Holiday Crisis Cleaning Tips

December 2007
Red wine spills, dripped candle wax, spots on silver, the inevitable clogged drain on Christmas Eve, or panic to make the walkway safe for guests after freezing rain, are the inevitable challenges of the holidays for most of us, judging from the amount of email I receive asking for solutions to just these situations. I’ve been there and done that for all of these, too, and usually in the midst of large and sprawling family gatherings when growing up in northern New England.
The holidays tend to present more emergency cleaning challenges than other times of year, I think, because we entertain a lot and often bring out the family heirlooms for the occasion and we don’t want them ruined. I have one table cloth that I only use for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, for example. I inherited it from my mother, who used it in the same way. To me that table cloth holds my entire lifetime of memories of the winter holidays.
I can almost understand a friend of mine’s zealousness to immediately clean her table cloth in the midst of a holiday dinner party when someone spilled red wine on it. She jumped up, had everyone completely clear the table so that she could remove the table cloth, and she then ran with it to the kitchen where she had a kettle of water boiling. Once there she stretched the part of the cloth that had the red wine stain over a bowl in the sink, grabbed the kettle of boiling water, stood on a stool, and poured the boiling water down onto the stain from a spot of about four or five feet above the fabric.
My friend’s trick actually works. Another trick for red wine stains is to rinse the stain with plain seltzer water.
My step-father always used to laugh when things went wrong during the holidays. “What now?” he would say. Such as during the Christmas Eve party when the kitchen sink clogged up. Fortunately I had just the solution, one cup of baking soda poured down the drain followed by three cups of boiling water. It worked! Sometimes you need to follow this with a cup of vinegar, which will react with the residual baking soda and the foaming and fizzing will dislodge the remaining clog. The great thing about these kitchen cupboard ingredients is that in a pinch you most likely will already have them.
Speaking of parties, I’ve had quite a few experiences of getting ready to entertain when the drizzle freezes to a deadly layer of ice once it hits the walkway. Not wanting anybody to slip and fall, around Thanksgiving I like to stock up on natural ice melters and traction-givers. I learned about using Alfalfa meal for traction and melting ice from the book The Organic Suburbanite. The natural nitrogen melts the ice! Alternatively, I use wood stove ash, but only once it has been cooled for a full 48 hours. (It is astonishing how long the embers stay alive and can be flamed to life with some wind. Don’t take any chance on starting a fire.)
And what about getting those labels off of new gifts? What holiday season goes by without at least one stubborn label not peeling off completely? Saturate the label with cooking oil and let it set for 24 hours. After that time the label should easily slide off. The key to this is letting the solution sit for as long as a day.
Or the guest who put their wet glass down on your favorite antique and it left a water stain ring on the furniture? Here are few tips: Mix cooking oil with salt to make a paste and gently massage the stain. Or rub the stain with whatever type of nut you have handy. If none of these works get some tooth paste of the type that is white and chalky, and gently rub the stain until it is removed. The slight abrasion might be enough to lift up and remove the stain.
While speaking of that chalky-type tooth paste, it is also a perfect quick fix solution for silver. Dab some tooth paste onto your finger, rub it gently onto the tarnished area, rinse with hot water and polish with a soft, clean cloth.
Lastly, the common sense of using heat to remove dripped candle wax never ceases to impress me! Use a hair dryer for wax that has dripped onto the table, floor, or other hard surfaces. Wipe it up as it melts. Use an iron and a blotting cloth to remove candle wax from carpets, table clothes, and other fabrics.
Happy holidays! --Annie
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