Sunday, April 19, 2015

This episode of Mommy wars is brought to you by Swiffer Wetjet

I have a friend who runs an online housekeeping magazine.  It is great fun.  (Seriously. You should check it out!) I have written for her before, but sometimes I wonder if my posts belong.  I mean, if any of you actually saw my house, you would not want my advice about keeping house.

What is real housekeeping?  There are all kinds of posts. Gardening. Kids. Cleaning. Finances. Crunchy advice. I laugh. I learn. And every once in awhile, I judge.  (Don't tell. They'll kick me out!)  That's real??  People do that?

I went to a dinner party a few years ago.  As sometimes happens, before sitting down to the meal, the men and the women gathered separately to chat. The women collected in the kitchen. I don't want to get too bogged down on the obvious gender issues here, but the subject up for discussion was floor cleaning.

Woman #1: I always get on my hands and knees and scrub. There just isn't any other way.
Woman #2: I know! Right? Me too.  If you aren't on the floor you don't see all the dirt. It is gross!
Me: Are you kidding me?  Liars! If you literally have to get on your hands and knees to scrub the floor, your standards are too high or you have a stupid floor.  Maybe both.

I didn't really say that.  I'm polite and I bit my tongue. Really hard. I might have bled a little. I smiled and I let them believe that I approved of their insanity. I was tempted to share my own kitchen floor cleaning method, which employs a once over with the vacuum and then a quick Swiffer, but there was more emotion than generally belongs in a floor cleaning discussion. Was I prepared to defend my objectively inferior standards?

I am now.

This conversation has replayed in my mind often.  It was a dinner party with folks I did not know well.  I was barely vested in the conversation at the time.  Still it comes to mind about once a month. Once, maybe twice a month, when I am on my stupid hands and knees scrubbing my stupid floor.

I still don't have compulsive standards.  You can eat off the floor in my kitchen if, and only if, you would also eat off the bottom of your shoe.  That's OK with me.  We don't eat on the floor. The floor in the kitchen is linoleum. It is one of those bland tile-like patterns that hide dirt well. And that, my friends, is the beginning and the end of what we like about that floor.

The rest of the house is carpeted.  We bought the house with dreams of hardwood that fluttered away like autumn leaves. Wait. No. Autumn leaves don't flutter away.  They make their way into my house to be crumpled and crushed into my carpet.

I could do some things better, I suppose. I could insist that people remove shoes, for instance. But I don't want to remove my shoes and besides, then there would be a perpetual clutter pile close to the front door. I'd hate that! I don't have a house big enough for that to be out of the way. There are also things I definitely cannot change. For instance, Sarah is going to come in and out of the house in a wheelchair. If she is not taking off her wheels, I'm not taking off my shoes.

I have three kids. A six year old, a three year old, and a one year old. We have all the normal kid stuff happening. (Tell me again, how we get juice out of the carpet? Where did this tomato sauce come from? WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE TOOK HER DIAPER OFF?)

We also have some, um, other than normal messes. One of my kids has a feeding pump. The mechanism is simple. You tell the clever little box how much food to give and at what rate, and it pumps it through her feeding tube into her belly. Except it really isn't a clever box. You see, the pump does not know when the child has disconnected her tube. Notice quickly. Because the not so clever little box will continue to pump Pediasure. And your child, being the delightful child she is and relatively newly mobile, will drag this dribbling, squirty mess all over the house. Why, you ask? Why do three year olds do anything?  Messes are fun! This is a mess you will not forget. It won't happen again. Or a third time. It definitely won't happen so often you lose count of how often it has happened.

I had a couple people in the house to do a health assessment.  (On the kid, not the house.) One remarked on how clean my carpet was.  Was it new? Oh, how I laughed. Then I thought... maybe I am qualified to write for real housekeeping!

Wouldn't you like to know how I keep my carpet so fresh and pretty, so long as you visit on the right day?

I spot clean, of course. I mean, what kind of person would leave a coffee stain on the carpet for several weeks? Not I, said someone with higher standards than I.

About once a month I have to drag out the carpet cleaner. I get down on the floor with soap and and a toothbrush and I scrub. And, here is the secret, I really, really enjoy it. It is quiet mind time. The vacuum is blaring, so I cannot hear anything. (Which means I only do it when someone else is responsible for the kids.) It is just me, white noise, a mindless task and my windy mess of a tangled mind.

I have tried all kinds of things to keep up with my carpets. Windex worked for me for most things most of the time, but once I used a generic which left a blue stain. I tolerated the expensive, specially purchased rug cleaner for awhile, even though the smell of it made me ill and took hours to air out. I have used laundry detergent with some success, but not on all my stains. Peroxide works pretty well on a lot. None of these things work on a turmeric stain. (What, you don' t have turmeric stains?)

The working method
Prep: I dilute dish soap for stubborn stains in a spray bottle and I fill the tank of my carpet cleaner with hot water and several drops of lavender essential oil. I find an old toothbrush and I don my favorite elbow length gloves.

Sometimes, I do the whole carpet with the lavender water. It is just like a vacuum, only it is heavier and it smells nice. Then I go after the stubborn spots. Sometimes I skip straight to the spots; the rest of the carpet is clean enough. This method has worked on every manner of disgusting soil. I spray soak the spot with soapy water and I scrub it with the toothbrush. Then, with the hand attachment, I vacuum up the soapy water and rinse the spot with lavender water. That usually does the trick. Once in a blue moon, I have to repeat the process. Coffee and Pediasure stains are very common, and I am delighted to share that both will come up with just lavender water. Even if they are a week old, not that I would know that.

I am pretty well settled on this method, and I won't change it up unless I encounter a stain I can't remove. This one has everything I want. It is easy(ish). It is cheap. There are no single use special purchases. It's a winner.

Lavender oil is magic. There are three pros, and one con.
1. It is antimicrobial. Can't hurt, right?
2. I do not entirely understand why, but with every other cleaner I used, it was a chore to clean the dirty water tank. There was always a funky sludge at the bottom. With the lavender water, I dump it out and the tank looks fresh and clean. Nothing to clean. Weird. I rinse it anyway- but it is still easier!
3. You know the musty smell that emanates from carpet cleaners? Gone. Relaxing, wonderful lavender wafting in its place. And not just when I am using it, but when I turn it on the next time. There is no smell at all until I start spraying the lavender water.

The caution: essential oils and plastic do not get along. You cannot leave the lavender oil in the tank, and you might consider rinsing the hosing with just fresh water. I dump some fresh water on the linoleum floor and vacuum it up. I have not had any issues. I can pretty much guarantee that your carpet cleaner user manual has some instruction about using only their brand of detergents. It is not crazy- some cleaners break down plastics and there are small bits which have to keep working. I ignore it anyway, but I rinse.

I have used other oils, but lavender is far and away my favorite. I use a pretty inexpensive brand from Amazon for this purpose.

So, that is how I clean my carpet. I get on the floor and I scrub. Don't judge me.


  1. This is fabulous!! Helpful and humorous. Thanks Beth!!

  2. This was a great post, Beth! We have a turn-of-the-century (as in, 19th century) house that we purchased 7 years ago with the hopes of turning the carpet into hardwood floor. Both bathrooms AND the kitchen had or have carpet, which we have slowly been replacing with vinyl tile. I, like you, do not have a spotless floor, nor do I care. I used to care, but that was before we had 2 kids - including a medically fragile one - and a dog. Oh well.

    You should seriously post your essential oil tips on Real Housekeeping!

    1. Thank you! Real Housekeeping has higher editorial standards than me. (Real housekeeping has editorial standards.) I did send it though. Rhonda is a very dear friend from college.

  3. Oh my goodness. Now I want a carpet cleaner. I have the world's best vacuum (Miel), and mostly hardwood floors, but this living room area rug is getting hammered. I'm totally forwarding this to my daughter, too.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed it. I don't know what I'd do without my carpet cleaner. Actually, I guess I do know: I'd tolerate more stains.

  4. Oh my goodness. Now I want a carpet cleaner. I have the world's best vacuum (Miel), and mostly hardwood floors, but this living room area rug is getting hammered. I'm totally forwarding this to my daughter, too.

  5. I really like this post. It's the weirdest thing, I thought I was the only one obsessed with keeping my carpet clean... My wife thinks that I'm losing it :) Im going to have to give the lavender oil a try next time, it looks like a great alternative to all the toxic fumes and chemicals in all the cleaners nowadays.

    Bob Wolfe @ The Maids Triad

    1. Somehow I missed your response! I'm sorry! Thanks! You're not losing it. Everyone likes a clean carpet. It's only us crazy few who like cleaning the carpet though. I hope the method worked for you!

  6. As a stay-at-home dad, I really appreciate this post about floor and carpet cleaning. My wife has a great job, but it requires a lot of travel. I'm home with the kids, and I always worry the floors they are playing on aren't clean enough. I like the tip about using lavender on the carpets, and I will be sure to rinse the cleaner well.

    1. Thanks, Bo. I'm glad you liked it. It's still my favorite method of carpet cleaning. I hope it works well for you!