I am a single woman who has been channeling Oscar Madison for too many years. I know how to throw away my pizza boxes and beer cans but my microwave and fridge are beginning to disgust even me. Plus my tub keeps backing up water because I am too embarrassed to call the landlord until I clean up the damn place. No I am not lazy—I am in deep denial and have mastered the art of ignoring my surroundings until I am forced to see them through the eyes of others ... like my boyfriend. He is patiently amused that we only stay at his place; I should be bothered, but I'm kind of not. But the boyfriend is sitting with me egging this email on.
After reading this letter, I have to say I honestly can't tell if the LW wants to clean her fridge, doesn't want to clean her fridge, is embarrassed by the state of the fridge, doesn't care about the state of the fridge, has a boyfriend who's kind of a controlling jerk, or has a boyfriend who's delivering a gentle message that she actually wants, on some level, to hear. Huh?!? What do you guys think? (I should add that I'm also hopped up on so much cold medicine that I may not be able to make heads or tails of anything right now. Send orange juice and tissues to Clean Person HQ please! A tiny bottle of prosecco to go with that juice would also be welcome.)
In the event that the LW really does want to clean up her fridge and is just having a hard time getting motivated, I would suggest that this is an instance in which one might successfully employ JFDI. Many of you will be familiar with JFDI, but for those of you who aren't, welcome to one of my favorite motivational tools: JFDI stands for Just Fucking Do It and it is a thing that I've found to be hugely effective when I'm piddling around whining to myself that I don' wanna why I hafta foot stomp pout waaaaaah. And look, sometimes the whining to yourself is an important part of the process, but there does come a time when it gets to be a bit much. And when that time comes: JFDI.
The idea of JFDI is basically to take a deep breath and order yourself to bang out that thing you've been dreading doing. Because once you JFDI it will be over and done with and right. JFDI.
The greatest thing about JFDI, other than the fact that it works, is that it's entirely self-driven. So there's none of the resentment factor of someone else telling you what to do and making you feel like you're once again a 12-year-old with a messy room your mom is yelling at you to clean up.
The other thing I can't quite tell from this letter is precisely why a dirty fridge and microwave—which are things that have doors that can be shut to hide messes within—are preventing her from calling the landlord about the stopped up drain. I suspect, because I'm intuitive like that (INFJ, if you're wondering), that the problem extends well beyond the fridge and the microwave. In which case, Year of the Clean Person might be something for her to look into. Speaking of which: How's the bed making going?
The thing is though … she specifically asked about the fridge and the microwave. So that's what we're gonna focus on for today.
Cleaning solution: Generally speaking, it's a good idea to use a non-toxic cleaning solution to scrub the interior of the fridge. After all, that's where your food goes! But if you feel more comfortable using a very mild bleach solution, or a product like Fantastic or 409, by all means do so. If a non-toxic solution is more your speed, white vinegar is one good option, as is a small amount of dish soap mixed with warm water. Mrs. Meyer's sprays and that ilk (Simple Green, Clorox Greenworks) are also options.
Cleaning tools: Here you'll want a variety of items on hand. Paper towels, for sure, though it bears noting at the offset that paper towels are not what you'll want to use for the bulk of the cleaning. They're just too flimsy for what we're trying to achieve here. Sponges and/or Dobie Pads will be your best bet for the hard scrubbing you'll want to subject the interior of that fridge to. Magic Erasers are great for really stubborn stains. A small-headed toothbrush might also be helpful if you have a model with a lot of nooks and crannies. You'll definitely want trash bags.
Speaking of those trash bags! The first step in a thorough fridge cleaning outing is to take everything out of the unit. Everything. All at once. If you were doing a more maintenance-like cleaning you could certainly go shelf by shelf, but in the case of a true hard scrubbing all the foodstuffs and condiments and bottles of amoxicillin and nail varnish and on and on and on should come out in one fell swoop.
While you're taking everything out, go ahead and immediately pitch any food that's gone bad. This will be the most unpleasant part, but we're going to get it out of the way quickly and then it will just be over. If you have a very sensitive stomach, take a deep breath before opening anything that might smell and hold it while you toss that stuff in the trash. Wearing rubber gloves so that you can scoop stuck-in food out of storage containers will cut down on the gross-out factor of having to touch old food. When you're done, just wash your gloved hands with soap and water to remove any gunk in just the same way you'd wash your ungloved hands. If the smell is really bad, tie the bag up and take it out of the house immediately. (Also at some point along the way you should have exhaled!)
If you've got empty storage containers or other items that need to be washed, toss them into the sink, plug the drain, and let that stuff soak in some hot, soapy water while you do this next part. The soaking will help to loosen any stuck-on food, making washing much easier.
Next you'll remove the shelves and drawers. Depending on what state they're in, you may want to soak them for a little bit before wiping down—same theory as with your Tupperware, a bit of soaking will help to cut down on the amount of scrubbing you have to do. You'll also want to mop up any liquid or debris that was lurking beneath the drawers using paper towels.
Now it's time to scrub the empty interior of the fridge. This will probably take some elbow grease, but should be a pretty straightforward affair. Once you've scrubbed things clean—remembering to employ that Dobie Pad and/or Magic Eraser and/or toothbrush as needed—you can turn your attention to the shelves and drawers, if you'd pre-soaked them. Otherwise, if you wiped them clean to your satisfaction prior to hitting the interior of the unit, just go on and put them back in place.
The final step is to put all the food and condiments and amoxicillin and nail varnish back in the fridge. It's a good idea to check that all caps and such are screwed on tightly—actually, it's also a good idea to actually look inside any bottles or jars to be sure you're not growing penicillin—and to wipe any sticky drips from bottles; some hot water and a paper towel should be all you need for that. At this point, you might find that you need to take the trash out again, and you'll also want to go ahead and wash all those containers you left to soak in the sink. Or rather, you might not want to wash them but just get it out of the way and then, like, have a beer or something.
The good news is that cleaning the microwave is going to be much, much easier than cleaning the fridge. Not that cleaning a fridge was hard, skill-wise, but it involves multiple steps and can be gross and tiring and ugh.
The key when deep cleaning a microwave is to create some steam up in there that will help to loosen all the stuck on crud. You can use white vinegar mixed with water, which will also help to deodorize the appliance if it's taken on a bit of a stink. Lemon juice will do the very same thing. If you don't have either of those, plain old water is just fine too. So! Put whichever liquid you're using into a microwave safe bowl, nuke it for 2 or so minutes—enough that you create some really good steam, ya know?!—and then remove from the microwave using something to protect your hands. If the turntable needs to be washed, remove it from the microwave at this point and scrub it with hot, soapy water, before setting aside to dry while you work on the rest of the machine.
Once you've created some nice steam in there, go in with a sponge and wipe everything down. You may want to use the kind of sponge that has a scrubby back, or if things are really bad, bust out your trusty old Dobie Pad. The reason Dobie Pads are so great for these jobs is that they have the sloughing power of steel wool scrubber pads, but won't scratch plastic surfaces.
Quick formatting note: The Squalor Archive has grown to the point where including it in its entirety at the end of each post creates an unsightly mess. And I needn't tell you how I feel about unsightly messes! The bookmarkable link is still here, and I will include that—but not the full archive—at the end of future posts. I also changed the formatting so that it's a bit easier to scan.
Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.