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Today I was going about vacuuming with our bagless Hoover when I realized that there was a burning smell emanating from the machine. I checked the belt, feeling oh-so-handy with my husband’s workgloves on as I deftly (not really) used the screwdriver to remove the grill. The belt was okay, so I picked off some balls of dust and hair off the beater bar while I was in there, wondering what could be causing the light but unmistakable smoky smell.

Meanwhile it occurs to me that I’ve never read the manual very carefully. I’m not a very careful person, or one endowed with a great deal of common sense, so I am trying to make it a rule to read manuals of anything remotely technical before using them (besides, sometimes the machines don’t turn out to be made with a whole lot of common sense either). I get it out and discover just how delightfully complex the vacuum and its various parts are. It gives me a good feeling to know, for the first time, that we have a complex, multi-talented vacuum.

So I go outside to empty the dirt cup, and realize that the “dirt cup filter assembly” was also pretty dirty. I didn’t know this part existed before reading the manual; the “dirt cup filter” is hidden within the “cartridge,” which was oozing dirt. Might as well clean that while I’m out here. This is where the reminder to you all comes in, if you by chance are as ignorant as me about how these bagless vacuums work. All the dust, except for maybe 1%, apparently goes into the “dirt cup filter.” I would say that I have probably never seen so much dust in one place in my life; very possibly the sum of all the dust I’ve ever seen in my twenty-one years was less than the amount clinging to the filter. It is honestly beyond me as to how an 8-month-old vacuum, used to clean an apartment the size of some people’s bathrooms, could collect *so much dirt.* After about 20 minutes of banging and scraping, I reasoned that the “dirt cup filter” should not have to be immaculate, as it is only going to sit inside my vacuum collecting more until the next time I remember its existence.

The best part of the story is that once the filter is cleaned, your vacuum will do wondrous things—things you never thought it could do! Mine sounded much louder—perhaps, happier—when I turned it on after The Detox. I also solved the mystery of the beater brush attachment that wouldn’t beat. Apparently its health is vitally linked to a clean “dirt cup filter assembly”; and as for my health, my heart just about failed within me when I attached it to use on the rug— as always, somewhat skeptically. Well contrary to all prior experience the vacuum mustered up a sound like a motorcycle revving up to pass me (as they do often here), and the arm holding the attachment began vibrating as if I had just grabbed an electric fence. It turns out the beater brush beats quite well. So now I know: and knowing is half the battle.

Here are a few principles and practical suggestions taken from chapter 9 of the aforementioned Germ Proof Your Kids (Harley Rotbart, M.D., Washington, DC: ASM Press, 2008).

– There are two main factors in keeping a truly clean home: one is using the right kind of detergent (see below); the other is establishing a consistent schedule for cleaning each room of the house. The doctor recommends the following as a “reasonable regimen”: clean kitchen sinks and countertops daily; bathroom sinks, countertops, and flush handles three to four times each week; toilets, and kitchen and bathroom floors, weekly. The bedroom and playroom of a sick child should be cleaned twice a day.
– For handwashing, use regular soap— that is, the kind that works by lifting and removing dirt and germs rather than killing them—until we have more conclusive evidence that antiseptics/antibacterials are more effective. He recommends liquid rather than bar soap if possible, to avoid the obvious pitfall of picking up new germs. That said, it never occurred to me that liquid dispensers can become contaminated, too, and so require some vigilance. 1) Don’t just top off refillable dispensers. Once they are empty, the bottle and pump should be thoroughly washed. 2) Between refills— and the doctor suggests “once a week, at least”— the pump surface should be washed and disinfected.
– In lab experiments comparing cleaning and disinfecting agents, bleach is most effective against Staphylococcus aureus and gastrointestinal germs; ammonia and phenol products are less effective but they also substantially reduce bacteria counts; and such darlings of green and/or frugal housekeepers as baking soda and vinegar simply do not work for these purposes.
– Germs love moisture, and moisture is abundant in the kitchen and bathroom. Ninety percent of gastroenteritis cases caused by salmonella occur at home, probably due to the practice of transferring germs from the sink to the counter via the used dishrag. Rotavirus, the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis worldwide, can last for days or even weeks on moist surfaces in the bathroom, and beyond: think faucets, sinks, toys, and diaper-changing areas.
– It’s a good idea to keep the toothbrushes as far from the toilet as possible; at the risk of sounding indelicate, the germs propelled into the air after flushing won’t cause any problems as long as you don’t ingest them.
– Kitchen sponges should be either discarded and replaced every day or two, or sterilized. (In my experience, the sponge will have to be discarded anyway after a couple uses and subsequent soaks in a bleach solution; this seems to cause my sponges to break down rapidly. Maybe they’re just too cheap.) Or, you could microwave the sponge *while wet* for 2-4 minutes, and that will drastically reduce the germ count.
– Use kitchen rags once, or at most for one day, before laundering them. Don’t use the rags you used to wash dishes to clean the counters, and vice versa. (I have been advised elsewhere to use a bristle brush: you won’t do so much replacing of sponges, or laundering of possibly contaminated rags, and it doesn’t trap bacteria as well as sponges or rags.)
– Use hot water and/or bleach whenever possible in the laundry.

I came home from my library trip last night with a book titled Germ Proof Your Kids. Odd, yes, if you know me as a childless newlywed. Well, I have some things to tell you. No, I’m kidding. The book was just published this year, written by a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, and, obviously, written for parents—but also supposed to be comprehensive enough to be a reference manual for physicians. For the rest of us, it is a primer on germs of all sorts and the available treatments for illnesses caused thereby. I married someone who has to take potent immunosuppressants for a medical condition, and thus who probably would have been better off marrying a microbiologist or someone in the medical field who could bring home her clinical cleaning habits. As, however, his decision most fortunately cannot be changed, I feel that I could stand to get a better grasp of the basics of “germ proofing,” and to keep my house in accord with my husband’s rather critical need to be shielded from disease-causing germs as much as possible.

I thankfully didn’t grow up in a pigsty, but as more women give themselves to careers rather than to the men they were created to help, the science (and art) of homemaking necessarily falls by the wayside. The standard now seems to be all about appearances: what your kitchen looks like matters more than the actual bacteria count on your counters; no one, male or female, has the time to be “obsessive” about these things, and no one has ever heard about a salmonella epidemic originating with somebody being lazy with the sponge at home. (Unless pop-ups drive you insane, just check out the comments on this article for a sample of such opinions; I was particularly sickened by the person who proudly boasted that he never washes his hands, except in the shower, and he *rarely* gets sick…!!) But since there are several not-uncommon circumstances—such as when you have a newborn, elderly person, or an otherwise immunocompromised person in the home— when the risks of superficial housekeeping are too many and too great, it makes sense to get in the habit of being an “obsessive,” i.e. a careful, housekeeper; or at least to be very familiar with what it takes to keep a house clean enough for a weakened immune system. Then, in the event that such a person visits or permanently comes into your home, you’re not dealing with the added strain of adjusting to a new and slightly more laborious mode of keeping house.

As far as the book goes, the first chapter has been quite easy to read even to my non-scientific mind. The fact that it is so well organized (and the good doctor faithfully disregards every high school English teacher’s anathema against stating ahead of time what you will proceed to demonstrate, explain, prove, etc.) probably has something to do with that. I may have to start taking notes, or just buy the book so that I can keep a dog-eared copy on hand.

Well, speaking of cleaning, I took Lauren’s advice a couple months ago and tried Bon Ami, the famous gently abrasive cleaner. I like using it now that I’ve gotten an idea of how much to pour out for an effective use, and as the label boasts, it “hasn’t scratched yet” on any of the surfaces I’ve tried: toilet, laminate countertops, and whatever the bathroom countertops are made of. . . I think it cost me a whopping $0.87, but because I am just shamefully cheap, I started wondering if the similar action of baking soda ($0.54) would suffice. I got a very helpful response from one of the Bon Ami customer service reps via e-mail that I will post here for anyone interested—not just in saving $0.33, but in understanding how the two cleaners work:

Baking Soda is not an very strong abrasive, it cleans chemically by ionizing in your tap water and creating a bit of an acid. Our Bon Ami is more abrasive than Baking Soda and also utilizes a detergent with the mechanical cleaning action.

Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser, is a formulation of feldspar, calcite, biodegradable detergent, and soda ash. The surfactant in the detergent is sodium alkyl-benzene which is also found in many other household detergents. It is better to use this product in hard water areas. We do not recommend using Cleanser on windows or mirrors.

Bon Ami products contain no chlorine, perfume, or dye. It is a mildly caustic cleaner that is non-toxic according to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations, biodegradable and do not contain phosphates, ammonia, or chlorine bleach. We recommend a thorough and complete rinsing of any surface on which Bon Ami is used to clean; however, there are no ill effects expected if ingested. Calcite and Feldspar are both inert materials derived from natural rock; the use of these minerals rates our Bon Ami products as mild abrasives. Satisfactory results are seen using Bon Ami on many surfaces; however, we do not recommend the either Bon Ami product be used on highly polished, high gloss, decorative, or grained surfaces as it is possible that the product could scratch.

June 2017
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