Ask a Clean Person: Holiday Disasters 2012

Happy just-about-holidays, everyone! Here we are, facing another holiday season full of potential cleaning disasters. But this year we’re getting a jump on things so you can be PREPARED. In the spirit of preparation, a festive reminder for you that topics covered last year included Menorah wax, massive butter spills in the kitchen, frosting on fabric, pine sap on everything, stains on ties, and barf on green corduroy party shorts.

Here’s to hoping your green party shorts remain barf-free this holiday season!

1. This is a sort of MacGyver question. The holidays are loaded with unexpected visitors — here’s a scenario: You’re at home. Someone calls and says, “I want to drop off a gift.” You have five minutes before they get there. Which parts of your home do you clean for maximum immediate effect and in what order?

Entryway, bathroom, living room.


Okay okay fine, you caught me, I’ll give you a little more than that.

Given that everyone’s home is different, you’re going to need to take some poetic license with the first and last items on my list. ‘Entryway’ translates loosely into ‘the first thing people will see when they come into your den of iniquity.’ The important thing to know here is that nothing you’ve got littering this space need actually be put in its proper location, it just needs to be put somewhere where your unexpected guest won’t see it. So: grab any kind of receptacle — a shopping bag, giant rubber laundry bin, trash bag, WHATEVER — and throw everything in it, mail, mittens, small children, everything that’s gotten loose and is making a mess of things. Then put that receptacle in a place your guest won’t go. Your bedroom is not a bad place for this.

The same thing goes for the living room, or whatever space in your home is where you do your entertaining. For some people it’s the kitchen, for some it’s the the front parlor, for others the basement rec room. (To those of you with a basement rec room: I’m seething with jealousy. Does it have a nubbly plaid sectional couch? Can I come over? Will your mom make pizza bagels? Yes? BESTIES 4EVA.) The basic idea is to move as much clutter as you can out of sight. A good speedclean might might include cleaning tabletops of clutter, or at least straightening up piles of magazines, books, remotes, etc., picking up anything off the floors (shoes, socks, legos, sex toys … I don’t know, you tell me what’s on your floors. Actually, maybe don’t do that. It might end better for all of us), fluffing cushions and pillows, straightening throw blankets, turning off the MMA contest that’s blaring on your television.

As for the bathroom, it is a truism that every unexpected guest will ask to use the bathroom. Just like with the entryway and the living room, you’re aiming for a purely cosmetic clean up. Pull the shower curtain fully shut. Grab a paper towel and some all-purpose cleaner, spray the toilet seat and under the lid, remove everything from the sink area (throw it in the tub! You’ve shut the shower curtain! They’ll never know! Unless you have a clear shower curtain or glass shower doors in which case, sorry?) and spray that down too. Then wipe the all-purpose cleaner up with your paper towels. Give the toilet bowl a quick pass with the toilet brush. Straighten the towels. Curse your unexpected guests.

2. Cookie sheets, muffin tins, roasting pans. Maybe after a few too many eggnogs and spiked hot chocolates, I forget to clean and soak them right away, and that horrible burnt on black stuff remains. Or outlines of cookies past. I’ve tried the vinegar and baking soda soak, but nothing gets rid of it. Any suggestions other than just tossing them?

Well wait just one second, missy. You can’t try one thing and announce that “nothing” works, you goose!

First things first, it’s never too late for a restorative soaking. Well. I suppose there probably does come a point at which soaking isn’t going to help matters, but I don’t think day-after is that point. Hot hot water, a splurt of good dish soap, a trashy magazine … ingredients for a perfect bubble bath. After an hour or so of soaking — during which time you should have some coffee, maybe a shower, indulge in some light flogging for the sins you undoubtedly committed the night before — give the dishes a good scrubbing and see where things stand.

If there’s still a lot of cooked-on mess, sprinkle baking soda all over the bottom of the befouled item and pour boiling water over it. Not hot water. Boiling water. Let it sit in the sink until the water is cool enough for you to handle (even with dish gloves on the boiling water will be too much, so do let it cool a bit). before washing with hot soapy water. The stuck-on stuff should slide right off.

Some other things to mention, that you might want to add to your holiday grocery shopping list so you have them on hand before you need them, are soap-impregnated steel wool pads, such as Brillo or S.O.S, and Dobie pads, which are sponges covered in netting made of some mysterious 3M substance that won’t scratch Teflon and other delicate cookware. You also might want to pick up a tube of a gentle abrasive cleanser like Bon Ami, which will help matters greatly when it comes time to tackle stuck-on foodstuffs.

And finally, a new product has just come to my attention and now I’m sort of mad I’m not hosting Thanksgiving this year and therefore will not have pots and pans to clean up because you guys, you guys, you guys!! SCRUBBING BUBBLES HAS A NEW FOAMING KITCHEN CLEANER OUT. And Good Housekeeping gives it the thumbs up for pots and pans and such! This is very exciting news for the Clean Person industry!

3. I throw a holiday party with close friends. We eat a big dinner, drink lots of wine, and exchange gifts. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, and I can’t resist breaking out the nicest linens we own — which means they’re in serious danger. They’re antique white; you know someone always brings red wine to a dinner party. If we’re overcome with the holiday spirit and the red wine spills, is there any way to save the tablecloth?

Oh there sure is! This is one of my favorite little Clean Person tips, and it comes from my mother, which makes it even better. Cascade. Yes, the dishwasher detergent! (This is actually a caterers’ trick and my mother actually marched up to a caterer at some event or another and inquired as to how they kept their white jackets and linens so clean. Like mother, like daughter.)

Now then, it must be the powdered kind. And what you’ll do is to mix it into a large body of warm to hot water so that it dissolves completely; there’s a bit of bleach in Cascade which, once dissolved, is going to get your linens back to bright, bright white. While your detergent is dissolving, spray the blemished area with your favorite stain treatment. OxiClean, Resolve (which is the new name for the old Spray ‘n Wash), Shout, Zout, etc. all make good products. Then put your soiled linens into the Cascade solution, let it soak for 30 minutes up to two hours before rinsing well and allowing to dry.

Of course, if you catch the stain right when it happens you can use the old table salt trick, which is to pour a huge heaping pile of salt on the spill and wait for it to suck up all the wine like the salty old alcoholic it is.

4. I love using candles at holidays; it doesn’t feel like a celebration without a tall taper, y’know? But how do I get wax drippings, both the wax and the color it leaves behind, out of tablecloths?

Oh I do know! And I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you take the time to set your holiday table in a special way; it’s a thing that’s losing favor, which is understandable but also sort of a shame. It’s nice to sit down to dinner at a well set table, I think!

Right so! When you’re dealing with melted wax on launderable items, you need to take a two-pronged approach — first get the wax up, then treat the stain.

Given the nature of the item in question, the best way to remove the wax is to use the either the ice trick or the brown paper sack/iron trick we talked about waaaaay back in September 2011. A wee recap of the technique, yes? Yes!

The ice route is probably easiest, given that you likely have ice nearer to the table than do you an iron. So: Grab an ice cube, hold it on the wax, the wax will freeze and you can pop it right off the fabric. If you want to use the bag technique, you’ll need an iron and a few brown paper sacks like the ones you get at grocery stores that still offer brown paper sacks and also MISS U SO MUCH WIDESPREAD USE OF BROWN PAPER SACKS. Turn the iron on low and allow it to heat through. Then tear or cut your brown paper bags into individual sheets. Lay a sheet of brown paper over the wax and apply the iron to the paper. Hold the iron there, watching to be sure that the paper doesn’t start burning. When one piece of paper is saturated with wax, switch in another and keep doing so until you can no longer pull any wax out of the fabric.

Once the wax is gone, go ahead and launder the tablecloth in the same manner as our friend with the wine stains upcolumn.

5. This might be more of a botany question, but still: dear god, PINE NEEDLES. How do you get your tree to stop shedding and/or how do you avoid getting pine needles all over everything without having to vacuum daily? Is that even possible?

The pine needles are a bitch, aren’t they? I don’t think there’s anything that can be done other than keeping the tree well-watered, which will keep the needles from falling out as fast.

In terms of clean up, this is a place where a handheld vac will really shine. It makes doing regular pine needle picking upping much more manageable. You could even move it into the room where you tree is residing and sort of tuck it away so it’s handy. If you don’t have a handheld, opt for the hose attachment on your regular vacuum, which will help to keep the needles from accumulating at the base of the machine. If you don’t have a vacuum at all you really have no business having a fresh tree can make a DIY lint roller of sorts by wrapping some duct tape around your hand and using it to pick up the stray needles.

That’s really all I’ve got for you, so I’m going to throw this one out to the crowd — any of you have any pine needle-cleaning tips you’d like to share with the class?

Previously: Holiday Disasters 2011.

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?