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'm the house manager for an unnamed fraternity at an unnamed university in Ohio. (Not Ohio State. God, I hate Ohio State.) We have a dearth of cleaning supplies for our house, and I was wondering, what with the admittedly slim amount of money that I have under my purview: What cleaning supplies should I get so that we can handle most kinds of messes?
Somewhat related: Most of my brothers are rather clueless when it comes to getting stains out of their clothes. Having read your articles, I understand that there's different things to do for different stains—protein stains, oil stains, etc.—but even I'm fuzzy on the exact details sometimes. Would it be possible for you to write up a guide to removing most stains so that I can distribute it to them, or should I just link them to the Squalor Archive for them to peruse as needed? (I totally understand that this is me trying to foist work upon you, but I'm a busy college student with no shame. Well, some shame. But still. If the answer's just "link them to the Squalor Archive," I'll totally get it.)
The best thing about Brother Clean Person's note is how he played right into my ego by mentioning the Squalor Archive. What a wicked smartie. Now, of course, I'm going to give him the stain-removal guide he requested, because I'm a sucker for people who indicate that they've listened to even a tiny bit of what I say.
But first, let's talk basic cleaning products. It is, of course, hard to tell you exactly what products to buy, because I don't know exactly what your house entails. But I was in a sorority (of course I was, hi and hello) (I was the Pledge Mom) (none of this surprises you in the least) and spent a goodly amount of time in frat houses, because I was a Good-Time Girl. Going on my hazy, hazy memories of that grand time in my life, here are the common problems I'm guessing you're having:
- Sticky floors
- Trash everywhere
- Broken/disrepaired items strewn about
- Revolting bathroom situations
- Boy smell
Does that sound about right? I think it probably sounds about right.
So look, I don't know if this is compliant, but if hazing restrictions allow for it, maybe you can put your pledges on regular trash and repair duty. Keeping the trash situation under some semblance of control is going to go a huge way toward solving other problems common to spaces shared by students. Which brings us nicely to some products you should consider keeping on hand:
Shop-Vac: The great thing about Shop-Vacs is that you can find relatively effective models that will run you under $100. They're also pretty sturdy, which means they can stand up to being banged around a bit more than upright models. Shop-Vacs can also handle both wet and dry jobs, which will come in handy in a frat house, where spills are common.
Dish soap: Well, you've got to wash your dishes! But dish soap can also be diluted with water and used as a mopping solution for sticky wood and tile floors. It can also serve as a stain-remover for upholstered furniture (couches, say) and carpeting.
White vinegar: I've got a gallon jug of white vinegar in my home that cost me $1.99. Stuff is cheappppp. And it does a lot, including and especially serving as an odor-neutralizer. It's also the stuff you'll use to clean glass, scrub the fridge, and clear a drain (when combined with baking soda). Speaking of cleaning a fridge! Should you find yourself needing to do that, maybe because a beer bottle exploded in the freezer or some such, here's some help for you.
Heavy-duty trash bags: For leak control, basically.
WD-40: This is one of my wild-card items, but man, WD-40 is such great stuff that I had to toss it on my list. There are literally thousands of uses for WD-40, including things like removing sticky residue from walls and floors, and getting glue off of clothing and other fabrics.
Foaming bathroom cleaner: I talk allllll the time about my love of Scrubbing Bubbles, and there's a good reason for that: It just makes cleaning a bathroom so easy. To use, spray the product all over the shower, sink, and toilet, and let it do most of the work for you. After a few minutes (longer for more heavily soiled surfaces), wipe the Bubbles away and you're done. Easy as could be. I should note that the more regularly you clean, the easier the cleaning will be.
Mildew remover: There are a lot of mildew-removing products, like Tilex, but for my money (and yours), the one I like best is X-14, and here's why: Much like my beloved Scrubbing Bubbles, it does most of the work for you. Spray it on mildewed and moldy areas in the bathroom, and walk away. Maybe open a window? It kind of stinks. But that's really all you have to do, other than to remember at some point to head back into the bathroom with a sponge to wipe the X-14 residue away.
Boric acid: If you do find that the house develops a bug infestation, boric acid is a pest-control product you'll want to remember exists. Roach sprays and suchlike also work, and are easily found—really, the biggest thing about bug infestations is to get on them right as they develop so they don't spiral out of control. If you find that the house develops a fruit fly problem, make a few traps using a small piece of fruit combined with water and a small amount of dish soap to lure the winged scourge to a watery grave. The fruit (or wine or beer or cider vinegar, etc.) will lure the flies, while the soap will coat their wings, leaving them unable to fly out to safety, whereupon they will drown.
This has taken a dark turn.
Nature's Miracle: I included Nature's Miracle not so I could make an Animal House joke, because that would be too easy and also far too trite. Rather, it's on this list in case there are incontinence issues among your brethren. That's a nice way to suggest that some of your pals might be wetting the bed (or the couches, I suppose). Look, it happens! And if it does, Nature's Miracle works really well to remove smells and stains associated with that sort of accident.
This next part is actually something I want to break out into a more comprehensive post of its own, so please tell me in the comments what types of stains you'd like to see covered in addition to the ones I've identified here. Please and thank you! For the time being, here's a pretty simple list that should tide you over.
Food: If you can get to it right away, the best way to treat a food (or beer, let's be honest) stain is to hit it with a small amount of dish soap applied to a damp sponge. You might need to do a few passes, and if it doesn't come completely out, treat it with a stain remover like Shout before laundering.
Grease: Dish soap should also be your go-to for grease stains. It makes some sense: The stuff is designed to cut grease on your cookware, and will also often do exactly that when it comes to fabrics. If you find you need something more heavy duty, either Lestoil or Pine Sol can be dabbed on the stains before laundering.
Ink: Rubbing alcohol is The Thing for ink stains, as are any products that have it in their ingredients list. Hairspray and hand sanitizer are two common products that can be used to remove an ink stain. If you're an ink-free sort, that same rubbing alcohol can be used to clean your phones, tablets, and laptops.
Vomit: We talked about removing pee from mattresses and such, and you mentioned protein stains in your question—both urine and vomit, as well as sweat and blood, fall into the protein-stain category. My general rule of thumb for remembering this is, "If it comes out of you, it's probably a protein stain." And protein stains should always be treated with an enzymatic cleaner (like Nature's Miracle or Zout) or oxygenated bleach (like OxiClean), never with chlorine bleach.
Blood: There are tons of ways to remove blood stains, including using your own saliva. And what could be more fun that that? If you can remember only one thing, remember hydrogen peroxide.
Sweat: Look, I have written literally thousands of words on pit stains, so here, read them. TL;DR? Oxygenated bleach.
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 on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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