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Don’t Throw it All Away, Part I

I was reading the mildly amusing book, “How to Cheat at Cleaning,” by Jeff Bredenberg. He does have a few ideas I agree with, but I was not at all pleased that he encourages disposable cleaning products as a time-saver. You know – wipes for every purpose under the sun, Swiffer everything, disposable toilet cleaning wands and so on. I could not disagree with his position more! These products fail my acid test of Doing a Job Well on five counts:

  • They constantly cost money
  • They are inferior in feel
  • They amount to nothing but trash
  • They are inferior in performance (usually; I’ll expand on that in a minute)
  • They do not greatly reduce cleaning time

Let’s look at some disposable products one at a time, and examine its relative merits and drawbacks, shall we?

First, the wipes.  I despise these for my own cleaning at home. Windex Wipes, Armor-All Wipes, Dusting Wipes, Chlorox Wipes and so on. Not a fan. Consider economics. From a quick Google search, I find Windex wipes are $5.99 for a package of 28 wipes. That is a hair more than 21 cents per wipe. By way of comparison, I can buy a one-gallon size refill container of Windex cleaner for $12.99. A gallon of Windex in a spray bottle lasts for thousands of cleaning applications.

Okay. So maybe you’re a descendant of Sam Walton and you couldn’t care less if you’re throwing two dimes and a penny in the trash every time you wipe a mirror.  There is still my second point: they are inferior in feel. When I clean glass, I use a terry cloth towel (not a “rag” and not – heaven forbid – a scrap of Uncle Bob’s underwear). A terry towel fills the hand and provides a large surface for cleaning. A wipe feels like cleaning with a tissue.

Third point. You’re buying trash. You’re just buying chemically treated paper to throw away, 21 cents at a time. I once owned a residential clean company (fancy way of saying I was a maid). I still own and use the terry cloth towels I have used many thousands of times.  I still use cloths I bought at Costco in 1996. When I clean any surface, I use my terry towels and the appropriate spray solution (sometimes glass cleaner, sometimes neutral cleaner, sometimes disinfectant). Then, I throw them in the hamper for the next laundry day.

My fourth point is debatable, according to the circumstances. There are instances where a disposable product makes more sense. Hospitals, for one. And I have to confess, nothing cleans hair off the bathroom floor half so well as Swiffer dry cloths, so I can’t claim purism. But wipes? Except for some public uses, or to keep in the car for desperate measures, wipes are inferior in performance.

Wipes do not save time. If you can take a minute to go fetch the wipes, you can take a minute to retrieve a spray bottle and a terry towel. I have them stationed in several locations, so I never need to go far for cleaning tools. In actual use, spraying a surface (or the towel directly) takes no longer than wiping the surface with a wipe.

If I’m not a fan of cleaning with wipes, it stands to reason I’m not a fan of cleaning with paper towels. I do use paper towels for some purposes – they are hard to beat for cleaning up a really gross, gloppy, multi-textured mess. They are good for covering spaghetti sauce in the microwave so it doesn’t splatter all over kingdom come. But they are not the best option for merely drying your hands (get a hand towel for that), wiping up every tiny thing off the counter and, least of all, cleaning. Terry towels are the thing for cleaning.

Okay, so maybe you’re convinced but you’re wondering what I mean by “a terry cloth towel.” The terry towels I use were meant to be washcloths. I bought them in bulk at Costco. Other good choices are microfiber cloths (not my personal favorite, but a lot of people do well with them) or former cloth diapers.  The requirements are that they are absorbent, don’t shed lint and are not raggedy. Raggedy rags are impossible to launder and being able to launder them is the entire point. You must always use a cleaning cloth for one application, then into the hamper it goes. I fold mine into quarters and re-fold them as I go, so I’m using a fresh surface. When cleaning the bathroom, use the cloth first on the sink and counter, last on the toilet. ALWAYS launder next!

Shew, this is getting long and I still have a ton to say. Maybe I’ll call this Part I. Tune in shortly for more ecological and economical ranting.