When I was growing up, most of what I learned about cleaning I learned from my mother. Her policy — with four kids and a host of dogs and cats and even the odd rabbit — was usually “out of sight, out of mind,” and it has served me well. But when I’ve got guests coming over it isn’t my mother’s cleaning credo I subscribe to — it’s the one I learned from my grandmother: Every other room in your house can be in state, but the bathroom can and should sparkle for guests.
My grandmother was a Southern lady who prided herself on the elegant way she held her Kent cigarettes and on the spa escape she created in the bathrooms in her home. As a child, we weren’t even allowed to go into, what we all called, Granny’s Domain, the in-suite bathroom that she kept in immaculate condition and escaped to often for some alone time.
When I was 12, she parted that forbidden curtain and allowed me inside her personal bathroom — and it sparkled, shined, and smelled like a private oasis, not a place for basic human needs. The bathroom was well-decorated and well-scented with subtle notes of lemon, and it was so clean I couldn’t understand how one human being could manage to keep it in pristine condition so I asked her to show me how. Are you ready to find out what made her bathroom such a luxurious escape?
My Grandmother’s ‘Wet Room’ Bathroom Cleaning Technique
The first step in this process, according to my grandmother, isn’t doing anything to the bathroom itself, it’s all about preparing your person. She would make sure she was dressed in clothes she didn’t care about, and that she could move in comfortably. Between you, me, and the wall, for my grandmother that meant just her undergarments, but I prefer a holey t-shirt and my boyfriend’s old basketball shorts. Whatever you don, make sure you also wear socks.
Once she was dressed to get to work, my grandmother would collect everything in the bathroom that stood in the way of a cleaning — items like hairbrushes, toothbrushes, anything at all that might be taking up residence. My granny had a small collapsible laundry basket for this part of the job, as you can just toss everything inside of the basket and put it back into place when you’re finished.
With the bathroom cleared of clutter, it was time to get a step-stool, a bucket, a broom, and some dish soap or Borax, and get to scrubbing. She would fill the bucket with warm water, moisten the broom in question, and then top the bristles with Borax or dish soap. If she was cleaning her own getaway, she would also include lemon juice in the water.
With her cleaner ready, it was time for her to climb up on the step stool and get to work. My grandmother employed what she called the “wet room” technique. That means pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Applying soapy water indiscriminately across the entire bathroom with the broom. Her bathroom was tile from head to toe, right down to built-in shelving and storage which made it a snap (but her method is definitely adaptable if you bathroom isn’t the tile escape hers was).
She would scrub the bathroom, walls to floor, using the broom and her cleaning mixture, and working her way from the top down. She’d continue scrubbing her bathroom with the broom — adjusting grip as required — until every surface has built up a nice frothy foam.
The broom is a key part of the equation. The length of the handle made it easier for her to make big, effective, strokes in her cleaning path without losing strength. She’d always get a bit wet in the process of this technique, but the results spoke for themselves.
Once she was done scrubbing, she’d refill her bucket with warm, clean water, rinse her broom in the tub or shower, and then repeat her pattern with the excess water until she’d rinsed every surface clean.
Once it was done, she would hop in the shower herself! It was a great chance to get clean, sure, but it’s also a great chance to check and see if she’d missed any spots there too.
My grandmother passed away when I was in college after a long battle with dementia. While her final years were challenging on our whole family, it’s an unexpected pleasure to think of her fondly whenever I pick up the broom and soap and go about the business of maintaining my own personal oasis from the world.