Jolie Kerr has been telling people how to clean up their disgusting messes for the past five years in a column called Ask a Clean Person. I stumbled across her advice in a recent issue of Lenny, the weekly newsletter from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner; don’t be fooled by the celebrity email newsletter—nothing like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, it actually contains amazing writing and interviews and stories.
Kerr’s column spawned a book titled My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag… and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha which is just as irreverent and funny as it sounds. Cleaning nerds who love a pinch of snark and fun should rush right out and acquire a copy by whatever means necessary (I found it at the library). It covers everything from getting bong water out of the carpet to how to clean your sex toys.
Overall it has a super-upbeat tone, lots of helpful charts on what tools and products to use in various situations. I found it a bit heavy on the chipper-ness, perhaps a bit bloated with enthusiastic words, but her notes on cleaning are spot on. She continues to beat the drum (rightfully so) of cautioning you not to mix bleach with ammonia (toxic gas ensues!), and admonishes you to use proper gloves and safety equipment and ventilation if you use the conventional cleaning supplies that she loves.
She starts by outlining the various types of cleaning you should wreak on your kitchen: the daily clean, the hard clean, and the full monty hard clean. Daily you should be doing the maintenance on your space so that it doesn’t appear that you live in a pig sty, like washing your dishes, putting away food, throwing garbage away, mopping up spills immediately. For the hard clean, she suggests tackling things you need to do once a month, like wiping down cabinets, cleaning walls and backsplashes, countertops, appliances, then the floor. The sink comes at the end so you can continue to dump the disgusting dirty water that you’re creating while cleaning the rest of the kitchen.
The kitchen chapter is filled with tips for every imaginable situation, from defrosting your freezer to using common food items to solve cleaning situations (tabasco can clean copper! And use olive oil to revitalize your dried up cutting board!). The full monty clean has you pulling out everything in your cabinets, tossing, cleaning, organizing. She channels Marie Kondo, saying “Remind your things that they’re special” and then you realize that she’s talking about cans of tomatoes or beans.
She gets fairly comfortable recommending some toxic solutions like trisodium phosphate and its slightly friendlier cousin, the phosphate-free version. While she does warn you that it’s a dangerous chemical, it seemed a bit blasé, like just opening a window would solve everything!
I got my first taste of her dislike of us eco-friendly green cleaners when she mentioned that “some people are opposed to serious chemicals, which is weird but okay, I guess, and those people can mix up a vinegar solution instead.” Yes, vinegar is your friend! Later she calls us filthy hippies for wanting to save the environment instead of bleaching away to our heart’s content, but she does give green alternatives with the caveat that you’ll have to expend a lot more elbow grease using non-toxic cleaners.
Once we get to cleaning the bathroom, Kerr unleashes a lot of Magic Bubbles, but thankfully knows the value of baking soda and vinegar, especially calling it out as a way to prevent slow drains (“hit your pipes with a half cup of baking soda followed by a half cup of vinegar once every month”).
Several of her cleaning tasks come with a warning that they will make you want to kill yourself, like cleaning the forced heat radiators and washing your floors on hands and knees. Oh, and she giddily mentions a tip for cleaning ceiling fans with a pillowcase that I previously found on the Reddit thread about cleaning (use a damp pillowcase wrapped around the blade and pull toward you– all the dust goes in the pillowcase!).
Not sure what to do about those dirty rags and whether you should toss them in with the rest of your laundry? Never fear, Kerr has ideas for this as well. Pre-wash the rags to remove most of the gunk and gross stuff before adding them in with the rest of your load.
One of my favorite tips was using denture tablets dropped into the bottom of a vase to get the gross build-up off spots that your brush can’t reach. And sweat stains can be tackled with lemon juice with salt gently rubbed into the fabric then letting it sit for half an hour, then rinse with white vinegar before a final rinse with warm water. She gets into specifics around protein stains (and how bleach is not their friend), these are basically stains that are from bodily fluids of all sorts. On the topic of stains, she says the best thing you’re going to learn from her is that almost every single stain (except ink and mud) will benefit from being flushed with cold water. “Hold the stained area taut under a running faucet and let the water pressure do a lot of the work for you.” Grease stain? WD-40 “is the thing for bike grease stains” and she suggests you hit up their website for over 2,000 other uses for the product.
She ends the book with the top hits from her column, including that boyfriend who puked in the purse. This last chapter was somewhat entertaining, but the real meat and potatoes of cleaning wisdom is hashed out in the earlier chapters.