In Part 1 of this series on house cleaning we talked about what factors are needed for a clean house. In Part 2 we discussed how Expectations enter into the mess. Now, let’s talk about what your expectations should be.
What Should Your Expectations Be? I’m going to go out on a limb here and alienate all the cleaners closer to the OCD level of extreme than me, but it has to be defined to be helpful. And I’m going to preface this – this is MY opinion, which should matter to you not one whit unless you find it sensible yourself. 🙂
I have a B.S. in Zoology, and I found that studying science at the collegiate level actually changed my ideas about more than just the natural world of bugs, birds, bats and slime. In fact, the micro-biology that I studied changed the way I clean. What I discovered that was so life-changing is this: we live in a world populated by all kinds of bacteria, bugs, amoebas, slime…you get the idea. We would all die tomorrow if our happy “good” gut bugs all gave up the ghost. Did you know it’s common to have mites living on your eyelashes and face? Don’t believe me? Here’s a National Geographic article on it. Taking a sponge and wiping it across a counter may get the oil left over from bacon off of it, but it’s also probably leaving a slick track of bugs all over! It is, in fact, IMPOSSIBLE to live a clean life in this world! Don’t kill yourself trying! (and please keep using a sponge, just squirt a dab of dish soap onto it beforehand). In fact, most people’s toilet seats probably have _less_ bacteria on them (including the ones in public stores!) than your standard kitchen counter. They may have more dirt, and they may have nastier bacteria, but the actual number of bugs is probably less.
The real trick in living sanely in a world full of “icky germs” is this: decide what battles you want to win, which you’re willing to call a draw, and which you’ll be able to lose with grace. I have, in my life, bleached the bottoms of my shoes. You know why? I walked through poop full of infectious bacteria. I spent about two years volunteering in our local hospital, and I kept one pair of shoes for that job, and bleached them if I needed to wear them anywhere else. I do not, ever, bleach my shoes just walking through dirt. Those poor bacteria deserve the best life they can have. The same thing applies to every single surface in your house. It may not necessarily be dirty, but chances are there are bugs on it. Just like you won’t (please, don’t) be bleaching your eyelids now that you know about the mites, you should be content to let the wall bugs and what-have-you have a generally unmolested life. Besides, you could bleach that wall and then breathe on it and wham! “Dirty” again.
So my advice is to go to battle, germ-wise, only against those bugs that actually hinder your well-being. Since most of these bugs are what are called pathogenic you can assume that they are generally going to stay close to you, their happy host. E. Coli? In food, and surfaces food has touched. The Flu? Anywhere bodily excretions might have been – doorknobs, toilet seat handles, etc. You get the idea. You want to kill these suckers. You don’t want to turn into a giant factory for them to keep going another hundred generations. This is how this plays out in housecleaning:
- Any surface that food touches during preparation should be considered “contaminated” by potential bad bugs. Even salad can have E. coli on it. Clean with soap and water after preparing food.
- Any surface that food touches, and the food will not be cooked, should be clean before the food touches it. Cooking kills most everything, depending on temperature. But if you plan on eating it uncooked (like, you’re following the “raw” diet), then make sure the food itself is washed and that it only touches cleaned surfaces. Use bleach or iodine on foods you have a valid concern for parasites (ie, the food could have been contaminated by fecal matter – poop).
- If you have sickness in the house, ie flu, then sterilize (bleach, soapy rag, etc) all the common spots where bug transmission might take place – doorknobs, phones, toilet seat handles, all sink knobs, etc.
- Many people fear air-borne transmission of bugs. Really, this is a subject too big to deal with here. Let’s just say that yes, some bugs are transmitted via air. Most aren’t, but some are. How well they transmit depends on how many people are breathing out the bugs, and how much fresh air is being brought into the “contaminated” space. As a house cleaning issue, if you have a valid concern for an airborne bug, then you may want to do this: open as many windows as possible, get fans blowing, and some people like to use airborne disinfectants like a commercial spray or a “natural” essential oil diffusing. My personal two cents is that human respiratory systems don’t do terribly well with too much of anything in the air, so keep those kinds of things to a minimum, and absolutely be careful around confined areas where children are breathing. They breathe faster, have smaller bodies, and are more sensitive in general, so sprays affect them far more than adults.
That’s about it for advice on fighting the endless war on pathogenic bugs. Basically, keep a sharp eye on what enters your body, via food or air.
Non-pathogenic bugs and such should be generally not a concern, unless they are unsightly or are pathogenic to your belongings. Molds, fungus, mildews, clothing moth larvae, etc, all fall into this category. I live in a temperate rain forest and let’s just face it, every breath I breathe likely has some kind of spore in it. I have not yet been into a house here that does not have mold issues on the window sills (unless newly built of course, and then it’s only a matter of time). Window molds are not a function of cleanliness, they are a function of outside environment and there is precious little you can do about them. However, it is possible to keep the mold population checked. Consider this a battle to work to a “draw” on. Both bleach and hot steam (ie, 180F) from a professional grade steam machine (I happen to own one) can keep mold down for months. It’s worth doing a massive clean on every window sill at least a couple times a year. Some mold gets into window sealant and while you might be able to kill it (ie with steam), once it’s there, even dead it will look dirty. You’d have to cut out the caulk, steam or bleach, then re-caulk for any hope of success. And in a bathroom where the caulk is between tile and bathtub this is a losing battle if the mold has gotten behind the tile. Still, it’s worth fighting. I have heard that you can use a vinegar, water and essential oil mix to wipe down wood window frames, but the length of time this treatment will keep the mold levels down is much shorter.
There are other bugs n slime that can be unsightly but not pathogenic. This category would include the black toilet mold (?) that seems to infest every toilet here and only goes away for a short time if strong acids are applied. Or, where we lived in the past had a strong iron content in the water so all sinks and showers developed a pink “ring” within days of bleaching. Obviously, while not pathogenic, it is definitely unsightly. So these should be categorized under “fight to a draw” – give a good, regular effort, but don’t expect or try to win the war.
In the next section, Part 4, Dirt and Mess are getting covered.