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Is Cleanser Dirt?

(things not to say)

Food-encrusted dishes, mud and filth tracked onto a carpet, a spilt jug of grease – these are all forms of “dirt.” But what about cleanser residue? Blue or white powder, be it Comet or Ajax, what if visible traces are left behind, say around the taps of a sink after it has been cleaned? Can such residue be properly thought of as “dirt”?

This is a difficult question. On the one hand, it is dirt because it’s extraneous matter. It’s not supposed to be there. It wouldn’t pass the white glove test. On the other hand, it’s cleanser! It’s a wholesome, germ-free substance whose very presence indicates the area has been recently attended to.

So what do you say when you find cleanser residue around the taps of your sink? Do you call the person who left it there a pig? No. Even if you choose to view the residue as “dirt” and confront the person about it, outright calling them a pig is inappropriate. It’s better to say, “gee, it’s great that you cleaned the bathroom, but you left some cleanser residue behind. Thanks for trying.”

A similar situation arises when you come home and notice the house has been thoroughly cleaned, but the person has not put the vacuum cleaner away just yet, so you call them a pig. 

“You pig! Why am I always picking up after you?”

That is not a nice thing to say. You’re ignoring the fact that the person cleaned the entire house and put everything away except the vacuum cleaner. For goodness sake lighten up!

It’s not as if you came home and found a set of wrecked cars sitting on the front lawn. That would be carelessness, and worthy of comment. “You pig,” you might say. “There’s a set of wrecked cars on the front lawn. What’s gotten into you?”

Or if you found barnyard animals in the kitchen, that would count as “dirt” and you’d be well within your rights to have them removed and make some kind of comment. But when it comes to cleanser residue, or a vacuum cleaner leaning against the wall – back off.

If you come home and find the house immaculate but the vacuum hasn’t been put away, perhaps a good approach would be to say: “Thanks for cleaning.” And as you’re saying this you could be walking along, pretending to inspect the utter cleanliness of the area, and you could trip over the vacuum cleaner and cry out: “Ahh – I fell! Dammit!” Then you could stay on the floor for a while holding your knee and the person would have sympathy for you. That sympathy may be enough to calm your outrage. At the very least it might distract you from the issue at hand. But don’t say: “You pig.” Because it’s not going to get you anywhere.

Published in the National Post, April 10, 2002