Blogger Susan Baier

Dirty Talk from a Library Clean Freak

by Susan Baier

In 1990, I was Vice President of my high school’s chapter of Future Homemakers of America. Despite that impressive qualification, my homemaking skills are limited. I don’t particularly like to cook, and the rare occasions when I try often lead to a mishap. (Case in point – last week’s attempt at frying pork chops for my husband resulted in loud beeping from the smoke detector.) My sewing projects in home economics class were truly pitiful. I buy my flannel board sets from talented crafters on Etsy versus making my own. It’s a little sad, because I come from a long line of Midwestern farm women with impressive skills in the homemaking arts like quilting, canning, and baking. They could whip up a noontime meal for 20 farmhands, bake a cake for the church social, and mend their children’s clothes – and that was just the morning chores.

No one is clamoring for my cakes, but here’s the one area in domesticity where I redeem myself – cleaning. I actually find cleaning enjoyable, and that trait has come in handy in the youth department. Because with kids and teens, mess equals success – right? (Try telling that to the poor soul scraping glitter glue off the tables.)

Certain products make cleaning much easier. At every library where I’ve worked, I’ve kept a bucket of supplies in my desk or office. I’ve gotten good-natured teasing about that from co-workers – that is, until they’ve come upon an “accident” over in picture books and need to raid my stash. Many libraries have wonderful custodial staffs – but personally I’ve never worked somewhere where the custodians were present every hour the library is open. Sometimes it’s just good customer service to have supplies on hand to quickly clean up the exploding soda bottle on the teen study table so others can continue using the space.

Here are the products that make up my youth department cleaning arsenal. When I’ve mentioned specific brand names, it’ s because I’ve had success with their use and not due to any compensation from the company.

  • An all purpose counter top spray, like 409
  • Disinfecting wipes, such as the ones made by Clorox
  • Mr. Clean Magic Erasers – truly, a miracle product. Do a color patch test first, but I’ve used these to remove crayon and scuffs on painted walls with great success. I’ve also used it to eradicate years of grime on vinyl cushions on youth department furniture with dramatic results. This is a harsh cleanser, so I’d recommend wearing plastic gloves if you plan on doing any real scrubbing with it. (When cleaning the aforementioned furniture, I took my nail polish off with the eraser along with the grime.)
  • Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface Spray – do you have toys in your library? Do you hand out things like shaker eggs in storytime? This spray is what I use to sanitize those items. It’s designed to be safe around kids and pets, and I know many daycares use it for sanitizing high chairs and play areas.
  • Spot Shot Instant Carpet Stain Remover – look for the distinctive blue can with the orange cap, and prepare to be amazed when you use it. How many of you have colorful rugs in your picture book or storytime areas? Most of these rugs come with instructions that recommend spot cleaning only. I’ve removed dirt, food stains, and yes – bodily fluids from rugs with this.
  • Pledge Multisurface Clean and Dust Spray – this works beautifully cleaning sticky residue from wood surfaces
  • Goo Gone Stain Remover – great for removing stickers, gum, and fossilized glitter glue
  • Oust Air Sanitizer – I’m going to be blunt here. Do you ever have hygiene challenged patrons whose presence lingers long after they leave? This air freshener is the best. Trust me, I’m a Future Homemaker of America. I’ve tried them all.
  • Disposable gloves – yes, they are usually in your library’s first aid kit. Do yourself a favor and keep your own stash. You’ll thank me for it.

I keep all these goodies in an old school housekeepers box I found years ago at the store Tuesday Morning. (That’s it pictured at the top.) I get ribbed about it by my colleagues, sure – but it’s definitely been well used over the years.

Any other clean freaks out there? Do you have spring cleaning projects planned for your library? What unspeakable messes have you encountered in the youth department? What are your go-to products?

P.S. Guess what’s number 1 on the list in Eric S. Riley’s fantastic blog post Ten Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School? That’s right – janitorial work.

P.P.S. Want to know about some of my other favorite cleaning and organization products? Check out my Pinterest board Susie Homemaker.


  1. Madigan

    I use babywipes to clean just about anything and everything. None of the moms at my library can complain that they are too harsh, and they really get the job done.

    This wasn’t a spring-cleaning project, per se, but I’m still proud of the way I organized our supply closet: before and after photos here.

  2. Sharon H

    We also have Febreeze on hand. Helpful for stinky situations. And I adore Chlorox wipes for weeding — really cleans those nasty picture books!!

  3. Lisa

    When it comes to “unspeakable messes,” my “go-to product” is a pair of rubber gloves! 😉

  4. Ashley

    What would you recommend to use to cotton bean bags? Would the â– Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface Spray be ok?

  5. Susan

    Hi Ashley – the Clorox spray wouldn’t be a good choice for fabric. I would suggest putting the bean bags in a mesh bag (like the ones used for washing delicates), machine wash in cold water, and let air dry. I use this method for stuffed toys and puppets, and it works well.

    1. Ashley

      Thanks for the help Susan 🙂

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