Here we are in Corona, and I’m cleaning now more than ever. The problem is, I’ve (very luckily) never had to do my own good deep cleaning… until now. So, tell me everything you know! What’s best to use on my tile floors? Wood floors? Best way to clean the top of my stove? Sinks, faucets, toilets, counters, windows? How do I get a wine spill off of my couch? How do I get that stain out of my hubby’s white shirt? Any other categories I’ve missed – please feel free to give your advice. I know you have all the answers!! Tell us your secrets! Spill the BEEans!
Cleaning in Quarantine
Dear Cleaning in Quarantine,
June Nasso was my mother’s best friend. She was also our Jamaican live-in housekeeper with a strong accent, a penchant for cursing, and a red snapper recipe out of her home town in Jamaica to die for.
My mother would have walked through fire for June Nasso and June Nasso would have done the same for her. When my mother and father separated when I was 19 years old, on occasion my father would come to the house to pick up my brother for weekends spent at his newly rented condo. My mother would hide upstairs licking her very raw wounds from her messy marriage that was unraveling, and June would stand in our kitchen staring down my father. She stood in front of the refrigerator, hands on her pale blue uniformed hips blocking him if he tried to help himself to an ice cold glass of “Mott’s” apple juice, his absolute favorite.
She focused her withering glare on my father. “No, no Mr. Berkowitz, move along now.”
She would kiss my brother on top of his head, hug him tight to her chest, and shoo my father out the back door.
She knew exactly who was paying her salary and it sure as shit wasn’t Ina. But she was fiercely loyal to my mother and she would shake her head clucking her tongue on the roof of her mouth in disgust and sadness and watch as my father’s deep blue Mercedes pulled back out of the driveway.
“Damn fool,” she would mutter, and then go upstairs to check on “Miss Ina”.
In happier times my parents traveled extensively together, sometimes for weeks at a time, leaving my brother and me at home with June.
The minute that plane took off, June would look at me with mischief in her huge brown eyes, “C’mon bitch, help me clean and I’ll teach you to drive.”
I was 14.
She was beautiful. Even cleaning, her red lipstick was always in place. She was tall and regal and stylish and smelled like ivory soap, “Nivea” and coconuts. And I adored her.
I would follow her from room to room listening to her stories about her boyfriend Pat, about growing up in Jamaica, and how important her grandmother was to her. And we scrubbed. Side by side on our knees we scrubbed. No one cleaned like June. And she had the sinewy, ropey, muscular arms to prove it. When we finished, she’d throw me the keys.
“C’mon you little princess, let’s go.”
When my parents were in town June would drive us all over NJ. To play dates, to ballet, and on errands, but when they left, I drove. All through the back roads of South Orange we flew. The top down in my mother’s little red BMW, my blond hair flying, hers wrapped carefully in a silk scarf around her head. She’d hand me her lipstick, the car keys, and off we’d go.
Now when I clean, I think of June. I think of how she wrapped my brother and me in a blanket of love and laughter at a time when there wasn’t much of either one in our house. I think of how she threw her head back howling at my high school antics and I think about what life must have been like for her. A 30 something year old Jamaican woman working for The Berkowitz family in South Orange, NJ. And then I put on a little pink lippy and scrub a bit harder (my favorite pink lippy here).
Here are my Top 10 OCB Cleaning Tips:
1. Open up your windows. I highly recommend cranking open your windows when you’re about to do a deep clean. In a time when we’re cleaning now more than ever and even the greenest of households are turning to Lysol, Clorox, and bleach, there is no better time to let in some fresh air. While these harsher cleaning products have a place right now in our homes, they are also known hormone disrupters and are linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s. Open up your windows, let the fresh air in!
2. Put on your music. While I don’t love the amount of cleaning that I’ve been doing, I like it a whole lot better when I’m listening to Taylor Swift, Donna Summer, David Guetta, and Pink. Your favorite music will make everything go by faster and suddenly scrubbing will start to feel more like a party.
3. Get on your hands and knees. (And not the way your husband wants you to.)
So many people reach out to me asking how to properly mop. And the answer is I have no f’ing idea. June never mopped; she believed that you didn’t see the dirt from up high at a mop handle’s view. Plus, she thought it was messy and gross. Sticking a mop back into a bucket of dirty water made no sense to her.
Here’s what she did instead… In our cleaning closet she kept baskets of snow white rags. You can easily make them by cutting up old towels, but I actually buy them from Amazon (click here for my favorites). They are perfectly sized, last forever, and make this whole paper towel scarcity thing a bit less stressful.
Make sure you have access to a sink with hot water and grab your favorite cleaner for your floors. I use these three (click here, here, and here). Blast the music, open your windows, let the hot water run, and grab your basket of clean rags and a sturdy large garbage bag. Start at the sink with a clean rag and the product ofd your choice. For wood floors I use my favorite Meyer’s, cut by 50% water or distilled white vinegar cut by 50% water. You might want to put a pair of gloves on to protect your hands and nails. I have a latex allergy. These are my favorite cleaning gloves (click here). Run a clean rag under scalding hot water as hot as your hands can handle. I personally do not work with a bucket. Douse the rag in your choice of cleaners, ring out your clean rag, and get on your hands and knees, b*tches!
You’re going to be shocked and disgusted at what your snow white rag picks up. And anyone who is working with a mop, quite frankly, is missing it! Drop the mop and get on the floor. I have found that my weak lower back actually does better on my hands and knees. Plus, my baseboards gleam, the floors shine, and under the stove there is not a dust bunny to be found.
Once your rag is dirty go back to your sink (don’t worry about walking over a wet floor , your windows are open, your floors are drying quickly, and you’re wearing your Mahabis…see below), rinse in scalding hot water, and start all over again. If your rag is filthy toss it in your garbage bag and grab another clean rag from your clean basket starting the process all over again. I promise you this is faster, easier, and your floors will feel amazing on your bare feet.
Speaking of feet…
4. Mahabis or naked. We are a no shoe household. And I have been since my single days in Manhattan. Think about where your shoes go on any given day. Public bathrooms, subways, mass transit, parking lots, sidewalks, and grocery stores. VILE! Take off your f*cking shoes and leave them at the door.
We exist barefoot in our house, but I clean in Mahabis. Insanely comfortable, cozy, and chic. I have two pairs – one for inside the house and one for running errands. I always feel a little closer to Audrey Hepburn when I slip a pair on, even when I’m scrubbing on my hands and knees.
5. White Distilled Vinegar. For me, this is the smell of clean. I learned about the power of White Distilled Vinegar back in Culinary School at The French Culinary Institute in my 20s. At the end of every evening the entire kitchen was cleaned top to bottom in WDV. Stainless steel countertops, commercial Viking ranges, industrial tile floors. The cavernous space would fill with the pungent smell of vinegar and then disappear completely within minutes.
WDV is an amazing disinfectant, deodorizer, and cuts grease like no other. Scared of Salmonella and E Coli? So the f*ck am I. Guess what? WDV wipes them both out. Sadly, it does not kill the Corona virus, but it will leave your kitchen sparkling clean and disinfects as you go. Note: Do not use on marble. I use WDV cut with 50% water on hardwood floors, but on stainless steel, glass, and in my laundry I use it straight. Amazing for cleaning refrigerator surfaces both inside and out, stained plastic containers, stinky cutting boards (think raw onion), not to mention the fact you can clean your entire bathroom top to bottom (again, no marble). It’s inexpensive, can be used in every room in the house, and is my number one go to cleaning agent.
WDV is life changing for your laundry, as well. I add WDV to my bleach compartment for every load of laundry that I do in my house. It whitens whites, freshens the stinkiest of SoulCycle clothing, and acts as a natural fabric softener. For your toughest workout clothes you can add directly to the drum of the washing machine (aim for the pits and the crotch…TMI? You’ll thank me.) You know the rags you’re gathering on your hands and knees in that garbage bag I told you to get? Throw them in a heavy duty wash cycle set to a 30 minute pre soak and an extra rinse, and they are good as new, ready to go again. Look at us saving paper towels in Corona!
6. Can’t get your hands on your housekeeper? Get your hands on this vacuum! While I wish everyone could win this in my current giveaway, you’ll feel like you won the f*cking lottery when it arrives (click here for my favorite vacuum). Bazz bought this for me post construction for our house so we didn’t have to lug around our cumbersome Miele anymore. I’m 5’1″ and find this vacuum is as easy as picking up a baby. This thing is powerful as f*ck, social distances itself charging in a small closet in our front hall, and hasn’t met a mess that it can’t handle. Think you can’t fall in love with a vacuum? Think again. I use this in between getting on my hands and knees and my carpets sigh with pleasure when they hear me pulling it off the charger.
7. Ecover Stain Stick. I have not met a laundry stain that this product cannot tackle. I wish I could show you my poor cloth napkins that had to endure the brisket stains of the first night of Passover. This stain stick with built in silicone brush laughs at red wine, tomato sauce, and any other tough stains you can throw at it. Pah hah hah! Throw your head back and give an evil genius laugh every time you pick it up.
8. Kosher Salt. Drinking a bit too much during QuaranBEEn? Spill red wine on your husband’s shirt? Virtual cocktail party get a little out of hand? Did your couch wind up drinking more than you did? Run! Grab your box of kosher salt and sprinkle on the stain. Let it sit overnight. The salt will absorb most of, if not all, of the red wine. You can do this on carpets, furniture, and clothing. In the morning, vacuum up the salt and continue with your favorite stain remover.
9. Seventh Generation Products. While we are in the midst of a pandemic and everyone is scrambling for Clorox and bleach, from my perspective if you have truly social distanced and been QuaranBEEning properly, you should only need those harsh products when returning from the market or after you’ve opened up packages. Our Clorox wipes and sprays are saved for disinfecting the car after a rare trip to the market and for wiping down our garbage shed handle after the garbagemen have come and gone. When unpacking our groceries we are wiping everything down with harsh chemicals, but after that I go back to using my favorite Seventh Generation products (this one and this one are two of my favorites…please note: I know some of these products are hard to find right now and that can be frustrating. I personally check everyday and have had luck in purchasing so keep checking back) and my beloved White Distilled Vinegar. I’ve used Seventh Generation since Dexie was a baby and love the idea of using plant based products that are safer for the environment, disinfect my house, and don’t require a mask if you’re using them.
10. Stay hydrated. Cleaning is hard work. Not to mention, your body needs to flush out all the toxins we’re breathing in, especially in the middle of a cleaning frenzied pandemic. Grab a big bottle of water, pop a Nuun in, and hydrate while you scrub. Afterwards, you can hydrate with something a little bit stronger. I’ll join you. Wink wink.
All illustrations by @courtneycoloring