Professional cleaners use old standbys on new materials

  • By Sandra Fleishman / The Washington Post
  • Wednesday, November 30, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

It used to be a lot less confusing to clean a house. Before tumbled marble sinks, granite countertops, stainless steel fridges, Zebrawood floors and other high-end materials, it all seemed so straightforward. After all, just about everyone knows how to clean Formica, porcelain or plastic, right?

But with all those exotic – and expensive – materials to choose from for kitchens and baths, it’s not so simple anymore. And cleaning mistakes can be costly. You’ll pay at least $1,000 for a stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator, compared with about $750 for its plain white cousin. The huge professional-look stainless fridges cost a whole lot more, and all of them look lousy with either fingerprints or scratches.

In the old days, “you only had to worry about not using Comet” scouring powder on certain materials, said Hildy Forman, head of DomestiCall, an 18-year-old Alexandria, Va., cleaning service. “Now you can’t even use SoftScrub (cleanser) on many things, it’s just too abrasive.” Even professional cleaning services often swear by the old favorites – vinegar and water, or mild soap and water.

Cleaning services, which are looking more closely at their own buckets of supplies these days to eliminate abrasive products, are also more frequently checking in with homeowners for detailed instructions on maintenance and care requirements, they say. That’s because they don’t want to pay for scratches.

DomestiCall pulls out its old reliables, such as Windex for stainless steel and mild hand soap or dishwashing soap for stone. The key, Forman said, is to avoid astringent or dulling products.

What the professionals are using can provide lessons for the overwhelming majority of us, who do the cleaning ourselves. Their advice: Take the least abrasive option possible, or follow the path that the manufacturer of the material recommends. In other words, keep those brochures that were tucked into your new homeowners’ package or left by your architect or remodeling company.

Merry Maids, a franchise operation owned by ServiceMaster, agrees that caution is the best guide when it comes to high-end materials, said Ray Dougherty, regional coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region.

Unless the homeowner recommends a product, Merry Maids use biodegradable cleaning products, packaged under their private label, Dougherty said. The basic soap is “a mild liquid soap and water,” he said.

The old standby for marble, he said, is white vinegar and water. For wooden floors, it’s Murphy’s Oil Soap.

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