Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The How-To of “Wet Work”: Overview

Once you’ve finished the dry work of sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting (hopefully in that order), it is time to finish the room by doing the “wet work.” This is a big topic, so it will be broken into several parts.

Wet work second
We do the wet work second because we don’t want to expend all that time and energy washing the dirty bits, only to stir up dust (sweeping is dusty work, even with a dampened broom) and have it land all over our nicely washed surfaces.

There are two basic kinds of places that need wet work in a room:
1) stuff you clearly see, like rings on a table or a dirty spot on the floor; and

2) places you don’t see because they have become part of the landscape and you just don’t notice them, like the smudges around the light switch or door handle.

Before you begin, you must assess the room for the kind of wet work it needs because this helps you plan your work. Check the following areas for soil that needs washing off:

1. Windows and mirrors, glass doors on cabinets (inside and out), glass or shiny ceramic vases and other tschochkes.

2. Doors: look on both sides of the door near the doorknob and above the knob for hand marks. Look also at the base of the door for foot scuffs.

3. Furniture: hard surfaces gather stickiness from the atmosphere and spills, and carved areas on furniture may need more than dusting; soft surfaces may be spotted or just grimy.

4. Architectural features: ledges, shelving, mantles and hearths, ceiling mouldings, chandeliers and light fixtures, niches and nooks, exposed beams and trusses…all of these things gather both dust and dirt.

5. Floors and carpets: these may require anything from just a light wash to heavy soil treatments.

6. Walls and/or ceilings: if there is a smoker in the house, these will definitely need washing. Also look at walls near light switches, window frames, and trash bins.

7. Curtains, draperies, “tossables” like cushions, throws, scatter rugs, doilies, table cloths and runners.

8. Woodwork: this phrase includes aluminium and clad aluminium door and window surrounds, window sills and casings and mutton bars, and all decorative touches like plinths, rosettes, reeding, fireplace surrounds, louvered doors and shutters

9. Built-ins such as heaters, furnace controls and thermostats, air conditioning units, heating/cooling registers, cool air vents.

Getting down to it
You need an order in which to do the necessary work. Remember, the goal here is to get the maximum amount of clean out of the minimum amount of effort and expense, and doing things in a logical order will help achieve that. You may begin anywhere you feel inspired to begin, but I always start at the top…literally.

As you assess your room, it can be helpful to make a set of lists. You need two basic lists to fill in: vertical surfaces, like windows and walls, drapes and doors, and horizontal surfaces like floors, ceilings, table tops, etc. Each of these lists can be further broken down into hard and soft surfaces. As you assess the room, try to figure out where in your list a particular item fits. An armoire, for example is hard and vertical whereas a sofa is soft and horizontal. It may not make sense now, but it a minute it will be clear as (clean) glass.

Basic rule of wet cleaning: wet stuff drips and the drips run down.
In practical terms, this means that you use gravity as the guide for prioritizing the order of your work. When working with horizontal items, like ceilings and light fixtures, you don’t want to drip dirty water down onto clean surfaces, so you clean those items first. In particular, you clean ceilings before the items beneath the ceilings so if dirty water drips down, it won’t be onto something you have already washed and polished.

Vertical items are a little trickier.
When washing a wall, for example, it would seem logical to start at the top and work down but that may actually give you more work in the long run. No matter how careful you are, some of your cleaning solution is going to run down the wall and if the wall it runs onto is still dirty, it will cut clean streaks into the wall that will still be visible even after you wash that section of the wall later. This is especially true if the wall is a light colour and is nicotine stained or has not been cleaned in a long time.

So, even though we start at the top for most things, for vertical surfaces it is wise to start at the bottom and work up.

Next: washing ceilings and other stuff ’way up there.

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