The Irreverent Homemaker
By: Jes Alexander
I am an addict.
My poison is not drugs, or alcohol, or even cigarettes – my addiction is to steam cleaning.
It started innocently. You know, I was an occasional “social” user. When family was coming to town, or I was having a dinner party I would steam clean the carpets in my apartment. I found great delight in extracting food, cat hair, innocent spills, and the trodden dirt ground-in by the bottom of my shoes from the carpeting every once in a while. Soon, it became a regular event. We would gather around the dirty water chamber afterwards, marveling at all the stuff I had sucked out of the carpet, and squinch our noses as I emptied the frothy brown muck down the drain, or out into the back yard. Gross, it was, but it was also beautiful – beautiful because all that crap wasn’t in my home anymore.
It all began with my renting those machines in the grocery store, the hardware store, wherever they were available. You are never the buyer when you are first falling into an addiction – the stuff is just wondrously available to you. Soon, the addiction part began to creep up on me – innocently, I tell you. I never saw it coming. I swear. Before long, the ladies at the customer service desk at my grocery store knew me by name, and knew exactly what I was there for. They slid coyly from behind their counter to show me the new shampoos, and how I could clickity-click some pieces together, buy ANOTHER shampoo, and also clean upholstery. They sold me on Scotchguard treatments and spot removers and pet deodorizers. They were pushers of the finest order, those customer service women, always eager to let me try out the newest attachments before renting. I began loathing the dirt in my carpeting, and couldn’t wait for the next opportunity to perform another extraction. I fell, and hard.
Then I moved into my first house. By that time, I was a full-blown carpet shampoo addict. It wasn’t good enough to rent machines from the pusher ladies anymore, I mean, lord knows whom else’s dirt was in that chamber before me, and dear god, what might it contain?!? The day I moved into that house I was already too far gone. I had already bought my first machine, a bright yellow plastic upright. No dirt was going to reside in my brand-new carpeted floors, by god, and I soon became a habitual user. No longer would I wait for an event, a dinner, or a tragic spill. I began steam cleaning my carpets weekly, and kept a proper Asian home where no shoes ever passed beyond the wood floor of the entry foyer – no small task for a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, suburban, newlywed. People just didn’t want to understand. And the ladies in the grocery store looked upon me with disdain when I came in, and only bought the products, for they had lost a regular customer.
When my little boy was born I thought I would break free of my addiction, relax my rules, and return – just a little – to mainstream society. You know, for his sake. I didn’t want the neighborhood children looking down on him because he came from such an antiseptic home. It didn’t happen. The Spawn was born with a bad reflux problem, and took regularly to Linda Blair’ing infant soy formula all over the tan carpets. With each accident I found the old addiction pulling on me, calling me, drawing me back in. “We can get that up in a jiffy,” the addiction would say, and I would fall off the wagon. I would change his little onesies, swaddle him in a fresh blanket, and cradle him to sleep in one arm, lulled by the whir of the yellow steam cleaner’s soothing motor. I even tried to use a carpet cleaning service, but it did not satisfy the hunger of the addiction. All the muck is piped back to their fancy van and you never get the satisfaction of disposing of the ooze, yourself – it is simply whisked off to an undisclosed location, never to be heard from again. NOT satisfying.
Three years later we sold the antiseptic little house, and moved three miles down the road to a larger, new home. I took my steam cleaner and my addiction with me, vowing to never let my new neighbors know I was a habitual user. Then, the unthinkable happened: my beloved yellow friend passed away. I remember it like it was yesterday, her lying there in the sunshine, her cord sprawled out behind her like a homicide victim. I had killed her. It was a horrid sight, and I am sure my Hitchcockian shrill could be heard in four counties. We lay her gently in the back of the wagon, and rushed her for emergency treatment, but she was too far gone. The next day, after a brief period of mourning, I bought a replacement.
The new machine was bigger, blue, and had capabilities I could not before imagine, like a four-speed motor and upholstery attachments. Armed with greater possibilities I could steam clean not just the carpets and the rugs, but also the sofa, the cat hair-filled chairs, and my car! I lay awake at night dreaming of new and thrilling ways to make use of my new blue friend – I was reborn and better than ever and my addiction had grown to levels that would kill a mortal – I was … unstoppable in the fight against grime! Pet accident? Poor kitty! The kid spilled Dr. Pepper on the Caribbean sand-colored family room carpet? Here – have an ice pop sweetie – I’ll get it! I was completely lost to my demons.
Then, I started to work again, and I vowed to beat the addiction to my steam cleaner. Eventually, I did. Sure, I still have my blue pal, and I still make good use of her, but the addictive behavior has passed. I can control it. I am in recovery.
If you have not steam cleaned your home yet, try it. Rent a machine and see what icky stuff is living in your carpets. You will be amazed. But be forewarned – the addictive draw of extracting ick from your flooring can suck you in, too.
Jes Alexander is a writer and an architect who lives in a suburban home with four cats and a seven year-old, and now only steam cleans recreationally.