Talking Dirt Rules

Talking Dirt by Jeff CampbellExcerpted from Talking Dirt, by Jeff Campbell

My neighbors once introduced me to a friend who promptly asked me a question about housecleaning. People ask me such questions fairly often. But I was just starting this book, so I was particularly interested in her question and I wanted to articulate an especially brilliant reply.

She asked me how to clean light fixtures that are similar to ones I have in my kitchen; the fixtures are heavy, awkward, and made of clear glass. Airborne kitchen grease settles on them, so much of the time they look dirty.

I began to tell her how to wash such fixtures by hand in the sink, the big secret being to use a toothbrush to clean the grooves that trap greasy dirt. She immediately replied, “No, no, no. I couldn’t do that!” So I cleverly offered her an alternative, “Put them in the dishwasher.” Her reply, “No, no. You don’t understand, I don’t do things like that.” It was if I were proposing an exotic form of mating ritual.

And so I learned, as I started this project, that people often ask cleaning questions in a style that doesn’t actually lead to their doing anything. For years I had been answering cleaning questions and assuming that people were following my advice, not just ruminating over it. This new insight was somewhat discouraging.

Then there’s the case of my friend who asked me how to get rid of hard-water spots in his shower. I told him how to use a squeegee, but he interrupted and told me that he knew about squeegees and he couldn’t bear the thought of using one. So I started to tell him how to remove spots with a tile brush, Tile Juice, and a white pad. He knew all about these things, too, and he didn’t like this solution any better.

And so I next concluded that people sometimes ask cleaning questions as a form of wishful thinking: they already feel they know the answer, but they don’t like it, and they are casting about for a more palatable option. Hmm.

Other folks appear to ask housecleaning questions to demonstrate their interest and to feel that they are really doing something positive about their housecleaning problems. They also seem to neglect to make actual plans to act on the answer, however. This is akin to buying brass polish and then storing it under the kitchen sink for the rest of your natural life. It’s as if the activity of inquiring or purchasing would, itself, polish the collection of brass elephants.

If one is to benefit from asking housecleaning questions, one must accept – even embrace – the fact that the answer inevitably leads to an activity, usually one of a housecleaning nature, although it’s always possible that the answer could be to move, to sell the house, or to run for the hills.

But the answer should also lessen stress when it’s time to do the cleaning. It should enable you to feel better about your ability to keep your home civilized, comfortable, and relatively presentable, And feelings of guilt and frustration should be replaced with feelings of accomplishment and contentment.

In school our teachers told us that the only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked. And I’ve been asked thousands of questions since The Clean Team first started. Not long ago, an article about The Clean Team appeared in a magazine devoted to country life. At the end of the article, people were invited to call with their cleaning questions, and they did in droves. I discovered that cleaning problems that don’t involve pigs, cows, horses, goats (and births thereof!), flies, manure, tree sap, barns, and wheat, barley, or oat chaff are much, much easier to answer than ones that do. That was a real eye-opener!

I once wrote an article to be distributed, as part of a kit, to people returning to their homes after a flood. This was a case where the correct answer to a cleaning question was to move out of the home. Questions about cleaning after a fire also tend to yield answers that are very difficult to implement.


Those of you who are having a hard time revving yourself up for action – even after you have the answer to your housecleaning question – remember there are cleaning problems vastly more difficult than your own. I know that’s just like my mother telling me to eat my vegetables because people were starving abroad, but, hey, it worked.

When answering your questions, I try to give the single best answer in my book. I avoid the easy answer, “Try this, and if it doesn’t work, try that, and then the other. But sometimes a single answer doesn’t work. For example, one surface may require a different cleaning process from another, and the only way to find out in that particular case is to try various solutions.

I, and my staff here at The Clean Team, still get cleaning questions every day. We call upon nearly 30-years of cleaning experience, along with the valuable information we learn from our readers, friends, and suppliers, to help people solve their cleaning problems. In doing so, we’ve learned a lot about what people want to know about housecleaning.

This book, Talking Dirt, gives you the answers to the housecleaning problems that are bothering you. The answer allow you to fine-tune your housecleaning to save even more time and effort, all so you can reclaim more of your precious free time.

If you don’t find the solution that’s been driving you crazy in this book or in our Frequently Asked Questions section, please give us a call and we’ll do our best to help you with the solution: 1-800-717-CLEAN (1-800-717-2532).

You’ll also want to check-out Jeff’s other cleaning rules and the books they’re from:

Speed Cleaning Rules: Rules for speed cleaning tasks, from Jeff’s Speed Cleaning book.
Spring Cleaning Rules: Rules for tackling spring cleaning, from Jeff’s Spring Cleaning book.
Clutter Control Rules: Rules for control clutter, from Jeff’s Clutter Control book.
Cleaning Maintenance Rules: Rules to maintain your belongings, from Jeff’s book Good As New.