, but for weekly dust removal, those feathers are pretty great. Just be sure to work from the top down, and to vacuum or sweep afterwards. All that dust will travel downwards, and you don’t want to just wind up transferring it from one surface to another.
Also, lest you worry that the use of a feather duster will in some way compromise your masculinity, I want to assure you that it is a tremendously manly tool. Our very own Tim Marchman uses one! If it’s good enough for the EIC of Deadspin.com, it’s good enough for you.
If you’re unsure how you’ll feel about flitting about and dusting your cuckoo clock collection with a bunch of feathers, try it out with an inexpensive synthetic duster, like this $4 number by O-Cedar. Just be aware that you get what you pay for: I had that cheapie version at one point, and its feathers molted. So only bother with it if you aren’t ready to commit to a higher-priced version just yet. If/when you are ready to upgrade, head straight to the Feather Duster Depot, mostly because isn’t it so great that we live in a world in which the Feather Duster Depot is a thing that exists?!?
I mentioned that microfiber cloths come in assorted sizes and styles to address various different jobs, but I also want to touch a bit on even more specialized dusting tools. Chances are, if you’ve got some odd thing in need of dusting, there’s a product designed just for that job. In this, Google will be your friend, because I have an active imagination, but not one so active that I could begin to come up with a list of the things you lot need to dust. I mean, if you want to email me about your collections, by all means do so. I like learning about you delightful weirdos!
With that said, I want to make you aware of a company called Casabella, purveyor of all manner of speciality dusting and general cleaning tools. Two specific tools I want to highlight are the Vent Brush and the Window Blind Glove, in part because I get questions about vent- and blind-cleaning fairly often, and also because they’re so very, very specific and sort of hilarious, and I’d feel bad if I didn’t share my knowledge of their existence with you.
The Pillowcase Method For Cleaning Ceiling Fans
Here’s a fun one. If you have ceiling fans in your home, you know how absolutely filthy the blades get ... but perhaps you don’t know the secret to cleaning them. So I’m going to tell you the secret now: Grab an old pillowcase that you can decommission, spray the interior with a small amount of a dusting spray like Endust or Pledge, slide the case over a blade, clamp your hands around the opening of the case, and pull back. The dust will be wiped free from the blade and will be contained inside the pillowcase, instead of causing a dust shower in your living room. Interested in seeing real life “before” and “after” photos of a fan cleaned using this method? Step this way, please!
A Word On Dusting Sprays
Look. If you’re a person who feels a deep attachment to products like Pledge or Endust, I’m not here to take them away from you. But I do want you to be aware that Pledge, in particular, contains silicone, which can lead to a sort of gooey buildup over time (as one reader discovered the hard way), and also can be damaging to books and keepsakes like photographs. So you may want to ditch the Pledge in favor of a dusting spray or furniture cleaner that doesn’t contain silicone.
Or maybe you don’t care! That is also fine. I used Pledge for many years without incident. But also, you don’t really need those kinds of products, and streamlining your supplies is a great way to save space, time, and money when it comes to cleaning. I don’t take a hard line with dusting sprays in the way that I do with fabric softener, but if you’re not already a devotee of the stuff, don’t bother with it.
Other dusting questions? Ask away!
Jolie Kerr is Deadspin’s resident cleaning expert and the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume). Follow her on Twitter, or email her: email@example.com.
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