No offense to the ladies of the night, but Don Aslett believes that cleaning is the world’s oldest profession. And Aslett, who owns Varsity Contractors, a multimillion-dollar cleaning company that serves 14 states with its more than 2,500 employees, knows the job so well that he claims he can hear mildew growing on a bathroom wall. Although he got a degree in teaching from Idaho State University in 1963, Aslett, 54, has been on the “bowl patrol” for the past 33 years. He has written 11 books on cleaning; the most recent being How Do I Clean the Moose-head? He is also a devout Mormon, former scoutmaster, father of six and a grandfather of 13. He and his wife, Barbara, divide their time between a house in Hawaii and a ranch in McCammon, Idaho, where he spoke with reporter Toby Kahn.
How did you get started in the cleaning business?
I was in college, and one of my friends told me that women hate to clean. So I put an ad in the paper calling myself a professional cleaner. I had never made my bed in my life. On one of my first jobs, I ended up shrinking a wool carpet six inches away from the walls. But I kept experimenting, and I became very knowledgeable. By the time I graduated, more than 500 students had worked for me.
Do people react strangely to your profession?
Yes, but I just put them on the defensive. I shake hands with them and say, “Hey, I just cleaned a toilet with that hand.” My briefcase is shaped like a toilet because that’s the symbol of my trade. There’s always a lot of suspense when the toilet bumps onto the baggage carousel at the airport and people wait to see who will claim it.
What are some of your most bizarre cleaning experiences?
Once, the lump under the carpet that we were beating on turned out to be a kid’s hamster. Another time, I cleaned a house with 7,000 figurines. Then there was the time I had a big buffer get loose and chase an old lady around the room.
What is the biggest single cleaning problem?
Unquestionably, irrevocably—junk, litter and clutter. To start dejunking you have to get up at 5 in the morning. That’s when you are heartless and objective. Don’t wear any clothes, so you won’t have pockets to put things in. Get four boxes and label them “junk,” “charity,” “sort” and “emotional withdrawal.” I guarantee that your economic, mental, physical and romantic life will change because the whole secret of life is to dejunk it.
What’s the dirtiest place in the house?
Everybody thinks it’s bathrooms, but it’s doorknobs. Nobody ever cleans them.
What helps cut down on housework?
Eighty percent of the dirt that comes in the house comes in through the front door. So get a good doormat.
Do you favor a particular kind of vacuum cleaner?
I like upright vacuums. I think canisters are like dragging a dead pig through the house on the end of a rope.
What about no-wax floors?
That’s like no-wash dishes.
What cleaners do you recommend?
To make life simpler I advise only three: a heavy-duty, neutral all-purpose cleaner, a disinfectant cleaner and an alcohol-based window cleaner. I recommend people buy professional solutions at commercial cleaning stores because you get more for your money. But there isn’t anything wrong with what you find on the grocery shelves.
How do you get a red wine stain out?
We have a little saying here, “If it’s red, you’re dead.” Grape juice and red stains are the hardest to clean. Blot up as much of the liquid as possible and apply diluted ammonia. Don’t rub. Use a white cloth to see if it’s coming up. Then apply a vinegar solution, still blotting. Bleach if necessary and rinse with cold water.
What are some cleaning no-no’s?
Don’t use powdered cleansers; they are like sandpaper, and it won’t be long until they take all the finish off. Bleach is super bad. It’s okay in clothes because you rinse it out. But if you use it in your shower, bam-oh! It’s an oxidizer, and your surfaces will gradually deteriorate.
What’s the best way to keep bathtubs clean?
If you’ve used powdered cleansers, you’ve probably taken the slick finish off and the soap scum won’t slide down the drain. You’re being punished for what you did wrong. The best thing is to keep a squeegee in your shower and use it when you are finished.
Are men doing any more housework these days than before?
No, 90 percent of cleaning is caused by the husbands and children, and done by the wives. But once you bring it up to the men, they feel really guilty. I’m writing a book on getting children to clean, and the No. 1 influence is Dad’s example.
Is cleaning getting easier?
All the new products on the market have made cleaning easier than ever, but here’s the catch—now people have more stuff. They have two and three cars to clean, and 10 times the amount of clothes. It has all bred more work.
So, how clean is your own home?
I’m not immaculate. Houses are made to live in, not live for. A lot of people become slaves of their houses. They don’t eat in the living room, things like that. My kids have overhauled motorcycles at home. As my grandma once said, “If there are dirty dishes in the sink and my husband wants me to go someplace, that’s clean enough.”