Ask a Clean Person: Stovetops, Used Bike Shorts (Yup!), and Yellowing Sheets

My two dude roommates and I trash the stovetop on the regular and I can get it back to a point where it’s fairly clean but there are these really stubborn scrubbing-resistant parts, mostly around the most-used burner. Any advice? (Besides not letting it get that bad in the first place.)

The bad news is that, judging from the state of my inbox, there is a serious epidemic of gunky stovetops plaguing The Hairpin Nation. The good news is that cleaning stovetops is a pretty easy proposition!

Start with an abrasive like Comet or Bon Ami — wet down the stove, sprinkle the Comet all over the place, and then get after it with a wet sponge. Once you get the cooked on gunk up you may still have some greasy residue, which you can hit with regular old oven cleaner. Just remember to open your windows and wear rubber gloves; oven cleaner is serious stuff.

If you’re opposed to chemical cleaners or are just looking to use up products you’ve got around the house, you can also try sprinkling baking soda all over the whole mess and then spritzing it with white vinegar. You’ll get a fun eruption of foam and hissing, which is always good for a thrill! Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe it up. You may need to do more than one application, depending on how bad things are, but eventually it will cut through the crap.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sprinkle my boss with baking soda and mist her with vinegar.

I bought a pair of used bike shorts at the local Goodwill. Is there anyway to clean them? I want to wear them but am a little grossed about because the previous owner definitely sweated in them!! Any tips would be great!

Putting aside the question of whether one should purchase used sporting wear (mine is not to judge, only to guide and evangelize), the realities of exercise gear crotch-al stench are something that I’m sure most everyone can identify with.

If you don’t mind hand washing and/or the particular garment in need of unstinking is not machine washable (bike shorts most likely fall into that category), let the item soak in a baking soda solution — half a cup of soda to about two quarts of water — for 30 minutes before washing it in cold water using your regular detergent, then allow it to dry flat. If your gear is machine washable, go ahead and add the baking soda right to the laundry along with your detergent. Worth noting: Depending on how crotch-y things have gotten down there, it may take more than one wash to get that not-so-fresh smell out.

We have white sheets, and please don’t judge me, Jolie, but um, I tend to sweat a lot when I sleep. Like, an obscene amount.

Anyway, um, God this is just embarrassing. But I have to ask you: Is there a way to return these sheets — which are now a horrendous shade of dingy yellow if you look closely enough — back to some semblance of gleaming white? They’re so GROSS I can hardly stand it. I wash them all the time. I’ve soaked them in bleach, too, and it didn’t really do much. Is there anything that can be done or am I just going to resign myself to buying an entirely new bedding set before we head off on our European vacation in July because I don’t want our cat-sitter to realize that we’re disgusting?

I would not judge you. I’m too busy imagining the various scenarios by which communicable diseases are being transferred through the purchase of used Lycra.

First thing first: Stop using bleach! Sweat is a protein stain, and as I’m sure none of you will ever forget, protein stains hate bleach.

Now then, I love you for asking this because I’ve been wanting to talk about bluing because it’s the best stuff and also the name! Bluing! It does just what it sounds like it does, it turns things blue! (You’re all looking at me like I’m a crazy person, I know. Who’s gonna be the first to raise her hand and ask me why I’m telling our overheated friend who just wants white sheets, dang it, to dye them blue?) The reason why I’m telling you to dye your yellow-but-once-white sheets blue is that blue and yellow are complementary colors in the subtractive color model of color perception. (I stole that line right out of the Wikipedia, yeah. I’m hardly science-y enough to go on theorizing to you about color perception models.) It’s the same reason why old ladies dye their white hair blue! Blue makes less-than-white things look whiter! And as a big old bonus for the more chemical-averse among us, bluing is totally earth-friendly!

So here’s how you make it work for you: Follow the instructions on your particular brand of bluing — they really do vary from brand to brand; Mrs. Stewart’s, which I use, calls for diluting a few drops in a quart of water and adding it to the rinse cycle, but some other brands call for using it as a presoak so FAIR WARNING READ THE INSTRUCTIONS — and add it to your wash. It will ever-so-slightly tint your whites blue, counteracting any yellowing and making the white appear whiter. As these things go, it might take more than one wash to get things back to where you want them to be but you should have bright white sheets on your bed faster than you can say “bluuuuuuuiiiing.”

Bluing. Literally. God, I love this job.

Previously: Mouse turds, copper pots, and onion smells.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Is anything you own dirty?

Photo via Flickr