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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
The Stew

Mrs. Clean helps get rid of life’s grime


You’re a filthy animal.

It’s OK to admit it. We all are.

Humans are a dirty bunch.

We’re good at being messy, especially when we’re happy. Pigs love slop, after all.

Speaking of which, we excel at being hot messes with our food. Sandwiches are so much better when saucy goop drips from between the bread.

What we’re not so hot at is cleaning up. We are an untidy species. There is grime in our kitchens that would make a health inspector blush.

That’s where Jolie Kerr comes in. Think of her as Mrs. Clean.

Kerr, who lives in a 400-square-foot Manhattan apartment writes the popular column “Ask a Clean Person” on the Deadspin and Jezebel websites. Her irreverently titled but incredibly helpful new book, “My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha” (Plume, $15), offers tips for modern cleaning conundrums. Hockey pads, marital aids and grotty underwear all get the same editorial consideration.

How best to get a stain out of a drunken groomsman’s silk tie? Table salt should work.

Gunky eyelash curlers? Deploy a baby wipe to keep the eyelid chunk at bay, she says.

Ceiling fans caked with the dust of a thousand Egyptian pharaohs? An unloved pillow case with some furniture polish sprayed inside should keep debris to a minimum.

Much like home cooking and auto repair, the notion of domestic cleanliness appears to have skipped a generation or two, Kerr says, right around the time that women began redefining their gender identity beyond the home and the kitchen.

“If it meant de-emphasizing home-keeping, fine, so be it,” she says. “But the problem is that it was de-emphasized for everyone. These are skills mothers aren’t passing down to daughters.”

There is a gap in learning, she says, one that now offers an opportunity to teach everyone about the merits of keeping a spotless abode.

“Cleaning isn’t a woman’s problem,” Kerr says. “It’s a human problem. There is no gender divide in the level of filth. Everyone is equally disgusting.”

As if proof was ever needed, look at your refrigerator, home base for both men and women. Enough drips, spills, crumbs, mold and slime reside there to fill a science-fiction thriller. Everyday conditions that would get a restaurant closed are ignored in the blur of busy work weeks and school years.

“It’s amazing what you can trick your eye into overlooking,” Kerr says.

In her book’s first chapter — “The Kitchen: Clean it, or Just Set it on Fire and Be Done?” — Kerr opts for the first choice, splitting tasks into three levels of intensity: Daily Clean, Hard Clean and The Full Monty Hard Clean.

The daily routine addresses the truism that the longer you pretend a mess doesn’t exist, the more time it will take to clean up. Hard Cleans are to be embraced as three-hour opportunities to scour. (Treat big cleaning jobs the way you would a trip to the gym, she says.) Full Monty efforts should take you deep into the garbage pail as well as the Sophie’s Choice of deliberation that is the pantry, where open containers, outdated food stuffs and generally unwanted ingredients should be dispatched with impunity and reorganized with daily efficiency in mind.

Kerr solved a mystery of the universe by answering for me the best method for how to clean a dishwasher. I mean, how do you clean the stains from inside a cleaning tool? Answer: Half a gallon of white vinegar. Of course. White vinegar is the Swiss Army knife of neat freaks.

My favorite section was her list of foodstuffs suitable for use as alternative cleansers. Got dingy copper in need of polishing? Throw some ketchup or Tabasco at it. Grease stain on a delicate fabric? Call cornstarch or cornmeal out of the bullpen. Have a red wine stain? Assign some white wine to the task.

If you’re younger than 35, there’s no reason to be embarrassed by what you don’t know, Kerr says. She’s here to help.

“I’m not here to be Martha Stewart,” she says. “I’m trying to make people laugh over a subject that can be really dull.”

Or dirty.

You filthy animal.


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