Cleaning Up After The Joneses – December 31, 1998
IN one swift move, the holiday season upends the typical household in a flurry of trash, drips and spills — like a scene in a snow globe. Just as the house starts to settle from Hanukkah and Christmas, New Year’s Eve hits.
There’s now enough candle on the dining-room table to give it a bikini wax. The carpets have stocked sufficient wine to throw a party. And the house has developed its own fragrance, like a celebrity licensee. Think excited babies and nervous pets, with hints of chocolate and Champagne.
Like all hangovers, holiday cleaning headaches can be dealt with. Professional strategies, home remedies and common sense tackle most of the problems.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to get the Christmas tree back out of the house, for instance.
The wrong way: dragging it out backward by the boughs like a cat on its way to the vet.
”The best way to get a fresh tree out of the house is to make a sling for it with a sheet or a bedspread,” said Mary Ellen Pinkham, the author, with Dale Berg, of ”Mary Ellen’s Complete Home Reference Book (Crown, 1994). ”Don’t carry it out late at night,” she added darkly.
Pine needles left behind should be vacuumed ”very, very slowly, to allow the machine to accommodate them without clogging the beater head,” advised Jeff Campbell, the president of the Clean Team, a cleaning service in San Francisco. Pine sap should be softened — not frozen — with gum and tar removers available at auto-supply shops. Cooking oil will get it off your hands.
Check with the local garbage-removal authority about the tree — it may be recyclable. Rockefeller Center sends its tree, which comes down on Jan. 4, to a New Jersey nursery, where the trunk is cut into six sections, to be used as jumps for the United States Olympic equestrian team trials nearby. The branches are mulched into chips for trails at a neighboring Boy Scout camp.
Stains in the carpet aren’t going to be as easy to remove as the tree. Wine stains should be treated as fresh spills. Old red wine becomes a color scheme.
”Blot it up well,” advised Ms. Berg, Ms. Pinkham’s collaborator. ”The carpet sucks the stain down.” She recommended disposable diapers, salt or cat litter, ”for wicking the stain out,” before deploying any cleaning agents.
Heloise, the household-hints columnist, agreed. ”You’ll get 90 percent of the stain out. Then, mix a mild dish-washing liquid solution — a quarter teaspoon to a cup of warm water — to dab on the stain, rubbing from the outside of the stain into the center. Then rinse it with fresh water.” Before soaping any carpet or rug, test a hidden corner first for colorfastness — a white cloth will pick up dye from the sudsed area if it isn’t colorfast.
Red wine on table linens is best attacked with a fight-fire-with-fire approach, Ms. Pinkham said. ”Pour white wine on it,” she said. ”It changes the color. Now, you’re not dealing with a dye problem — you’re dealing with a blotting problem.”
Grease stains like those from gravy should be sprinkled with salt, flour or artificial sweetener, patted lightly and left until nearly dry. Then, pour a liquid laundry detergent with enzyme agents in it — they digest the food — or a dish detergent for pots and pans, which has strong degreasing agents in it, onto the stain and let it sit for 10 minutes, Heloise advised. Then, wash it in the hottest water safe for the fabric.
Boiling water, poured from above at close range over linens pulled taut over a bowl will remove many wine and food stains by leaching them through the fabric.
Ms. Pinkham advised prevention over cure. ”If they’re valuable linens, spray them with fabric protector or spray starch before you set the table,” she said, ”as a stain barrier.”
If it’s clothing, like a necktie, try spitting on it. ”The enzyme in spittle that breaks down food breaks down food stains,” Ms. Berg explained, recommending that you first excuse yourself from the table.
Experts ran hot and cold on candle wax. The consensus: the ice treatment for linens and clothing that can be conveniently frozen for a good length of time.
”Several days in the freezer will pull the moisture out of the wax, in addition to hardening it, so that it flicks right off,” Heloise said.
For tables and other wood furniture, Ms. Berg suggested softening candle wax with a hair dryer on a low setting, then scraping it up with a plastic spatula.
White furniture rings caused by wet drinking glasses can be rubbed out with the oil of a broken walnut or almond, she added, or cigarette ash mixed in mayonnaise.
For wax on fabrics or carpeting, Jim Ireland of White Glove Elite, a New York residential cleaning service, recommended lightly ironing a plain brown grocery bag over the candle drippings, which will warm the wax. The absorbent paper will pull it up. Don’t use a printed bag.
Anyone who hates children and dogs, to paraphrase W. C. Fields, may have had to clean up after them. In fairness, adults get excitable at parties, too.
”People getting sick on the carpet? Get new friends,” said Ms. Pinkham, half-joking. ”Vomit’s really tough.” She advised treating it like a food stain, with a thick paste of an enzyme-active laundry detergent and water. ”Clean up as much as you can — trash bags used as gloves are good for this — then spread the solution on the stain, start blotting and rinse, and blot that. Then vinegar and water for the odor.”
The smell of the holiday season, from sweet to stale, is often the last guest to leave.
”Go to the supermarket and buy cheap coffee,” said Barbara Roche Fierman, the owner of New York’s Little Elves, a cleaning service that keeps the Kips Bay decorator show house clean through its annual run. ”Fresh, dry coffee, sprinkled on carpets or fabrics, then vacuumed up, absorbs smells better than anything on the market.”
Ms. Pinkham soaks a towel in a basin of water with a cup of vinegar, then spins it dry in the washing machine and runs through her house, spinning it above her head like a helicopter blade to ring in the New Year.
There’s little, she explained, that doesn’t exorcise.
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