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Ask a Clean Person: Holiday Disasters

I have menorah issues every single year. What is the best way to clean candle wax off everything? I put a sheet of wax paper under the menorah but even then I still have to clean wax out of the menorah itself and it takes forever, especially since it’s an eight-day long holiday.

If you promise to invite me over for latkes (never met a latke I didn’t love) I’ll tell you this secret, but shhhh… don’t tell anyone else (unless they’re also going to invite me over for latkes): spray the menorah with a light coating of cooking spray (you know, like PAM?) right before you begin festivaling the lights; when the eight days are done and you’ve eaten more gelt than you thought humanly possible the wax will sort of slide right off. You’ll want to wash the menorah afterwards with warm soapy water to remove any residual wax and/or PAM.

If your menorah is made of something you don’t want to cover in cooking spray, you can also put it in the freezer. Once the wax is frozen you’ll be able to pop it off pretty easily.

One last idea, which isn’t really recommended so much as something cool I wanted to share because I am a huge nerd: I went on the candlelight tour of The Wyckoff House the other day, and because the group was small the guide told us we could go off topic and ask loads of questions if we wanted; you can imagine what I asked about. Anyway! Back in the day, the method for getting wax off of candleholders was to boil them. The wax would float to the top of the boiling pot, and could be skimmed off and reused. So if you’re feeling old time-y, you could try that!


I had a holiday party to go to and I wanted to impress people, so I was making this really wicked delicious but super-easy chocolate cake. The first step involved blending butter with boiling hot water, in a bowl. (Maybe you can see where this is going.) I lost track of what I was doing for ONE SECOND, seriously, I swear that’s all it was, and then the mixer slipped and the bowl slipped and suddenly EVERY SINGLE SURFACE in the kitchen was coated in butter water. Including the floor. Including MYSELF. I wanted to cry because I literally had no idea how to clean huge amounts of butter off, like, FIVE SQUARE FEET OF KITCHEN FLOOR, or, say, the entire top of the stove including all four burners, or MY HAIR, and on and on and on.

So: since it’s the holidays and we are all cooking delicious but highly unhealthy foods involving large amounts of butter and oil and chocolate and grease and OTHER THINGS THAT STAIN COPIOUSLY, what is the best way to get those things out of your clothes, off the kitchen floor, and out of the carpet?

Oh my goodness, are you sure you didn’t want to start crying because you’d splashed boiling butter water on yourself??? Ouch! Are you okay? Ladies, I want you to be careful out there this holiday season! Allow me to put on my baking columnist hat for a second, and suggest that if you are going to be doing a lot of cooking for the holidays you might want to invest in a tube of burn cream like Weleda’s Burn-Care. I have a similar product, that’s unfortunately been discontinued, and it really is a lifesaver.

But back to cleaning. There are two main things we like to talk about when we talk about grease issues in the house:

(1) ammonia;
(2) dish soap.

Ammonia is what you’ll want to use when you have the butter disasters all over your kitchen; it will cut that grease so fast your head will spin. Dilute it with water and wipe all your surfaces down with rags or sponges, dumping and refilling the wash water as necessary. If you don’t have ammonia on hand, or hate it on principle, do the same thing but with a dishsoap and water solution. Dawn is particularly great for this.

Dishsoap is also a really great option for splatters and stains on fabric, especially when you’re cooking because it’s right on hand and you can get after that stain straightaway. Use a very, very, very little amount on an ever-so-slightly damp cloth or sponge (so: put a wee blurt of soap on the cloth/sponge; wet it; wring it out; keep on wringing; there, now you’re ready) and lightly chh-chh-chh at the fabric, making sure not to rub the stain in. You just want to sort of swat it away. Am I making sense at all? Video, I swear one day there will be video.

Also you said that cake was “wicked delicious,” which suggest to me that you might be from New England, in which case might I recommend that you use a product called Bona for ongoing maintenance of your floors? *rolls around howling with laughter*

Jolie, how do I get frosting off my fabric couch? Don’t ask.

Oh no  no, actually, I would like to ask! The truth can’t possibly be as bad as what I’m imagining, which involves frosting, sexy lingerie with a candy cane-striped motif, a man dressed up in a Grinch costume and a healthy appreciation for the importance of role-playing during sexytimes. (I absolutely cannot be the only one here to have had impure thoughts about the Grinch. Show of hands. No one? Okay then, OH HEY LOOK IN THE SKY! IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, NO IT’S A JIZZCLINER!)

Uhh sorry. Where were we? Right, frosting on your fabric couch.

Wipe away excess frosting with a damp sponge or rag (don’t rub it in, just sort of pat/whisk at the stain to get most of the sugar up), then treat with a low-water Oxi paste. I want you to use Oxi here, instead of dishsoap, because I’m worried that the frosting has food coloring in it — in which case you’ll need the stain fighting power of OxiClean. (Did I sound like a commercial there? Because I’ve been practicing!)

Yesterday we brought home a Christmas tree, and while trying to navigate it through our cozy living room, the tree brushed up against our pale tan sofa and left a big ol’ splooge of pine sap behind. I immediately googled and got conflicting remedies — (plus several called for peanut butter, and rubbing that on light colored fabric didn’t seem like such a great idea). How would you get pine sap off a sofa?

Rubbing alcohol is the thing for sap on fabric (hand sanitizer and nail polish remover also work since they’re alcohol-based), but before you go slapping it on your sofa, I want you to promise me you’ll do a spot check on a hidden part of the fabric to make sure it doesn’t cause discoloration. It’s best to get to it while the sap is still sticky, but if it’s dried, try to scrape off as much as possible before applying the rubbing alcohol. A butter knife would be a good tool for that.

And because I got every variation of the “HELP THERE IS SAP ON MY [BLANK]!!” question possible here are a few other things to know:

Remember our friend WD-40? Super on sappy hands, sappy floors, sappy leather gloves. It’s also the thing if you get sap on the exterior of your car while hauling the tree home.

Oh and! The peanut butter is for when you get sap in your hair. Just … in case that’s something you might need to know.

For the sharp-dressed holiday father who has a kid in one hand and a Manhattan in the other: how do you get wine/gravy/kid barf out of silk, cashmere, or wool ties?

Oh you’re going to love this, because it’s something you’ll already have on hand: baby wipes! Because baby wipes are low-moisture and use a gentle cleanser, they’re a really good option for delicate fabrics like silk and cashmere. The usual rules apply here: please get to the stain as soon as possible! If you can’t, here are some instructions on how to clean silkcashmere, and wool, as well as general stain-removal tips.

Also: might you have a single brother?

This is a love letter and a testimonial to what I’ve learned from ‘Ask a Clean Person’ along with a question at the end.

Had a little bit too much fun (whiskey) this weekend, but my boyfriend had even more (red wine), and, well, things got messy (puke-y). After a lively night of bar-crawling dressed like Santa, my (sweet, lovely) boyfriend laid his head on my knee in the cab home and puked. So much. All over my brand-new Christmas-elf-appropriate green corduroy shorts.

My first thought was that if I had been more full of holiday spirit/less full of booze and the cab driver hadn’t been yelling at me so angrily, I would have busted out your advice on cleaning, um, bodily secretions off upholstery instead of just frantically paper-toweling the back seat when we finally got dropped off. This, however, was neither the time nor the place to explain the wonders of OxiClean to an irate cabbie.

Which brings me to my shorts. I rinsed off what I could when we got home, only to discover the ‘Dry Clean Only’ tag (even though the shorts are 100% cotton?). Oops. Then I remembered your advice on A) cleaning corduroy and B) hand washing delicates. Sweet, lovely, hungover boyfriend repeatedly offered to take my shorts to the dry cleaner or, alternately, purchase a whole new pair, but I, being stubborn, insisted on hand-washing them with a toothbrush and my fancy bra detergent. (It is also possible I wanted to make him feel a little bad, watching me wash his puke out of my new, super-cute shorts. Just maybe.)

So I suds-ed, rinsed, worked into the wale with the brush, and rolled the whole thing up in a towel and laid flat to dry. They look fine, but the smell has… lingered just a tiny bit. And the corduroy isn’t as fluffy as it maybe could be.

So here’s my question: Would it have been easier to just take the shorts to the dry cleaner? Should I take them in now? Sweet, lovely, immensely apologetic boyfriend’s feeling was that I should have taken them in because “That’s just what dry cleaners do.”

What are your thoughts? Would I have been shamed by the dry cleaner for my naivete/grossness, or do they see things like this all the time? I really enjoy the satisfaction of cleaning difficult things myself, but are there some things that should just be left to the professionals?

I think you did exactly the right thing! Particularly in your choice to shame the menfolk. You know how I love a good shaming.

The only addition I have to your approach, and what I’d suggest you do now, is to add a little bit of white vinegar to the mix. The vinegar will help to take out the lingering vomit smell, and also serves as a fabric softener. So give the shorts a second hand-washing, using a mixture of white vinegar, water and detergent. You may also find it beneficial to the shorts to tumble dry them on a low- or no-heat setting, which will also help to fluff things up.

Lordy. I can’t wait to see where you people are going to barf in 2012.

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! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?


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