Get the chunks out

A sheet-washing chat with Jolie Kerr.

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Are you excited for this year’s cold and flu season? It’ll have the new twist of making you think, “Are we just miserably sick or is this *it*?” We have covered getting through flu season in the past but today I’d like to hone in on, and I mean get real granular, on the subject of barf sheets. I was going to do a witches’ roundup on handling pukey bedding but then I realized this is a subject in which I should go to one expert. That person is cleaning expert Jolie Kerr, who once told me how to get vomit out of a car stereo speaker. She and I hopped on the phone and I’m just going to share what she shared with me, basically verbatim:

JK: Here's the jam with chunk management. The most important thing when you have a situation that involves solids (‘solids’ is the polite term; ‘chunks’ is the human term) is to remove as much of the solids, using paper towels, or your hands in rubber gloves, as you can and disposing of that before you get into steam treating and laundering. Otherwise you’re just going to introduce a liquid and make muddy chunks.

The rubber glove thing is quite literally the more hands-on option, but they put a barrier between you and the chunks and that allows you to pick up the chunks and actually put them right in the toilet, which is more sustainable than using paper towels and putting them in the trash, which will smell up the trash.

When you’re done, keep the gloves on your hands, put them under the faucet and wash them with soap and water like you would anyway. Then you don’t have to touch anything.

Don’t use your reusable microfiber cleaning cloths or your rags when dealing with chunks because you’re just going to have to wash those things. I like to be thoughtful about the waste factor but I also like to be realistic about it. Or, here's another fun idea: you know the plastic shovels that come with toy buckets at the beach? You could shovel the chunks!

CZ: Let’s bring it on home. What are best practices then to bleach and wash the sheets, and what do you if you don’t have a washer/dryer in your unit?

JK: You actually don't want to use bleach. Vomit is a protein stain: my favorite kind of stain. They’re the fun ones. Chlorine bleach has a chemical reaction to protein stains that can render them more yellow. That's especially true with sweat stains. The thing to do, if a kid’s vomited over a sheet, is to get the chunks out, run it in the wash, take it out of the washer, and then assess the damage. If you stain treat, stain treat it and re-wash it. Don’t dry it. There will probably be stains but treating the stains will be a much more pleasant experience for the parent than trying to deal with it while it still smells.

If you don’t have your own washing machine in the home, flush the fabric with cold water under the tub or kitchen sink faucet from the backside to the front side—use the water to flush the matter away, rather than running the water on the matter and pushing it back through the fabric. Doing that and applying a stain treatment product will hold you until you can get to a washing machine.

For stain treatment products, you want an enzymatic stain treatment product. I like Zout (not Shout, although Shout’s actually pretty good too.) Krud Kutter’s spot stain remover is excellent. I love the name Krud Kutter. It’s so evocative.

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And that’s all! Except I would add that you should learn from my mistakes and not purchase white sheets for your kids’ beds no matter how inexpensive they are. Make smarter decisions than I have. Hopefully there will be much less barfy sheet washing this winter than last but you still want to prepare for the worst.


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