Friday, February 22, 2008

on cleaning and the different sexes

I’m getting ready to clean the bathroom, which for me is a complicated process. First I have to gather cleaning supplies, of which I have about two dozen. I have cleansers with and without bleach, cleansers with and without Lysol disinfectant, cleansers with and without ammonia, and cleansers with and without anything in them that actually cleans, but they smell good so... I have cleansers that remove soap scum and cleansers that remove hard water. Some of my cleansers are made for scrubbing without scratching, some are made for cleaning without scrubbing, and some are made for scratching without scrubbing or cleaning (I haven’t yet figured out where to use that, but I keep it on hand just in case.)

I have a different cleanser to clean every surface in the bathroom; the sink and the countertop on which the sink rests require two different cleansers (so as not to scratch the porcelain). The outside and the inside of the toilet, of course, require two different cleansers, and even the mirror requires a different cleanser than the chrome fixtures in the sink and shower. And speaking of the shower, I am eternally grateful that I don’t have glass doors, because that would definitely require a whole host of different cleansers that, if added to my ten-gallon bucket of cleansers, would make it too heavy to carry up the stairs.

In the other hand, I have materials to use with the cleansers--sponges, dust cloths, cleaning rags, dishcloths, paper towels, cleaning towels, scrub brushes, toilet brushes, latex gloves, plastic garbage bags, a broom and dustpan, a mop, and a toothbrush for scrubbing the grout between the tiles. By the time I have gathered up all of the supplies for cleaning the bathroom, I am out of time and energy to complete the job.

My mom taught me how to clean. She instilled in me the knowledge of which cleanser to use on which surface, as well as how to clean that surface properly. She was fastidious about cleaning, and I grew up thinking it was a sin to use windex to wipe down the toilet or comet to clean the bowl. Of course, I also thought that it was unhealthy to cut a sandwich on the diagonal so that you had two triangles instead of two rectangles, so I’m beginning to think that some of my mom’s tutelage was unintentional.

My husband, luckily, is helping me overcome this obsession with cleansers. When I finally lug all of my supplies up the stairs, I meet him coming out of the bathroom. “What are you doing?” he asks. “I’m going to clean the bathroom,” I say. “I just did it for you,” he reassures me. Looking at my heavily laden arms, I ask, with trepidation, “What did you use?”

“Hand soap,” he tells me cheerfully, and walks into the bedroom whistling tunelessly, obviously proud of himself for doing a job without being asked to. I am afraid that if I just go into the bathroom and inspect the job, I will have to go to confession afterward. But my mother’s compulsion gets the best of me and I know that no matter how good it looks, the bathroom mirror will not really be clean until I have sprayed it with Windex and wiped it down with paper towels.

Unfortunately, I am out of Windex. This is a catastrophe. I can’t use Comet, obviously, because the powder wouldn’t stick to a vertical surface and it would be horrible to try and rinse off. I try the cleansers in spray bottles one by one, but they all leave streaks, even with the two-ply, industrial strength paper towels on which you can wash grapes without breaking them. The toilet bowl cleanser and mopping solution are, of course, out of the question, as is the chrome cleanser and the cream cleanser I sometimes use for countertops. I could try a dusting cleanser, but the mirror is dusty, not dirty. I clean the rest of the bathroom carefully, hoping that, if everything else is spotless, the mirror will be able to wait until I can get to the store for Windex. But every time I turn around, I see toothpaste sprays, tweezed eyebrows, two-year-old fingerprints, and condensation drips. It cannot wait. I have to clean the mirror, even if it is the death of me. There is only one solution; I don’t like it, but it is the only way. I have to use the hand soap.