Why Other People’s Dirt is Grosser Than Yours.

I maintain those people with extremely clean homes have them because they’re just better lookers.  They can casually glance around a room and immediately see where anything is gross.

They would have noticed this dimmer switch about 9 years ago for instance …

Cleaning: Soap & water, Q Tip, toothpicks

Which is why this weekend I’m going to be cleaning everything I can see. But honestly I can’t see much.  It’s a bit of a phenomenon actually.   When it’s your own dirt you just can’t see it. You walk into your bathroom, use the toilet, wash your hands, and walk out.  Everything’s fine. Nothing amiss.

You walk into someone else’s bathroom, use the toilet, wash your hands and walk out convulsing because there is a single, solitary hair stuck to the shower door way up by the ceiling, partially hidden by a perfectly folded hanging towel.

But you spotted it. The hair. Because you have visitor’s vision.

I can almost barf and it’s just a made up scenario based on a single hair.  That again, to reiterate, isn’t even real … it’s made up.

So I walked around my house today trying really, really hard to see the dirt.  To look places I don’t normally focus on.  I found a lot of dirt.  Most of it is up high over my head so I just never see it. That’s mostly dust that I find up high because I haven’t played meatball baseball in my house in a really long time.

But there’s also the kind of dirt that makes me wonder how I’ve never noticed that my hands are made up of 5% clean skin and 95% unidentifiable brown guck.

Cleaning: Soap & water, cotton cloth

You know how there are those people who you say “everything they touch turns to gold”? Everything I touch turns to dirt.

Cleaning: Soap & water, scrub brush, baking soda & water paste, cotton cloth

This I’m not sure I’ve ever cleaned. My fireplace hearth.  I’m sure at some point I’ve cleaned it but I can’t actually remember it.  I have very low expectations on this one.  But look at that floor!

I – now you’re not going to believe me here – in fact clean my range hood every couple of months.  I swipe at it randomly a couple of times a week but I do a full cleaning often (by my less than superior standards.)

I will not. I will not. I will not. I will not. I will not. I will not. I will NOT forget to clean the filters.

Which reminds me I’m not sure that I’ve cleaned my furnace filters this winter.  So … adding that to the list.

Cleaning: Hot water & microfibre cloth is the best for stainless, hot soapy water for filters.

O.K. so my list now includes things up high, things hidden and things I can’t actually see.  This should be a breeze.

Cleaning: Glass cleaner, paper towels.

Add mirrors to that list.

Cleaning: Soap & water, cotton cloth.

And bookshelves.  And doors on bookshelves that bear my trademark 95% unidentifiable brown guck on them.

Cleaning: Soap & water, cotton cloth.

And then there’s the light. The light I’ve been afraid to clean.  The bubble lamp.  It’s meant to just be dusted but I feel like there’s dust stuck on it. So soap and water are what I’ll try.  That’s what the George Nelson Bubble Light website says to use and I assume they know what they’re talking about.

The Cleaning List

  • Light switches/dimmer switches
  • Lamps
  • Tops of things that are higher than my head.
  • Bannister
  • Mirrors
  • Bookshelves/bookcases
  • Fireplace hearth
  • Stove range AND FILTERS
  • Furnace filter

Special note, check bathroom for offending hairs.

Have a good weekend!





p.s. I just had a good look at my keyboard.  It’s definitely something that could kill you if you were to lick it.  Add my keyboard to the list.



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  1. sylvie says:

    I finally learned to brush dust off with a paintbrush or toothbrush, then vacuum, then use liquid cleaners if you must. Dust/crumblies plus liquids equals sludge that just sticks harder. And if you have allergies, that sludge becomes a nice biofilm for mold and other stuff to grow on. I tend to start swifferring the ceiling Door frame tops, then work my way down the walls, and do the air intake registers and the floors, laundry machine etc. wearing a dust mask and after a Benadryl. Shower and NetI pot after. tools get a clean after also…Just some vinegar and water no need to go nuclear each time. range hood, Vacuum and dryer maintained/ filters washed too each month or so. Developed allergies as an adult. leaving outside shoes by the door cuts down In dust and other sticky stuff coming in a for a ride.

  2. Jacquie Gariano says:

    Thanks for all the laughs and great tips for cleaning. My Mom was a great one for cleaning. Every Friday she would clean top to bottom. We had sheets on the “good” furniture forever it seems. Loved her dearly but was never able to keep up with her standards. Oh, well. That’s life.

  3. Catherine Naulin says:

    Dear Karen,

    I love that you give tips on cleaning with (mostly) soap, water cotton cloth. Works like a charm, no chemicals, no fuss, no muss. A little elbow grease and sharp eye sight also help.

  4. Marna says:

    I’m with Karen! I am old now but when I was younger I did vacuum daily and kept things as clean as I could because of my kids. I have a small house, but with three boys it sure got dirty, the husband was/is the worst! I can’t see much now between developing cataracts and needing reading glasses, I don’t see the dirt unless I happen to have my glasses on, then get grossed out seeing what I have missed cleaning, or didn’t clean well enough. I grew up in a house that any ladies magazine could have come in and taken pictures. My mom was always after me to clean my house more, but she didn’t work full time, or at all, when she got married, and she didn’t have three children either. She was one of those that all but pulled out a white glove to check how clean things were at my house. She didn’t garden, do all the crafts I liked doing or have a ton of pets like I have had, but then we each pick what’s important to us. :)

  5. Mary W says:

    You skipped right over what I don’t know how to clean – just like me when I clean the book shelves – the actual books. The tops get just as dusty and I clean my book shelves (not very often) so the books themselves have to be extremely dirty. BUT HOW DO I DO IT?

    • Dd51 says:

      Easy, my book club has a yearly book sale where get donated books and usually sell around 2,000 books. The paperbacks are on their own, they are 25-50 cents,,, for that we think the buyers can dust them themselves. But for very nice less than 3 years old hardback we used micro fiber cloths until I had the bright idea of bringing my wonderful Miele vac to the sale and sucked the dust right off those “expensive” books using the little soft brush attachment. So now I routinely turn the books on their backs of the bookcases and vac their tops. Pop them upright and vacuum their spines and the edge of the shelf. Once a month seems to work in my house

  6. Jody says:

    I’m exhausted reading the comments. I think I’m going to lie down on the floor and watch the Dust bunnies frolcking under the sofa.

  7. Renee Ryz says:

    I can use an idea of how to get the sticky dirt/grease off of cherry kitchen cabinets. I don’t want to use anything harsh, and I have used everything I can think of, and they still look like crap. The cabinet guy that made them usually makes furniture type cabinets, so I don’t think he used as durable of a sealer, so I am afraid to use anything like glass cleaner. They are nasty…any ideas from anyone?
    I lost my Mom over the summer, and honestly aside from cleaning for Thanksgiving, I haven’t been able to get motivated to do much but the bathroom & kitchen/floors. It is a craphole around here, so that is my last 2 weekends of March, cuz it will probably take me that long!

    • Darla says:

      I use a non-toxic spray from young living essential oils, but if I have an especially bad spot that has dirt/grease I rub lemon essential oil on it and then a paste of my spray and baking soda to break through the rest. My problem is figuring out how to clean the nice levelor blinds in the house we bought 5 years ago. This year they HAVE to be cleaned. All 16 of them…ugh

    • Arlene Stopps says:

      I have been told to clean kitchen cabiners with vegetable oil on a soft clean cloth.
      I know this sound ridiculous but it works!

    • Dd51 says:

      Try KrudKutter for kitchens. I find it in grocery stores and home improvement stores here in the US. The developer of this formula says everything in the kitchen has a grease component, and everything sticks to grease! I love it and it works great. My cabinets were made out of wormy chestnut, are close to 70 years old and were made on site with a furniture type finish and they seem to tolerate this solution well.

    • Tonia says:

      I use Murphy’s oil soap wood cleaner for my stained kitchen cabinets. Dilute according to the directions on the bottle. Always works for getting the greasy spots off.

    • Caroline says:

      I use a small squirt of Dawn and a Tbsp of Borax in hot water to clean greasy cabinets, hood vent, BBQ grills. Anything greasy. A couple of wipes and you’re done. No rinsing (as long as you didn’t turn the recipe into a bubble bath formula). Replace your water as needed. Same recipe works great to remove labels from jars, just let the item soak for a couple of hours, it dissolves the glue.
      Happy cleaning.

  8. Carol Freeman says:

    Does anyone else keep stuff–dog toys, blankets — in baskets? For some reason I looked into a basket i had emptied a couple of weeks ago. Eww. All are getting rinsed and towel dried.

  9. Jane C. says:

    Last week I noticed, in the rays of the setting sun, how filthy my windows were. They are the old, wooden windows with storm windows that have to be removed and stored, and they are a colossal pain in the ass, which is why I haven’t cleaned them for…. um, a few years. Apparently this is the year for cleaning them, once it warms up enough. I’m safe for a while, as it’s snowing here. On to switch plates!

  10. Debbie says:

    Timely article – We recently had a small fire in our home (all are safe) which necessitated refinishing all the wood floors. When the movers came and removed every stick of furniture, I realized what a dirty whore I am! I keep the house fairly clean and neat, but never really get to the baseboards, behind the fridge, the washer and dryer, cleaning all the doors and handles, etc. Boy, what a slob! I remember my mom doing spring cleaning every year. Wish I had that gene. So I’ve been cleaning and painting and the floors are now done. Once the furniture’s back – so am I. It’s gardening season so I’d rather be outdoors!

  11. Avril says:

    Baseboards, lampshades, bookshelves, fans, cobwebs on the ceiling or in the corners up high…I use the vacuum floor brush on baseboards, other little round brush for everything else. Also if you have barnboard shelves or cabinets the round brush works great.

    Happy cleaning!

  12. Grammy says:

    I have a sister who is such a fanatic it’s always been said, “You could eat off of her floors.” My response to that is, “I prefer eating off a plate.” Her home always was, and still is, a thousand times cleaner than mine. Every single nook and cranny.

    But she, her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, all have allergies and such and myself and my children and grandchild have none. Some would say that’s why she cleans so much, but I contend that’s why her whole family is sick all the time — none of them ever have been exposed to a speck of dirt.

    I’m the youngest of the three sisters (we have three brothers, too, but they don’t do housework so they don’t count for this exercise), but it’s always been that way. The oldest sister and the youngest had to listen to our mother all our lives talk about what a GOOD girl Miss Magnificent was because of the cleaning fetish. We’re all old now, and while I do enjoy visiting the home of the Cleanest Of Us All, I don’t very often because she is also the least fun of any of us.

    Sometimes you really can’t do everything, so you make choices. I made mine, and my house is about as clean as yours. I just realized that I have to go get out the stepladder and give a quick once-over to the high stuff around here, which I like to make sure is done at least once a decade…

    • Carrie says:

      Your post made me laugh because my mother was an obsessive cleaner while I was growing up. Some of her methods were questionable— if she cooked meat in a skillet, she would then soak the skillet afterwards with liquid Lysol cleaner (Lysol!!!) for an hour or so before washing it, and everything in our home was always spotless and disinfected, whether or not it really needed disinfecting. Antibacterial everything. Bleach or Lysol it all.

      My younger sister had terrible allergies and asthma from a very early age and ended up dying as a teenager from an asthma related issue (obviously not why I was laughing along with your story). As much as my mother obsessively cleaned our home, destroying even beneficial bacteria that could potentially strengthen our immune systems, she continued to chain smoke cigarettes in our house day in and day out with windows closed… which was a much greater health concern than any of the ones she “solved” by soaking a pan in Lysol or bleaching everything in sight.

      Now as an adult, I have a myriad of chronic health conditions including severe asthma and allergies (which didn’t fully develop until long after leaving home). I was fairly relaxed with cleaning and disinfecting for many years until my health issues demanded a more thorough cleaning. I’m disabled (because of other issues) so I have to ask for help from family members with cleaning because the standard must be high now in order to prevent me from getting hives, wheezing from asthma attacks, sinus infections and the like, even though I take medications every day. I’m too sick for allergy shots, so I’m just trying to keep things clean and manage symptoms. We use our Hepa filter vacuum to dust everything instead of using sprays and cloths, and I use a pressurized steam cleaner for things like floors and hard surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens because I can’t be around dust OR cleaning chemicals. It’s maddening.

      My asthma and allergies have gotten much better since I began incorporating large amounts of probiotics into my daily diet in the form of homemade cultured and fermented foods like kimchi, water kefir sodas, homemade soy yogurt and lacto-fermented veggies. Our gut health greatly influences our immune system, so ingesting beneficial bacteria and yeasts can vastly improve inflammatory conditions. So that’s something you may definitely want to recommend to your sister and her family..

      I guess my point is that because your family members have developed allergies, they now must maintain a much cleaner home in order to keep from getting sick. Perhaps if they hadn’t started out this way, they might be healthier, but who knows… bodies are so weird.

  13. Vikki says:

    Dammit–that was contagious. Now I have to go clean.

  14. Jill Hill says:

    I used to hate cleaning, now I actually enjoy it! Why? I discovered Ultimate Cloths. Google them. The best invention ever. Eliminates the need for all the expensive chemical cleaners. Especially great for cleaning glass-windows, mirrors, TV screens etc. All you do is wet them, squeeze as much water as possible out of the cloth, clean the glass and walk away. No drying required. You are left with a beautiful streak-free finish. Also great for Stainless Steel and dusting. Just about everything. Total game changer!!

  15. Shannon says:

    I dust fabric/paper lampshades with sticky lint rollers. Also the fabric over speakers — lint roll. Total game changer for me.

  16. PegB says:

    My mother had those “visitors eyes”. My 4 year old cousin once said “Aunt Lee, you have dirty eyes!” I didn’t inherit her eyes. I have Karen eyes.

  17. Oriah says:

    Pro-tip: Do not have white handrails. They will always turn gunky brown. Instead, have stained handrails which will develop a lovely deep patina over time.

    Even on my porch, i repainted the top of the railing to be a gray which matched the floor because i hated seeing how dirty they became almost instantly. I had kitty footprints, pollen, mildew, and brown stuff from the sky on my white rail. My gray rail has camouflage.

  18. Laura says:

    I am ailing and tale a lot of medications that zap me of my energy. I got rid of a lot of bricbrack so I wouldn’t have to dust that but I still have a lot of crap. We live in my sister’s condo now and I just apologized because it needs a bad spring clean but we still have the furnace on. And my vacuum has a busted hose. Everything needs a good wipe down. I always clean the toilet and bathroom sink, do dishes and make simple meals for me and husband but I have troubles with ceiling fans and ceilings. The floors will wipe me out for the day.and we only have 900 square feet. All I see is dirt.and gunk every day.

  19. Amy says:

    Years ago, when practically a newlywed, Husby and I moved from a distant state to the same town where my Mom lives. Unless were nearby. Moving truck came on Tuesday, in-laws were coming FOR THE WEEKEND. My Mom took off two days from work to help me get ready. While I was attacking building beds and making them up, my Mom did (what to her was) the really important work. She removed and cleaned every switchplate and outlet cover! Different strokes, I guess.

    What I really meant to say was, “Who has good cleaning/maintenance ideas for unsealed interior brick floors? Many thanks!

  20. Kate says:

    For the bubble lamp (and pretty much all lampshades) – lint roller.

  21. Alena says:

    A very timely post, Karen.
    I noticed the other day that a lot of my switch plates need some more substantial cleaning in the groove where the actual switch is, so I should do it is weekend. And since I don’t remember when I cleaned the kitchen exhaust’s filters last, I should add them to the list. And maybe the dust that collects on the washer in the unfinished part of the basement, and when I that far, I should pay attention to the dryer’s vent (maybe the dryer would actually dry laundry faster?).

  22. judy says:

    Wait until you are really really old,I loved creating a home that was supposed to vaguely resemble a poor man’s ralph lauren abode. Leather chairs,hundreds of books,silver stuff ,cherry chest and end tables and objet d’art from stein mart. I thought it was pretty,cozy comfortable-only problem is every darn element of this old lady decor gathers dust. Like they possess a magnetic force that draws dust,also spiders and their webs with multiple dead bugs. I can’t clean anymore and my house is too dirty to let a cleaner see it so I pretend that the dust and dirt enhance my Miss Havisham persona.

  23. Kathy says:

    I’ve been watching Clean My Space on Youtube. She has a Lot of DYI cleaning mixes and tips. I find her motivating and realistic. Good luck!


  24. Kathleen Budacki says:

    Let me tell you about getting my cataracts removed. I have a fairly average attitude toward cleaning. Some things I love to clean, others not so much, but I do them as a sort of test of my character. Then came the day when my first cataract was removed and I saw what I had not been seeing for months or maybe years. Someone had been walking on my walls! Scuff marks and little spatters and smudges! Where did they come from? I took a whole day with a box-a box, eek!-of Mr Clean sponge thingies to attack the walls. NOW I understand what the big deal over backsplashes is. Oh my. We need one. We also need a painter. Mr Wonderful still has his cataracts and therefore doesn’t see the need. Yet. His day is coming.

    • PegB says:

      Oh, Kathleen, I so get that. I was sure getting my cataracts removed would mean I would see everything in clear, bright, living color again. What I got was seeing how dirty and dingy my little part of the world had become. You should ease Mr. Wonderful into his new reality. Maybe a magnifying glass.

    • Karen says:

      Maybe you could just make all the dirt so big he can’t miss it even with his cataracts. Wait. That maybe doesn’t help at all. ~ karen!

  25. Melissa says:

    Don’t lick your keyboard Karen. Add that to the list of things You never think you are going to hear yourself say.

  26. Christine says:

    At the risk of sounding like Heloise l found Awesome Orange cleaner from DollarTree cleans the grease on kitchen vents and behind the stove.lt works so well my husband uses it to clean greasy car parts.

  27. Eileen says:

    We have had two days of cruel sunshine after what seems like months of dreariness. Dreariness is a much better cloak for bad housekeeping.
    I found a door edge coated in “brown gunk” from my kitties. I haven’t had a kitty since 2016.

    • Cheryl Young says:


      The cat rubbed corner! I too remember the sadness when doing that final clean long after our kitties had passed.

  28. Karen says:

    The other day I noticed my hallway mirror was dusty. I mean I check for greasy and smudges but dust settles a little more subtly. Damn you sunshine! How am I supposed to pretend my house is fairly clean when you show up and highlight the mess?
    One more thing to clean: the soap drawer from your washing maschine. You don’t notice it at first but that fucker can get really moldy and if you don’t get it reasonably early the black spots can discolour the plastic. It might not feel as it is a removeable part because you have to find the release button and that is usually not one you see. Luckily it can just be thrown is the dishwasher so it’s not a major issue. You can minimize the growth by leaving the drawer open to let the air get get and help it dry faster. Also clean out the filter every one in a while. Both will make the maschine last longer which will put away extra money to those squirrels.

  29. Jack Ledger says:

    And one more thing, we came from dust and we will return to dust…
    That’s why I don’t dust. It could be someone I know.

  30. Jack Ledger says:

    Some years ago I remember a lady friend mentioning that she regularly dusts all the baseboards in her home. Huh!!! Dust settles on the top of baseboards causing absolutely no trouble for anyone. I know of no one, save these OCD molly maids, who even look at the baseboards in a home. And so why dust them. As the saying goes, “once the dust settles, everything will be fine”. I live by that saying.

  31. Joan Gracyalny says:

    Cleaning tip # 7004… never ever spot clean anything on the ceiling. I have to do the whole thing now.

  32. Cheryl Young says:

    Funny, we had neighbours over and they stayed longer than expected, so one of them used our washroom. After they left I was appalled at the state it was in, fine for us, but not guest- ready! I almost felt compelled to apologise, but then didn’t want to bring attention to it, in case she hadn’t noticed!!

  33. Nicci says:

    Dirty light switches are my pet peeve. But my grandma was a maid so she instilled some pretty tough cleaning standards, still to this day known as “Grandma Clean”.

    Also this is not exactly the epitome of literary cleaning regulations, but there was a pretty good Buzz Feed article in January about 24 cleaning items for your home to get it really clean.

  34. Sachi says:

    “Everything I touch turn to dirt” :’D
    SAME! I really need to keep my sofa cushions clean but I don’t know how!

  35. susan says:

    Hey, I have reduced vision- just cannot (literally!) see a lot of the gunk unless it is very very sunny. And here in the Pacific Northwest that means I’m off the hook for at least 6 months of the year…… but now darn it, I had my windows professionally cleaned and voila- more gunk!

  36. Tina says:

    I hate cleaning but the one thing I’m religious about is the walls from about shoulder height up. I have ceiling fans in every room and they stay on 24/7. I cleaned the fans regularly but then happened to look at the walls one day and there are tiny blobs of dust that the fan has blown. So now I clean my walls even more often than the fans.

  37. Kim says:

    I just love cleaning. So this post thrills & inspires me. Other people’s dirt only bothers me in the bathroom. So for the love of all that is holy people: clean your toilets before you have guests! Seriously. This is the one place my mother never neglected to clean before guests. And she wasn’t even a lover of cleaning.

    Another fun place to clean is the top of the refrigerator. Always very satisfying. Please update if you find more places to clean. I’d ove to hear them!

    • Lez says:

      Dear Kim,
      You love cleaning!? That sounds like a chronic disease!
      I have LOADS of other places to clean! Could I offer to pay for your plane ticket to South Africa in exchange for you cleaning my house please??

      I especially HATE cleaning the 80’s metal Venetian blinds. I have 27 windows…all with those horrors on them…aaargh!

    • Alena says:

      I have a question for you. I have a fairly new stove (ok – maybe 3 years old but I cook in large quantities (for myself) so that I have lunches for work or quick dinners that require a reheat only (and for that, I use microwave).
      My oven in the above-mentioned stove is one of those self-cleaning ones but I will never believe it if/when buying another stove.
      The self-cleaning does literally nothing except that it bakes the dirt on (i.e even more than it was before).
      I literally spend hours on my knees trying to chisel the burnt on schmutz by scrubbing it with the Mr. Eraser white sponges and eventually, it does work but it still takes hours. Is there any faster way to clean the darn thing?
      I don’t even understand how most of the burnt stuff happens in the first place because what I bake most often is a frozen pizza (the smaller ones) from a grocery store, and even I even put a sheet of parchment on the rack first and the pizza on top of that.

      • Karen says:

        I’m happy to hear from Kim too but from my perspective your self cleaning oven isn’t working. It isn’t getting hot enough. I’ve only had one self cleaning oven in my life but it literally turned everything inside it to a powdered dust. ~ karen!

      • Elaine says:

        Hi Alena … I agree with Karen, your oven is not working! You shouldn’t have to clean it but merely wipe up some residual ash from the bottom of the oven when the cleaning cycle is done. If the store from where you bought it can’t help you, contact the manufacturer and complain!

  38. Susan R says:

    I run my range hood filter through my dishwasher along with the drip pans every time I clean the oven.

  39. Bethany Jones says:

    My dishwasher was leaking, so I got on the floor to clean up the water. I was SHOCKED at how filthy the toe kick under my cabinets had become. You sweep and mop, but that brown gunk gets all over that surface and you never see it until you’re crawling around!

  40. Edith says:

    Don’t forget your remote controls…..they’re usually filthy! Oh, and window sills!

    • Nancy says:

      I do my windowsills every time I dust. I often use a damp magic eraser on them, which means I have to repaint the sills relatively often, but THAT dust, I see. The dust above my head, not so much. I have a rattan shade over my dining room table, and that’s a terrible idea. Not only does it hold dust, it holds floating cat hairs, and releases them during dinner… Ew.

  41. Gayle M says:

    My mother always had us wipe the door frames, but never said anything about the top of the door itself. How many of us wipe/dust our door tops? Just wondering. I was so shocked the first time i cleaned mine.

    • Karen says:

      I wipe the top of my door frames when I’m a) painting or b) up on a ladder to hang something. That is all. ~ karen!

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