Could the queen of clean turn me into a domestic god?: MARK PALMER tries out professional housekeeping advice on his four-bedroom house
- Cleaning queen Ewa Bialonas, 39, advised Mark Palmer on tidying his home
- Ewa is the head housekeeper at the Hambleton Hall hotel in Rutland
- She worked her way up from being a maid in a Cambridge university college
- She shared advice for cleaning mirrors, baths, toilets and making the bed
- Ewa recommends spending at least an hour a day doing housework
Pouring Coca-Cola down the loo sounds like a juvenile thing to do. But it comes highly recommended by the latest recipient of the AA Housekeeper of the Year award.
‘Please don’t ask me why it works so well — because some of us drink the stuff,’ says cleaning queen Ewa Bialonas. ‘But when it comes to getting rid of stains and limescale, Coke does a great job.’
Ewa is telling me this as I wield a toilet brush in one hand, can of Coke in the other, and get down to basics during what amounts to a crash course in, well, the basics of housekeeping.
This is what my wife, Joanna, calls the ‘domestics’, usually heard in a sentence that goes along the lines of: ‘How come you never ever do any domestics?’
Normally I plead guilty as charged, but not before offering an attempt at mitigation, such as: ‘Because I’m not very good at it.’
Ewa Bialonas, 39, (pictured left) who recently won the AA Housekeeper of the Year award advised Mark Palmer (pictured right) on cleaning his four-bedroom terraced house
So who better to learn from than Ewa, 39, who was born in Poland but has lived in Britain since 2005, cleaning her way up from working as a maid in a Cambridge University college to head housekeeper at the Hambleton Hall hotel in Rutland?
The AA judges said housekeeping at the hotel is ‘truly exceptional’. What’s more, Ewa loves her work. ‘Cleaning can be so rewarding,’ she says. ‘And to have everything neat and tidy brings a certain atmosphere into the home.’
Ewa’s enthusiasm reminds me of Japanese tidying obsessive Marie Kondo. Her Netflix TV series, in which she helps untidy families mend their ways, has started a nationwide trend for decluttering that has seen charity shops overwhelmed with donations.
Ewa is equally evangelical about cleaning and insists that anyone can be a good at it — male or female.
Now, my wife and I don’t employ anyone to help us clean our four-bedroom terraced house. It’s always seemed a waste of money and I’ve long taken the view that while we are still fit and agile, we should do it ourselves.
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But it’s never quite worked out like that. I have to confess that, like many of us, I’m good at noticing what needs to be cleaned but never get round to doing it.
I love a made bed, perfectly pressed shirts and spotless shaving mirror, but somehow I’ve always allowed my wife to take responsibility for these chores.
This, over the years, has caused tension and there have been a few major blow-outs.
No wonder, then, that when I told Mrs P that Ewa would be popping in to show me the ropes, she was practically baking a cake in anticipation of her arrival.
For her part, Ewa seems to think my attitude perfectly normal and puts it down to never having been taught ‘the basics’ properly.
‘Right, let’s start with the ironing,’ she says, selecting a crumpled blue shirt.
Ewa advised Mark to use vinegar and newspaper to best clean glass and mirrors, she believes vinegar is more effective than dedicated glass cleaning products
I pick up the iron but, to my shame, I am not sure how it works. It’s probably a decade or more since I ironed a shirt.
Ewa explains there is one button for steam and one for spraying water. She suggests I use steam. ‘Work on the sleeves first, but only iron the middle. You want to avoid a harsh line. Same with the collar, which should look rounded at the top, not straight.’
Joanna looks on approvingly.
My problem with ironing is getting started — the palaver of rummaging under the stairs for the ironing board, making sure the iron has water in it, finding a suitable socket. But once you start it’s weirdly therapeutic.
I tell Joanna that I’d happily iron on a Monday night while watching the football on TV — but she doesn’t believe me.
We move on to puffing up the cushions on the sofa. Ewa turns this simple job into an art form, making the whole confection look irresistibly comfortable.
The key is to take them off completely and shake them so they are bulging at the front — like the decolletage of a Bavarian barmaid during Oktoberfest.
‘Once they are back in position, take the scatter cushions, lay them flat and bash them with both hands,’ advises Ewa. ‘Then indent them slightly at the sides and at the top — and always make sure the zip is at the bottom.’
Now it’s time to tackle the bathroom. I can hose down a bath as well as anyone to dispatch superficial grime, but making the tub shine is an entirely different matter.
Ewa says a properly made bed should have the following: a mattress protector, a topper, an undersheet, a top sheet and a duvet or blankets in that order
Ewa says best results are achieved by squirting a cream cleaner, such as Cif, strategically when the bath is dry. She gives me a damp sponge, as it produces lots of suds, and says to give it a fair amount of elbow grease.
I leave the Cif to do its stuff and tackle the loo — which is where the Coke comes in. Apparently, the world’s most popular drink is the world’s best lavatory cleaner.
This is due to its levels of carbonic and phosphoric acid — both of which are also present in supermarket cola, so it should work just as well. What’s more, a bottle of cola tends to be cheaper than a bottle of bleach.
Back to the tub and I’m bent double showering off the suds, then polishing the white enamel with a dry towel. This procedure is repeated on the basin.
At one point, Ewa hands me a toothbrush to address the grouting and the taps. Which strikes me as obsessive, but my wife says it’s about time I realised how fiddly the job can be.
Then I return to the WC. I’ve not spent so long kneeling in front of a toilet since Friday nights at university.
The Coca-Cola seems to have worked, so I add a squirt of disinfectant under the rim and wipe everything dry. ‘Always make sure the seat is down,’ says Ewa, sounding a little sergeant major-ish. Joanna nods enthusiastically.
But we are not finished in the bathroom. Ewa scrunches up a page from yesterday’s newspaper and asks for vinegar (it doesn’t matter what kind) and teaches me how best to clean glass and mirrors.
Ewa recommends using Coca-Cola to clean toilets because of its levels of carbonic and phosphoric acid
‘You don’t need much and don’t worry about the smell,’ she says. ‘It will be gone in a few minutes. Vinegar is far more effective than those dedicated glass cleaners and probably cheaper.’
Next up is the bedroom. Who has time to make the bed properly? ‘But you like a properly made bed when staying in a hotel, so why not make an effort to do it at home?’ says Joanna.
Ewa and Joanna seem to be forming a dangerous alliance. They agree that a properly made bed should have the following, in this order: a mattress protector, a topper, an undersheet, a top sheet and a duvet or blankets. We practise our hospital corners — to keep the bottom sheet firmly in place — and I pass the test with flying colours, mainly because my mother believed in them in the same way some people believe in fairies. Unshakeable faith.
The bed is looking good. In fact, I wouldn’t mind getting into it after all this exertion. But Ewa wants to run through a few more tips, such as: once a month, shower heads should be removed and left to soak in vinegar for a day; wipe down the inside of your oven after cooking; always dust and vacuum, otherwise the dust will return; and you should spend at least an hour a day doing housework on the principle that little and often is the best policy.
Before she leaves — and after she’s scrutinised my mopping — I offer her a cup of coffee and notice that, as soon as she finishes it, she washes the cup and puts it on our draining rack. ‘It’s so much easier to do these things straight away,’ she says. ‘Housework is about learning good habits until they become second nature.’ I’m just glad Joanna doesn’t hear her.
While I’m still not a convert to ‘domestics’, and doubt I ever will be, I have a greater appreciation of what’s involved. It’s been an enlightening day and I’m ready to play my part. Well, sometimes.
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