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How To Conquer Sticky Spills With Patience (Or None At All)

Illustration for article titled How To Conquer Sticky Spills With Patience (Or None At All)

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.

So I have an odd problem I'm hoping you can help me solve. I opened a cabinet in my kitchen to find a (too) old can of peaches in heavy syrup had somehow leaked and poured the syrup onto the wood base of the cabinet. I threw away the icky can, but the residue remains. How can I get this sticky and now partially hardened sugary goo removed before ants attack? Help!


This question is great for so many reasons, but here's the main one: I have basically no bad news to give you today! (I'm so excited about this that I'm not even going to gently nag you about cleaning out your pantry from time to time, in part to dispose of any and all expired canned goods.) Longtime readers are likely familiar with the good news/bad news construct that I trot out basically all the time, and are probably also aware that having to give bad news makes me want to die. I want to give you puppies and roses all the livelong day! But I live here in the real world with the rest of you, and sometimes I have to tell you things that I'd rather not. But not today! [WILD CHEERING.]

The first bit of good news is this: Your problem isn't even that odd. Sticky leaks and spills and, to a lesser extent, oozing canned goods are exceedingly common. Which is one of the reasons I pulled this question: The solution to your canned-peaches conundrum is also the trick to removing sticky patches caused by ...

  • Honey, molasses, corn syrup, etc.
  • Sugar that has hardened or gone sticky
  • Egg-whites splatters that have dried
  • Solidified fruit juice or tonic
  • Vegetable-rot ooze

There are loads more examples, but this is a good enough overview for you to get the idea, and also for you to remember that the cleaning method can be used not only to remove spills from cabinets, but also from countertops, refrigerator interiors, and/or floors.

The next bit of good news: All you need is a rag or sponge and hot water. Oh! And patience. You'll need a touch of that as well. No other products are required. (Those of you who lack patience should hang tight for just one sec—yes, no, I know that's not your strong suit, sorry!—because I've got good news for you, too.) (Those of you who lack patience are not reading this column anyway.)

What you'll do is this: Soak the rag or sponge in very hot water, as hot as you can handle. If you have very sensitive hands, do feel free to wear a pair of protective gloves. Moving quickly, wring the rag or sponge out thoroughly and apply it to the sticky area, pressing down with a firm hand. Allow the compress to remain on the spill until you feel it losing its heat, then rinse the rag, re-wet it with very hot water, wring it out, and repeat. Depending on the nature and size of the spill, you may have to repeat the process quite a few times, which is where the patience comes in.


Which brings us nicely to those of you who utterly lack patience! (You've already wandered off. It's okay, I don't even really mind talking to myself.) If the hot-water-and-persistence thing sounds too ghastly for words, products like Goo Gone, Goof Off, and WD-40 will make much shorter work of cleaning up a sticky spill. Just be sure to test that they'll be safe to use on the befouled material you're working with; wood is probably going to be fine, plastic much less so. You've been warned! Though of course it doesn't matter, since you haven't read any of this anyway.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume); more of her cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found onTwitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.


Image by Sam Woolley.

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