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  • Writer's pictureNic

Things I have learned about cleaning

Three years ago I needed to get a paying job, with Mike starting seminary.  My first thought was to start a ministry and discipleship house program for college students, but as we explored that possibility the doors seemed to close.  I realized my education degree and elementary teaching certification weren’t going to be much help as they were 15 years past date.  I valued my time very highly, but what was I qualified for that would give me a flexible schedule?  I had just read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers in which he discusses the threshold of attaining genius, the “magical” ten thousand hours of practice/experience.  It dawned on me over the last 15 years I had done it! I had put in my ten thousand hours organizing,cleaning and taking care of my house as well as helping friends with their homes at times. I was an organizing and house cleaning genius! And as environmental sustainability was a big priority for me I could tailor my business to  “green” clientele.

It seemed to me that having my own niche small business would give me the pay scale and flexibility that I was looking for, I knew it wasn’t what  I wanted long-term but in the interim it seemed to fill the bill.  Yet I wasn’t sure if there was enough of a demand, and how would I get the word out? In Pittsburgh’s East End there is a online bulletin board, the Highland Park Listserve which allows residents to share needs, experiences, for sale notices, etc… I began to notice that there were frequently requests for housecleaning services, viola! My questions were answered; there was demand and I could use the listerve to advertise to a contained geographical region, which was important because when I started we were a 1 car (minivan actually) family, so I would be biking to work regularly.

As a side note, I am sad (now that we have two vehicles) that I did not get a photo of myself heading out to work on my bike with a milk crate bungee-ed on my back pannier rack filled with cleaning supplies and my fuzzy wool yarn dust mop tied upright like flag to the bike frame and crate. Me in my skirt, with an overfull backpack on my back, trying not to overbalance when I stopped with all that gear. Once someone stopped me and asked me if my mop was a puppet. It was a lot of fun, sort of, but now I have a Honda Civic Hybrid, which really more reasonable with all my clients than the bike. So, Carlin Home Services was officially launched in July 2011, though I had already had had 3 clients for several month at that point. I built my website (a fun task utilizing Wix online website builder) and they came, as many clients as I can handle all near or in Highland Park.  I have made many mistakes trying to run my business, it has taken time for me to learn what works and what doesn’t with scheduling, handling difficulties, and keeping up with communication.  But I am also thankful all the things I have learned as well as some great new clients who have also become friends. In addition to doing some programs at the kid’s school on recycling, and teaching a “green cleaning” class at the Pittsburgh Green House, I have also posted articles on my website about some cleaning specifics that I have learned over the years.

For your reading enjoyment I will repost those articles below or you can go to my website to see them in situ at under the Green University tab

Blessings! Nicole

What’s so Magic about the Magic Eraser?

Baking soda is truly the “magic power powder” when it comes to green cleaning but sometimes you need something with a little more oomph.  I have read multiple accounts of how, when all else has failed, the magic eraser was able to clean an area that was facing re-painting or re-finishing.   I like to be as certain as is humanly possible that what I recommend is the best the average homeowner can afford.  So when I was introduced to the Magic Eraser, a blackboard eraser sized piece of mysterious white foam, I was puzzled.  What was this stuff and how could it power through dirt, crud, scum and gunk like nothing else I had ever seen?  It really did seem magic!  Then I saw some ominous internet chatter pointing to harmful ingredients and even chemical burns from the use of the product.  However those fears have been dispelled.  Melamine foam does have the word “formaldehyde” in the ingredients list, but it is not the same form as embalming fluid.  It is part of the inert ingredients in what was originally sound-proofing foam.  The “chemical burns” were actually abrasions caused by the scrubbing of the face with the magic eraser (note to self, “Don’t do that!” and if you are having a child help, remind them not to use it on themselves.) Magic eraser type sponges do disintegrate creating tiny bits of melamine plastic and while this is hardly ideal, the ability to clean the “un-cleanable” is a valuable tool to have on hand. The website Mental polyphonics had an interesting dialogue about melamine foam that spoke directly to the biodegradability of magic erasers  There are now many generic versions out there. Check out to see what it is composed of and how exactly it works.

You may have been taught by your mom to break out the scouring powder for stubborn, stuck on junk like soap scum. Maybe you saw your grandma power through burnt on chili with a Brillo but I am here to tell you that, while that does get rid of the crud it also permanently ruins any and all enamel surfaces. “What’s enamel got to do with it?” you may be asking. Everything! Most stove tops, bathroom sinks, toilets, and bath tubs (especially older bathroom fixtures) are porcelain or metal coated with enamel. Enamel is powdered glass that is heated so the glass melts and bonds to the substrate creating a smooth, durable ,glassy finish. Enamel is a dream to clean as long as the surface is not marred by harsh abrasives. My first Pittsburgh home had a cute little tub that could never seem to stay clean. The top edge was smooth and easy to clean but down in the bottom it was simply raw porcelain and each grubby footprint seemed to stay put like permanent marker. No amount of bleach or weekly scrubbing could fix that grubby tub! Because some very industrious housewife of the past, under the spell of SC Johnson or other purveyor of household potions, convinced her that the tub needed SCRUBBED with a harsh abrasive cleanser. The result? The enamel was literally scrubbed off that tub, the only solution is to have it re-enameled (great ,but expensive) or painted with high gloss boat paint (cheap, but a constant peeling problem). But maybe, lucky you, you have new bathroom fixtures or a newer stove. If scouring pads and Comet are off limits what should you use? Patience, young Jedi,.. no, really, patience 🙂 Stove top crud; Spray the burnt on gunk with water or Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day all-purpose cleaner or Method all purpose cleaner. Saturate it and walk away, give it at least 10 minutes. Then grab a gentle non-abrasive cleaning pad (you can make you own by knotting together old plastic onion bags from the grocery store) and gently scrub, Wipe away the debris with a cloth and soak it again. Wait, then repeat. Wipe and survey. You may be done. If not grab a Magic Eraser or similar product and spray a bit more cleaner/ vinegar/ or water and in small circular motions work on the remaining crud. Some very persistent burnt on grease may require very gentle use of a razonr blade to lift the crud off the enamel without scratching (this takes a very delicate touch). Also remember Baking Soda is the only scrubbing agent you should ever use EVER. It will not scratch the enamel but it helps power away dried or burnt on gunk.

What to Do with Stubborn Crud

Bathroom fixtures: Tubs/Showers have a two fold issue that I will more fully deal with in my next article. They are mildew and soap scum. Select a good cleaner like Seventh Generation shower cleaner or Method’s. Spray on and give it a minute. Then using a magic eraser like product start at the top and in circular scrubbing motions work you way over every inch of the shower surface. If you have never done this it may take multiple cleaning “erasers” as the break up as you use them. NEVER use scouring powder or creams they will only make it harder and harder and then eventually impossible to bet your tub clean. You can spray on a bleach mildew control but that is a temporary fix and not the answer. Bleach is harsh and hard on your lungs and only very specific household applications really call for bleach, weekly cleaning is not one of them. Toilets that have damaged enamel may never look new. You can don gloves and and grab a magic eraser and plunge your hand down your commode’s throat for a thorough scrub. But for the the less bold a good sprinkle of baking soda a few squirts of bathroom cleaner and long handles toilet brush are a good start. Sinks that just as susceptible to cleaning abuse nothing harsher that baking soda or magic erasers please and often a squirt of all purpose cleaner and a damp cloth will polish them up nicely, just be sure to use an old toothbrush around the base of the fixture to remove any lurking debris or gunk.

Friends, let us not contribute to the thinning of good enamel, on our sinks, tubs, or stoves! Enamel well maintained can be a homeowner’s best friend, providing decades of lovely, high gloss, easy to clean service.

Trouble in the Tub or NO More Brillos!

Mildew and soap scum, two of my most hated foes! If I were a super-hero these would be two of the worst villians around. So how do I defeat them on a weekly basis? Let’s break it down. Soap scum is literally an amalgam of dissolved soap that binds with your dirt and flushes off your body with your lovely hot shower water and then binds (permanently it seems) to your tub/shower surfaces. Yuck, and you thought it had all coasted off down the drain! The biggest perpetrator is bar soap. The stuff that makes that bar stick together helps it stick to your tub. Ditch the bar and go for liquid body wash, you could use Dr.Bronners, it comes in cool scents like peppermint and lavender. (Hard city water doesn’t help so a water softener is a big expense that has a lot of pay-offs including less soap scum) Frequent cleaning helps keep the scum at bay, a frosting like blend of liquid detergent and baking soda can gently scrub the scum away and a magic eraser is the least caustic way to remove mutiyear layers of scum and preserve your tub’s surface: enamel or acrylic.

Mildew! Mildew! Mildew! It’s a fungus that has gotten it’s little fungal toes into your grout and caulk. If it is on the hard surfaces it can be wiped off. But the spores remain viable in damp, humid conditions. Straight vinegar kills 82% of molds or a mild 50% bleach solution can help kill those spores, but the best solution is to remove the offending caulk, dig it out, then spray on straight vinegar, let it sit until completely dry and re caulk. This is the best way to prevent (practically immediate) re-growth. If in the process the space behind the tile seems mushy or rotted then your bathroom may require a much larger intervention, don’t ignore rot it only gets worse!

Regular removal of soap scum and other debris and a bathroom vent fan helps keep moisture down and mildew on the run. We don’t wear capes or masks but Gotham would not be a safe place to take a bath without us!

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