Thursday, April 28, 2011


Ask a Clean Person: Stovetops, Used Bike Shorts (Yup!), and Yellowing Sheets

My two dude roommates and I trash the stovetop on the regular and I can get it back to a point where it's fairly clean but there are these really stubborn scrubbing-resistant parts, mostly around the most-used burner.  Any advice? (Besides not letting it get that bad in the first place.)

The bad news is that, judging from the state of my inbox, there is a serious epidemic of gunky stovetops plaguing The Hairpin Nation. The good news is that cleaning stovetops is a pretty easy proposition!

Start with an abrasive like Comet or Bon Ami — wet down the stove, sprinkle the Comet all over the place, and then get after it with a wet sponge. Once you get the cooked on gunk up you may still have some greasy residue, which you can hit with regular old oven cleaner. Just remember to open your windows and wear rubber gloves; oven cleaner is serious stuff.

If you’re opposed to chemical cleaners or are just looking to use up products you’ve got around the house, you can also try sprinkling baking soda all over the whole mess and then spritzing it with white vinegar. You’ll get a fun eruption of foam and hissing, which is always good for a thrill! Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe it up. You may need to do more than one application, depending on how bad things are, but eventually it will cut through the crap.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sprinkle my boss with baking soda and mist her with vinegar.

I bought a pair of used bike shorts at the local Goodwill. Is there anyway to clean them? I want to wear them but am a little grossed about because the previous owner definitely sweated in them!! Any tips would be great!

Putting aside the question of whether one should purchase used sporting wear (mine is not to judge, only to guide and evangelize), the realities of exercise gear crotch-al stench are something that I’m sure most everyone can identify with.

If you don’t mind hand washing and/or the particular garment in need of unstinking is not machine washable (bike shorts most likely fall into that category), let the item soak in a baking soda solution — half a cup of soda to about two quarts of water — for 30 minutes before washing it in cold water using your regular detergent, then allow it to dry flat. If your gear is machine washable, go ahead and add the baking soda right to the laundry along with your detergent. Worth noting: Depending on how crotch-y things have gotten down there, it may take more than one wash to get that not-so-fresh smell out.

We have white sheets, and please don't judge me, Jolie, but um, I tend to sweat a lot when I sleep. Like, an obscene amount.

Anyway, um, God this is just embarrassing. But I have to ask you: Is there a way to return these sheets — which are now a horrendous shade of dingy yellow if you look closely enough — back to some semblance of gleaming white? They're so GROSS I can hardly stand it. I wash them all the time. I've soaked them in bleach, too, and it didn't really do much. Is there anything that can be done or am I just going to resign myself to buying an entirely new bedding set before we head off on our European vacation in July because I don't want our cat-sitter to realize that we're disgusting?

I would not judge you. I’m too busy imagining the various scenarios by which communicable diseases are being transferred through the purchase of used Lycra.

First thing first: Stop using bleach! Sweat is a protein stain, and as I’m sure none of you will ever forget, protein stains hate bleach.

Now then, I love you for asking this because I've been wanting to talk about bluing because it's the best stuff and also the name! Bluing! It does just what it sounds like it does, it turns things blue! (You’re all looking at me like I’m a crazy person, I know. Who’s gonna be the first to raise her hand and ask me why I’m telling our overheated friend who just wants white sheets, dang it, to dye them blue?) The reason why I’m telling you to dye your yellow-but-once-white sheets blue is that blue and yellow are complementary colors in the subtractive color model of color perception. (I stole that line right out of the Wikipedia, yeah. I’m hardly science-y enough to go on theorizing to you about color perception models.) It’s the same reason why old ladies dye their white hair blue! Blue makes less-than-white things look whiter! And as a big old bonus for the more chemical-averse among us, bluing is totally earth-friendly!

So here’s how you make it work for you: Follow the instructions on your particular brand of bluing—they really do vary from brand to brand; Mrs. Stewart’s, which I use, calls for diluting a few drops in a quart of water and adding it to the rinse cycle, but some other brands call for using it as a presoak so FAIR WARNING READ THE INSTRUCTIONS—and add it to your wash. It will ever-so-slightly tint your whites blue, counteracting any yellowing and making the white appear whiter. As these things go, it might take more than one wash to get things back to where you want them to be but you should have bright white sheets on your bed faster than you can say “bluuuuuuuiiiing.”

Bluing. Literally. God, I love this job.

Previously: Mouse turds, copper pots, and onion smells.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Is anything you own dirty?

Photo via Flickr

74 Comments / Post A Comment


If you chip the white enamel of your stovetop, touch it up with white appliance paint! It's essentially nail polish for stoves, and, if skillfully applied to a chip or a scrape, will get you past a very tough landlord's inspection.

Jolie Kerr

@atipofthehat Nice! Thanks for the tip, Tip!

Katie Walsh

Baking soda for EVERYTHING! Hair, used bike shorts, stovetops, cookie sheets. Yay yay yay BAKING SODA!!


@Katie Walsh I just used baking soda in my hookah last night to get the mint flavor out!

Jolie Kerr

@Katie Walsh Baking soda + vinegar also works as a super natural drain unclogger!!!

Pretty much this column is going to turn into "The answer is always baking soda, bleach or magic erasers" if I'm not careful.

Katie Walsh

@Jolie Kerr Don't hate me, but I started washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar like the hippies told me too. I like to think the added benefit is that it is an extremely lazy way to also clean my disgusting shower. #lazy #gross #ew

Katie Walsh

@Katie Walsh *to. Editing fail.


@Katie Walsh #amazing#productivelaziness


@Jolie Kerr was gonna say, magic erasers for the stovetop - soooo satisfying.


So don't bleach, blue. Damn I wish this was up yesterday when I tried to bleach my white bed sheets white. The colour didn't change. Other sad part is that I lost one of my pillow cases. Haven't a clue where it went :(


@ReginaChristina You should have microchipped it. I microchip everything. My wallet, my oven mitt, my cat... It's like the baking soda of finding things.


@ReginaChristina Tell me how to microchip something! I want to find stuff!


So using comet, is that ok on stove tops that are not your traditional gas or element burners but those ones where the element is actually under the glass or whatever it is. You know the ones that are actually supposed to be easier to clean because the entire top is a smooth level, except that crap bakes on anyways and the damn thing etches if you go too hard core on ?


@ReginaChristina NO NO NO! it's too abrasive, there are special products!

Latiffa Kerbal@facebook

@ReginaChristina Mr Clean Magic Erasers!! They really are magic!

Jolie Kerr

@BethH Apologies, I should have specified that the question was about cleaning gas stovetops. Beth is exactly right, an abrasive will scratch your glass stovetop (and ugh, I had one of those a few years back and was CONSTANTLY after it with Windex.)


@ReginaChristina : Blade! You get a razor blade scraper for ceramic stoves!!! It's awesomesauce, I use it weekly, promise!


@Jolie Kerr thanks Jolie! Yeah I thought comet was a no-go, but I figured I'd ask the clean queen!

Matt Langer

Um, Jolie dear? That is foul! You do not tell someone to reach for the baking soda; you kindly ask them if they'd buy a thong at Beacon's Closet, and when they answer no you then kindly follow up with SO THEN WHY DO YOU WANT YOUR SEXY BITS RUBBING ALL UP ON THE SAME CROTCH PAD SOMEONE ELSE'S SEXY BITS RUBBED UP ON?

Tangentially: isn't it the case that the only fashion crime greater than wearing bicycle shorts in the first place would be rubbing your sexybits up on the leftover residue from the sexybits of someone else who first had the similarly misguided fashion judgment to have situated their sexybits inside the used bicycle shorts you're now willfully putting your own sexybits in?

Hold me Jolie, I'm so grossed out by all of this.

Jolie Kerr

@langer Oh sweetie, I know. I know. ((holding you))


@langer I am so with you on the grossed out part. Initially I was all "maybe they're not wearing them as a fashion statement!" but then I was like, a million times more grossed out because wearing bike shorts as the good lord intended them (on a bike) increases the crotch factor by probably seven billion.

squid v. whale

@Jolie Kerr you are quickly becoming a favorite Hairpinner of mine. Clearly the answer was "A clean person does not buy used bike shorts, fool!" but you went the polite AND helpful route which I admire.

But I'm still stuck on used bike shorts! Are new ones expensive? I guess that's for "Ask an Active Person."

...oh damn. I should read EVERYTHING before commenting. I guess my column would be "Ask a Person Who Can't Learn the Internets."



There is no earthly reason to buy used bike shorts. They exist at every price point; there are tons of websites that sell activewear where one can do exhaustive comparison shopping.
A formerly active person who would never expect anyone else to wear her old bike shorts.
(Never mind who buys them, what kind of person donates/resells used intimates?)


@langer Padded bike shorts for cycling (not just the awesome spandex numbers you dance around in in videos) actually are kind of pricey. Personally, not sure I'd buy them used, but then I have bought used sheets!!!


I would definitely buy used bike shorts; padded shorts for hardcore cycling actually are pretty expensive. I seriously don't get what the big deal is. What on earth are you imagining will happen? I understand that the idea is a little gross in the same way that buying used underwear (which I wouldn't do) or a used bathing suit can be gross for psychological reasons. I would probably be really grossed out by a garment that smelled like someone else's crotch. But if you wash it and disinfect it as specified it will be sterile and cease to smell at which point there is no issue besides a psychological one, which if you can get past, cool.


I'm now wondering if bluing would help my roommates sheets--she buys sheets that are already blue, but her proactiv ends up leaving these weird bleached patterns on them; it rubs off on pillowcases and then bleeds in the wash(note--you should def have enough white washcloths/pillowcases to do a seperate small load of laundry if using crazy chemicals on your skin). Maybe if it wasn't so diluted? Thoughts?


@BethH I used to have that problem with a topical acne creme. Get white pillowcases... wash separately :)


@DrFeelGood My roommate does not have her life together enough for that--she probably wouldn't get around to bluing even if I could prove to her that it would. I just feel bad, her brand new sheets and towels in her fave color all got ruined :(

Lady Humungus

In defense of used bike shorts: my fiance is a cyclist and buys all that stuff, has the catalogs lying around.... I cannot BELIEVE how expensive that stuff is. You can easily drop $100 on good quality bike shorts. Not that I would ever ever buy them used, but I can see why a financially-strapped cyclist may do so.

As for sheets...... dude, just buy patterned sheets! Seriously? They're cute, they'll perk up your bed, I mean come on.

elysian fields

@Jengraf_80 eh, personally I refuse to sleep on anything but white sheets so I sympathize with the writer's quandary. Gleaming white sheets are just the best.


@elysian fields BEST advice I got from my mother - Get white sheets and towels. You'll always have enough for a load of laundry, never have to worry about separating colors, fading etc. Makes laundry soo much easier.


Bluing! Amazing; I've said it before, but this column aggrandizes my clean person ego to delicious proportions.

I have a couple of tips as someone who is really hard on her workout gear (read: sweats heaps); as previously mentioned in other Ask A Clean Person column(s), vinegar is also great to add to hand wash/laundry cycle for general accrued sweat stench. And now here is my secret big-guns weapon: Win laundry detergent. I do Bikram yoga and started to freak out when my expensive gear started to retain a perma-sweat smell; I tried to compensate with extra detergent and people were like, 'that's odd, it smells like a laundromat in here'. Seriously? Win took care of it in one cycle, insert tears of joy emoticon. I now use it once a month for maintenance purposes.

Jolie Kerr

@garge Fantastic suggestion, thanks! Here's a product locator if anyone wants to get some Win for themselves: http://www.windetergent.com/buy_locate.asp

Das Awesome

@garge You are amazing. I was just today bemoaning the fact that my very expensive, beloved Yogitoes skidless towel has a permanent eau de bikram torture chamber to it, despite washing after every class. Off to find some Win!


For the person with the yellowed sheets. Even more readily available than bluing is Oxygen Bleach! OxyMagic or OxyClean or whatever - does wonders for protein stains on all whites. Any light colored item can be left to soak in Oxyclean for HOURS. I soak clothes in a concentrated solution overnight, use it for pit stains and food stains it is a miracle worker! It is less effective on grease but I digress. Directions on the box. Be careful with darks/reds - it can be used with these but they must be soaked separately and briefly, since they will bleed.

For the stove - magic erasers work great, esp. with something like fantastic (then you don't have to get out the big guns with oven cleaner).

Jolie Kerr

@DrFeelGood The person who wrote the question rejected my Oxi suggestion, but I totally agree. I've got a pile of pantyhose (my shoes always turn the toes black!) soaking in an Oxi/detergent solution in my kitchen sink as I type this. Great stuff!


@Jolie Kerr this reminds me i need to go home and soak my white towels in oxyclean :)


@DrFeelGood Want to boost it even more? Use *very hot* water and dissolve the Oxiclean in it and soak 'em!


@Jolie Kerr, thank you so much for answering the bluing question today-- I was actually just thinking about writing to you about this very issue. Hopefully I'll be able to find a bluing method that will work with my limited space for pre-soaking / front-loading washers that obviously can't open mid-cycle.


Am I the only one who remembers when Ramona Quimby used bluing to turn the sink water she would sail her model ship in blue and it ended in disaster? Annnnyone?


@BlushAndBashful I remember that. I loved the Ramona books.


@BlushAndBashful That Ramona, always making messes with household products. Remember when she filled the sink with toothpaste? I have always wanted to try that. Maybe filling the sink with Arm & Hammer toothpaste (baking soda!) will get it clean?

Can we have a post on the most fun ways to clean things?


Jolie please come and personally teach me how to be a cleaner person? When the feet of my pantyhose turn colors from my shoes, I just keep wearing them.

Oh also, unrelated but super-pressing issue - any idea how to get gel food coloring off of one's hands? There is some serious lady macbeth action going on over here right now.



Have you tried a little paste of baking soda? Sometimes that works, though I kind of suspect it might just slough off the dyed skin, so gently rubbing the stains with a pumice stone could do the trick as well.


@cherrispryte If you have any face cream with Alpha-Hydroxy lying around, putting that on when you go to bed makes it wash off much easier in the morning (I think because it helps you shed the old skin cells also). Good for misplaced nail polish too.

Jolie Kerr

@cherrispryte I can't vouch for how safe it is, but nail polish remover is my go-to for getting stains off my hands. (I AM TRYING TO DIE YOUNG, YES.)


@cherrispryte try plain old rubbing alcohol. It removes hair dye stains from skin, so maybe it will work for food dye? You also probably already have it.


I bought white bedsheets with a pink bird pattern all over (put a bird on it, indeed!) a long time ago and the white parts has since yellowed... Will bluing turn the birds purple???


@LastMinuteLulu Try Oxyclean - it doesn't bleach colors. Use cold water and keep an eye on it for color bleed.


@DrFeelGood Cool, my pink birds thank thee!


My husband it the Original Overbearing Cycling Guy (tm). I have done his laundry for 16 years.


@UptightMidwesterner My first thought was- do they have chamois in the seat?? SHUDDER


Re: the bluing-aren't the sheet sweats confined to a general area where people lie down in bed to sleep? So if the bluing neutralized those spots, wouldn't it turn others noticeably blue--say, the ten or so inches on the side of the mattress, or the spaces under pillows, or y'know, not where you put your (my) sweaty-ass body to rest?
I'm asking for a friend...

Jolie Kerr

@CupKates Ha! No you'll be okay. Give it a whirl! Or try Oxi!


Oh, thought of another follow up question on bluing, something which I'm fairly unfamiliar with: Sometimes when you iron white things frequently, they start to develop that yellow/brown tinge. Not too sure if it's the heat or the startch or the combo. Which would be best for this, bluing or bleach or oxi?

Jolie Kerr

@BethH Oxi, definitely


For the gunky stove - try a fabric steamer. We have a black stove top that is just awful to keep clean so one day I brought in our clothes steamer and went crazy on it. It makes the gunk easy to remove and you don't have to use any chemicals. Also, fabric steamer works for a stainless steel fridge's smudge marks.


"And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sprinkle my boss with baking soda and mist her with vinegar."


More green cleaning! Way to go Hairpin!

Re:Bluing. I'm having one of those moments where I feel like I've just been pretending to be a grown up. Bluing? I'm never even heard of it. Can someone tell me where to find this so I don't have to walk into the grocery store and say, "Where's the bluing?"

Jolie Kerr

@magnificentjane Here is the Mrs. Stewart's product locator. Don't even feel bad for asking though - bluing is kind of esoteric!


@magnificentjane I only know about bluing from Ramona Quimby, so don't feel bad!


I'm afraid I just blue myself.

(There's gotta be a better way to say that.)


@alpelican Oh Tobias! You BLOWHARD!


@alpelican Tobias, do you hear yourself when you talk?

Jolie Kerr

@alpelican http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5posU08HjXg


@Jolie Kerr yesssssssssss


(The Mrs. Stewart's link points to file://localhost/index.htm , which ain't gonna work ever, BTW.)




white sheets this week, oniony plastic last week, who keeps writing my questions for me?


I need a post that's like, how to be a clean person. Not how to clean specific things, just how to be that person that keeps everything clean all the time.


So I can't find an email address to post a question...so here I am...
I live in a house I bought about 3 year ago. There are a lot of things I've let slide (since I'm busy and don't care, or because they don't bother my OCD husband). One such, which actually bothers me a lot, is my fridge. The fridge itself, while not without its quirks, works fine; the issue is the outside. Ever since I moved in, there are mysterious rust-looking stains on the outer surface (the door). As best I can tell, the paint isn't comprimised, so it's not rust from below. The stains are about pinhead sized, but cover a large area of the door. I've tried lysol with bleach, windex, and there were probably another couple things, but nothing budges those little fuckers, and I don't want to start scrubbing off paint. My husband, at one point, DID manage to remove them, but no one agrees about how this happened -- he swears he "just wiped it down with windex," but I'm pretty sure this is a lie since windex hasn't done squat since. (And obviously, the spots did eventually return, or we wouldn't be having this conversation.) Short of painting over these little spots with appliance paint (I'd rather remove the issue than cover it up), any thoughts?


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