Ask a Clean Person: Get Rid of Your Coworkers, Seriously, They Are Revolting

There’s a whiteboard at work that’s been written on to no end, and even after it gets erased, it’s all gray, smudgy, and gross. I want to make it white and easy to erase again without buying a new one — any advice? I’ve tried the old ‘color over it with marker, wait 5 minutes, erase’ trick (which works wonders on permanent marker, believe me), but it’s just not cutting it for this old grime.

Separate but related note — are you supposed to clean dry erase erasers? How? When mine hit a clean(ish) spot on the board, they make it all smudgy again, which I’m sure is contributing to the problem.

❤ u, Beachie, but you’re probably not the answer this time — and I’m afraid to experiment and find out lest I make the whole thing worse.

On the day when we remember the world’s worst co-worker, Marcus Junius Brutus, it seems only fitting to tackle the subject of the office and the filth created by those with whom we’re forced to share working space.

As payback for fielding months of emails from him asking, “How do I keep this #;%#&@! office clean??” I consulted Noted (Former) Office Manager Tyler Coates for his thoughts on the care and cleaning of whiteboards, and here’s what he had to say.

Eventually, after a lot of use, you’re going to find yourself with a disgusting whiteboard. At my old office, where I was Office Manager for an excruciating eight months (I don’t share Jolie’s fondness for teaching adults how to clean up after themselves, but I was also too passive to explain to my officemates that we were not going to leave coffee residue and crumbs on the kitchen counter for the underpaid cleaning lady to pick up for us, either! And, Christ, we HAVE A DISHWASHER, JUST PUT THE PLATES IN THERE), my days consisted of a lot of work like “erasing the white boards,” which, unfortunately, went unwiped for days, leaving them stained with nonsense computer code and, on occasion, caricatures of the poor, unappreciated office manager. I should also specify that we had walls painted with “whiteboard” paint. I would like to go on record as being vehemently against whiteboard paint. Not only is it insanely expensive, it also looks terrible. You know how normal whiteboards have that lovely sheen and smooth surface? Well, whiteboard-painted walls are bumpy and have a matte finish, and you also run the risk of writing on an adjacent wall that is not painted with whiteboard paint, which is not something I have done but is definitely something I had to rectify as an office manager.

It was difficult to keep the whiteboard clean, especially if notes are kept on it for days. The best suggestion I can offer is this: clean it off as soon as you use it. Maybe write down those notes instead? I think that one of the first rules of being a clean(er) person (not to usurp your role here, Jolie) is to set up a routine and keep in the practice of being not-disgusting. Wiping down your whiteboard is a pretty easy task, when you think of it! If you must keep your notes up for days, I recommend buying a whiteboard-specific felt eraser and some cleaning spray from your local office supply store. And for those truly difficult stains, you can’t go wrong with a Magic Eraser (which is also useful if, hypothetically, someone in your office writes on a wall under the assumption that every wall is painted with whiteboard paint).

Now then, it seems that while there are many, many whiteboard cleaning products out there, Expo is the brand that people swear by.

In terms of getting your erasers clean, there are a couple of options for you to consider:

(1) Wash them with soap and water, and let them air dry. This works best for people who have more than one eraser in their rotation, so that they can use one while the other dries out. Alternately, you can wash them on Fridays and let them dry over the weekend so they’re nice and clean come Monday.
(2) Instead of a traditional dry eraser, you can use microfiber cloths or old t-shirts/socks/towels/what-have-you and launder them regularly.
(3) Buy these badass dry erasers with peel-off layers. How fun! Just peel ’em and toss ‘em!

I inherited an office chair when I started my new job. Unfortunately, it was victim to a few spills from the last occupant. Is there any way I can clean this? It’s your standard gray fabric office chair. I’m contemplating recovering it but wanted to know if there was a cleaning agent I could try first. It’s a small company and I don’t want to seem needy by asking for a new chair if there’s something I can do about it.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to give the chair a thorough going-over with a lint roller — or use one of my favorite office supply tricks and take a FedEx pouch to the chair! Once the chair is free of lint and hair and crumbs and God only knows what else, you can use an upholstery cleaner (or even a carpet cleaner like Resolve) to spot treat any stains. Woolite makes a Fabric & Upholstery Cleaner that I like for this use because the canister comes with a brush attachment, which means that you won’t have to bring in your own cleaning tools, and also because it will only run you about five dollars. There are plenty of other similar products out there — generally what you want is something with the keywords “foam upholstery cleaner.” Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on proper use of whichever product you go with and your chair should be cleaned up in no time at all!

I’m sitting at work totally grossed out by my hand rest thingamabob. I’ve had it for a couple years and since I’m terrible about eating at my desk, it has accumulated all sorts of crumbs and mystery stains. Is there a way to clean it or should I just get a new one? Also, any tips on cleaning my keyboard, cleaning my mouse, and all-around office cleanliness would be greatly appreciated!

Handrests, as well as your mouse and desk surfaces, can all be cleaned up with wipes. Mrs. Meyer’s makes lovely smelling ones (I have a package of them stashed in my desk drawer) if you want to get fancy about things, but there are lots of other similar products available. For office use, I also really like the Lysol Dual Action Disinfecting Wipes, which have a smooth side and a sort of scrubbily side that can be used to get at anything that might be stuck on the surface of your desk, like food spills or, I dunno, glue? Are people still using glue products? I like to imagine so. Let’s all just play make believe about the glue. Also! It comes in a Fresh Linen scent, which means that you can dream of your perfectly made bed (right? RIGHT??) while you’re trapped at your desk.

For the keyboard, you’ll need to get your paws on some gas duster, otherwise known as canned air. Canned air! What a delight! Oh and there are more delights to come! Canned air comes with a wee little straw taped to the side that you’ll sort of shimmy out of its tape prison and insert into the nozzle. Don’t peel off the tape though! You’ll need to return the straw to its sticky overlord when you’re done. Once the straw is inserted into the nozzle, point it at your keyboard and press down on the lever to expel the air and prepare to be GROSSED OUT over the amount of crumbs and dust and glitter — glitter?? How the heck did glitter get up in that bitch??? — that comes shooting out of it.

Two notes about using canned air: (1) always clean the keyboard before anything else on or around your desk, because duh, you’re shooting dirt (and glitter) all over the place. (2) Never get any of your body parts in the line of fire, because canned air is very cold and you could get frostbite. Also be careful when handling the can during and after use, as it too will be almost painfully cold.

Canned air also works wonders on those Tory Burch Reva flats with the medallions that gather dust in the cut-outs. Not that I would have any experience with a thing like that, oh no, not this gal.

I’m pretty sure my workplace is disgusting and my boss is cheap, so our cleaning service mostly just empties the trashcans and maybe vacuums. I’d also note that we’re a small office and there’s not a good sick day policy, so when one of us gets sick, we pass it around like wildfire for weeks. I don’t even use the kitchen, you don’t even want to know about our microwave. I keep some Lysol wipes in my desk for wiping down my keyboard, phone, etc. but what else can I do to combat workplace grossness without too much time or investment? We have one of those water cooler things — how often should I take my coffee mug and water bottle home to sanitize in my dishwasher, and what do I do on a day by day basis with them? How and when do I disinfect the elevator and lobby door handles? Can I hand out mandatory face masks to the sick people when the walk in the door in the morning? Just kidding. Kinda.

Well no, unfortunately you can’t hand out masks. But there are some things you can do, in addition to using those Lysol wipes, to help stave off germs. First things first — you should wash your mug/drinking glass every day. I assume that if you have a microwave and a water cooler, there’s some kind of kitchen situation going on in which there’s also a sink? Use that. Buy some dishsoap and gift it to the office. Then at the end of the week, take the items home for a spin through the dishwasher.

In terms of the common areas, like elevator banks and door handles, if you’re really serious about keeping them clean, go ahead and pick up a UVC handheld sanitizing wand. I like this one because it’s (a) inexpensive and (b) small enough to fit in a purse or tote bag, which makes it convenient for dragging to and fro the office. And if you’re Elle Woods it will be nice for you to know that a similar version comes in pink! Just understand that you’ll forever be known as the weird lady with the germophobe wand, okay?

Previously: An Indelicate Question — How Are You Doing It Every 28 Days or So?

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! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?