Clorox's Best Customer

My mother was never happier than when faced with a daunting project, like ripping out trees and stumps, moving furniture and large appliances or doing cleaning requiring the use of potent industrial solvents and chemicals. In fact, the way she took on this sort of cleaning characterized her headlong, extreme approach to life. It wasn't enough to merely remove visible dirt and grime - it had to be defeated, humbled and eradicated at the atomic level.

Dad and I came home once to find Mom gasping for air on the living room sofa - this was accompanied by strong chemical smells coming from the bathroom. After several large glasses of water and the restoration of her ability to speak, she revealed that, in an effort to get the tub really clean, she had mixed some of the muriatic acid we used for the pool with Clorox bleach. The resulting mixture got the tub whitened, all right - it also produced some truly memorable noxious fumes. Dad knew better than this as he frequently worked with industrial solvents at Lockheed, and it was a rare chewing-out he gave my mother.

Her attitude about cleaning agents like Mr. Clean, 409 and Spic and Span was "If a little is adequate a lot is better," and I'm convinced surfaces in our house were cleaned (when they were cleaned) with a 50-50 mixture of cleaner and water. She never wore gloves, either - that was for sissies. Mom enjoyed the one-on-one contact with powerful industrial cleaning agents like lacquer thinner, TSP and acetone. It used to drive Dad crazy, and helped to create individual agendas in the home: Mom would try to keep the chainsaw and power hedge clippers away from Dad, and Dad tried to keep the solvents away from Mom.

Some of her cleaning exploits were puzzling. I'll never forget the day when, trying to be helpful, she cleaned my wife's self-cleaning oven with an SOS pad (I got a frantic call at work over this one). She ground down Formica surfaces with Comet, and, later in life after Dad died, she once broke her ankle after slipping on a wood floor she polished with Lemon Pledge. (Walking around in socks didn't help provide any traction.) She once decided to use a power drill and steel bristle wheel to remove some enamel I had spilled on my plastic slot car carrying case - needless to say she ground away the case as well.

One of her annual rites every spring was to head out into the backyard to go after snails, which she dropped into a plastic bottle half-filled with bleach. Why this chemical torture was necessary, I don't know. (To traumatize me as a child, I suppose.) My father-in-law simply dropped them into an old coffee can which he then threw into the trash.

She was careless with toiletries, too, accidentally brushing her teeth with denture adhesive, spraying hair spray under her arms, gargling with Dad's ‘Lectric shave, etc. She never complained of problems with her eyesight, but one wondered...

I think I can honestly say that the phrase "Use of this product in a manner inconsistent with labeling is in violation of applicable federal laws," commonly found on labels, was created exclusively for Mom.

If you haven't read about our giving the Lincoln Cafe pipes an occasional "zetz" - another manifestation of Mom's love for two-fisted household products - you can by clicking here. Where does this odd word come from? Click here.

Note - 14 August 2000: This past weekend I rented a 3000 psi powerwasher, which is something like the aquatic version of a flame-thrower. It removed old paint from masonry, grime from our wooden deck, dirt and algae from concrete and, when I accidentally hit my lower leg with the stream when I was spraying my sneakers clean, some skin from my foot. Sometimes when I work, I can sort of imagine Mom looking on as she sometimes did when she was alive. Blasting all creation with the ultimate two-fisted industrial cleaning device, I felt that she was positively beaming at me. I'm surprised she never got around to buying one...

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