Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here once a month to answer your filthiest questions.
Was wondering if you can help with my situation. I live out in the country, where field mice are very common, and one of them has gotten into my house.
Now, I've set up traps and sprinkled Borax against my walls to kill it, but it's been pooping everywhere, including on my expensive antique table. When it poops on the counters and floors, I can at least disinfect the area with bleach, but as far as I know, bleach + wood = Darwin Award. So how can I clean and disinfect this mess?
Wait, why would bleach + wood = Darwin Award? I don't mean to come across as a bleach apologist, because in my own life I don't actually often use the stuff, but I think it's getting a bum rap here.
The main things to look out for when considering whether or not to work with bleach are a) the potential for color loss in fabrics or on certain finishes, and b) how porous the material you're thinking of bleaching is. The first one is pretty obvious, and I mention it not to insult your intelligence but rather because I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't at least acknowledge that when working with bleach, you always want to test it out in an inconspicuous spot if there's any question as to whether or not it might cause damage to the thing you're trying to clean. In this case specifically, I note it because your expensive antique table likely has a finish on it? You didn't explicitly say that, but I'm going to assume. Anyway! The bleach will probably be fine, but yeah, test it out first before going to town.
In terms of working with porous materials, wood being one of them, the trick is to avoid saturating it with your bleach solution. Which leads us nicely into the technique portion of the festivities.
The first part of the technique festivities is this: Dilute the bleach with water. A little bit of bleach goes a long, long way: Generally speaking, between a tablespoon and a quarter cup diluted into a gallon or so of water will leave you with a perfectly good disinfectant. Once you have that, the next thing to know is that if you're working with a porous surface, it's best to dip your cleaning tool (a sponge or a rag would be best here) in the solution, squeeze or wring that thing out, and then wipe away.
The combination of diluting the bleach and using a solution-soaked tool for cleaning will allow you to reap the benefits of bleach without saturating a porous surface with a chemical that you might not be too keen to have seeping through your table.
Okay, so that's the skinny on bleach. But perhaps you still really would prefer not to use it, for whatever reason. That is fine! You are allowed to make these kinds of personal choices in life, and I would like to give you options and alternatives.
One very, very good alternative to bleach is white vinegar. You already know that, because I mention it pretty much every time we meet in this space. But still, I mention it. I mean, it works, it's not bleach, and you can use it to dress a salad or make a batch of quick pickles later in the day if you want. Good stuff. The biggest drawback to vinegar—other than the smell, which bugs some people—is that it shouldn't be used on any kind of natural stone, since it's an acid. And that allows us to loop back to our old pal bleach, which is a strong base, and therefore safe to use on sealed granite or marble surfaces. Tada!
Okay, but maybe you still are just like, "LADY, NO. JUST SAY NO TO BLEACH." And also you are a vinegar denier, or you live in a home made entirely of stone (it happens). I still come bearing options for you. You can use Lysol, or any other disinfecting cleaner. If we were trying to wash up after something other than mouse droppings, I would also tell you that dish soap is cool to use too, but mouse droppings can harbor bacteria that's harmful to humans in addition to just being gross. So with poops, you always want to use a disinfectant of some sort. Oh, also! Wear rubber gloves (just not the ones with the feathers on the cuffs, unless you want me to die of a rage-stroke).
Oooh, wait: Have I mentioned yet that you should remove all the, um, matter before you go in with any sort of liquid? Yeah, that's important. Use paper towels for that purpose—just pick up as much of the turds as you can and toss the turd-y paper towels in the garbage before going in with your bleach, or your vinegar, or your dish soap. You might be tempted to sweep or vacuum them up, but don't do that. The CDC says not to, and are you going to argue with the CDC? I thought not. (The reason for that directive is that sweeping or vacuuming can cause the bacteria in the droppings to circulate, and that's no good.)
The same basic rules apply to a disinfecting spray or liquid: Put some on a sponge or rag, then wipe wipe wipe. The final two steps, regardless of which of the three options you're going with, are to rinse your sponge and give the surface a few passes with clean water, then go over the whole thing with a dry cloth. Wood doesn't totally reject water, but it doesn't love it, either, so you do want to towel it off nicely after you've finished giving it its bath.
Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume). Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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