Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.
My husband cleans too much. I know that sounds like a non-problem, and generally it is, but I believe this excessive cleaning has destroyed our side tables. We have three run-of-the-mill side tables, which we purchased at Crate & Barrel a few years ago. I think we paid about $300 for each of them, so we aren't talking heirloom quality stuff here, but it's also not something I would just discard and replace. They are wood tables, but it's only Crate & Barrel, so I have to assume there is at least a little MDF under the surface somewhere. For some reason, my husband feels it's necessary to clean them with Pledge nearly every single day. I was annoyed with this custom because it seemed to me to be a waste of time, but now I am mad because it seems to have left a residue on each of my lovely tables—a goo of sorts.
My first course of action was to try to clean it off with Goo Gone. That sort of worked, but the goo comes back every time he cleans. In some cases, it just looks dull in certain areas (which, by the way, migrate each time he cleans the table) and in other cases it is a splotchy, thicker goo that seems like you should be able to chisel it off. (You can't.) Any advice? And if you are able to recommend a remedy, how would you recommend we clean them in the future to avoid this happening again?
Today is a sad day for me. Because today is the day that I have to concede that there is such a thing as too much cleaning.
I hate today.
But one of my goals when writing these columns is to always be honest with you, even if that means I have to tell you an item is a goner, or that cleaning something is going to suck royal rear end, or—as is the case today—I have to admit to a fact of life that is exceedingly painful for me to even consider. So there you have it.
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The good news is that getting rid of that goo is a pretty easy fix, and there is definitely a way to prevent it from coming back. Oh also: the thing that's causing the goo is the silicone that's in Pledge. I was so glad to see that the LW mentioned the specific product being used on the tables because it allowed me to immediately identify what the problem was. Thank you, LW!
There are a couple of methods you can use to remove the silicone buildup, but regardless of which one you choose, the first step will be to dust the furniture using a microfiber cloth. The reason for this is that, before you begin the goo removal process, you want to be sure that there's no residual dirt hanging around, which can cause scratching as you remove the polish buildup. Now, in the case of these specific tables I think it's safe to say that they're dirt-free, since they've been dusted within an inch of their lives, but for the rest of you who may have a similar problem the first step is important to know about.
In terms of goo removal, the cheapest and easiest way is to use our old pal white vinegar. Mix the vinegar with equal parts water and, using a soft cloth dipped in the solution and wrung out well, wipe with the grain of the wood. This will likely take several passes, and you should be sure to wring the cloth out well—you don't want to saturate the wood with liquid. Once you're happy with that the buildup is no longer, dry the tables thoroughly.
Now, it may be that the vinegar is not enough to touch the amount of goo you've got going on, or it may be that you just hate the smell of vinegar. In either case, Guardsman makes a product called Purifying Furniture Wood Cleaner that will remove the buildup. You can also use mineral spirits, which can be found at any hardware or home improvement store. If you go that route there are a few important things to know: You must must must test it first on a hidden portion of the table to be sure it won't damage the wood; you must work in a ventilated area and use protective gloves; when applying mineral spirits, use a soft cloth and wipe with the grain of the wood, then wipe the product off immediately with a clean, soft cloth dampened with water and dry the table immediately. Oh also, mineral spirits are highly flammable. Given all that, I'd really prefer to get you into the vinegar or Guardsman, but some people really enjoy taking unnecessary risks and we're all adults with free will, so.
Once you've un-goo'd the tables, you can absolutely prevent the goo from re-gooing, but you're going to have to lay down two laws with your husband.
The first law is that polishing the tables every day, or nearly every single day is way too much and he needs to cut that out. I know! I'm actually telling you to clean less! How much do you love that?? If he really feels that the tables need to be wiped as often as is his current practice, get him a microfiber cloth that he can use for daily upkeep. But really insist that a furniture polish be used no more than once a week on those tables—because they're wood, they shouldn't be exposed to as much moisture as they're getting under his current system.
The second law is that he has to kick the Pledge habit. And from one Clean Person to another, no he may not simply take up a Generic Brand Pledge habit in its place. (I know how Clean Person brains work. We're a dodgy bunch. Keep an eye on us at all times, if you let us out of your sight even for just a second we'll be off and bleaching before you can say 'mildew'.)
Instead, look for a commercial furniture polish that doesn't contain silicone (probably not a bad idea to also skip the ones with wax in them, as wax will also create buildup over time) or mix up a DIY solution. Which means it's time for recipes and product suggestions!
DIY furniture polish
Mix ¼ C vinegar or lemon juice with ¾ C olive oil
Commercially available silicone-free furniture polishes
Multi-Surface Dusting & Cleaning Spray | Endust
Wood For Good | Method
Revitalizing Wood Polish | Guardsman
Wood Cleaner & Preservative | Scott's Liquid Gold
Furniture Polish & Cleaner | Trade Secret
One final note on furniture polishes that contain silicone and/or wax: I don't want you to come away from this thinking that these products are the Devil's cleaning sprays and shouldn't ever be used. In fact, I use Pledge on my dresser and have had no issues with buildup. So if you're using Pledge or a similar product, have no problems with buildup and are happy with its performance, by all means keep using it. But if buildup is an issue, or you're concerned that it may be, you now know how to address the problem and stave it off.
I have a question about coffee/spice grinders. I got one for Christmas, but have been cautioned to use it for either spices OR coffee, but that if I use it for both, there's no way to keep the smell of one from contaminating the taste of the other. It's a little electric gizmo. The blade and the bottom few centimeters of the grinding chamber are metal (I would guess aluminum? But I'm really not positive; I suppose it could be steel), but the higher part of the chamber and the lid are plastic. Is there any way of deodorizing it between uses so that I can use it for both?
There sure is—it's easy, cheap, and best of all it does not involve white vinegar!
Fill the grinder halfway up with uncooked rice, put the lid on and grind it to a fine powder. Dump that out, wipe out the interior with a tissue or paper towel, and wash the plastic lid with hot soapy water. Et voila! You have a multi-use spice grinder.
(I feel like I should have more to tell you about this, but truly that's all there is to it!)
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Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.
Image by Jim Cooke.