My house cleaning routine is completely different now that I live in rural Mexico when compared to living NOTB (north of the border). The way my mother and grandmother cleaned didn’t transfer to this new land without carpeting and linoleum floors which meant I had quite a bit to learn. I’m sure my mother-in-law thought I was a useless wife.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty (literally) with some tips I’ve learned along the way to keep the house, perhaps not sparkling clean, but at least bearable.
Most cleaning supplies, buckets, sponges, bristle brushes, mops, dustpans, brooms and so on, are found in the jariceria. Soap and detergents can be bought at the abarrotes (corner store) or supermercado. It’s a limited selection though. Most places carry fabuloso which comes in a variety of scents and pinol, which is “pine” scented.
There are even places you can buy cleaning supplies in bulk. Paper towels can sometimes be found at the desechables (disposable) place, however, most abarrotes and smaller supermarkets don’t carry them. I suggest using a cut-up towel if you can’t find paper towels. It can be washed and reused endlessly.
Living in rural Mexico means dirt roads, dirt paths, and dirt lawns. That dirt seeps in under the door and through open windows. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to reduce the amount of dirt inside your home, which ironically means reducing the amount of dirt outside of it.
The first line of defense is a broom. The broom is a mighty weapon in the battle against dirt. Brooms come in plastic and natural varieties. The ones made of twigs or straw are really the best for the dirt work outside your home.
Use that broom to sweep any loose dirt from in front away from your house. The broom is what you’ll use to sweep the loose dirt from the back of your house as well. Furthermore, the broom is used to sweep the loose dirt inside your house.
Your broom needs a super sidekick for the best results. Invest in one of those long-handled dustpans, not one you have to bend over to use. You’ll do a lot of sweeping in rural Mexico you’ll be thankful. Don’t just sweep the dirt outside. It will find a way back in. Sweep it into the dustpan and put it in the trash.
The plastic broom becomes an even better tool when combined with water and soap. With soapy water you can use the broom to scrub cement floors. Depending on the texture of your tile, you might use it to scrub those too. For example, the tile we have downstairs is smooth and a mop works well. But the upstairs tile is rough and a broomy mop does a way better job.
A broom can also be used to scrub the walls. Most walls are textured and you can’t just wipe them down with a wet cloth without getting bloody knuckles. So, use a broom.
If you have throw rugs, a broom makes a heck of a rug beater. Brooms also work to knock down cobweb buildup. Surprisingly enough you find chimney sweeps readily in Mexico, which work great for the same purpose.
Next, you may need a mop. Let me tell you, a mop won’t last nearly as long as you expect it would. But hang on to the wooden mop handles because, for some reason, broom handles are prone to breakage (probably all that scrubbing). A nail or two and your broom head has a new handle.
Mopping is done differently here than how I learned to do it. Here it involves at least two mops and a bucket of soapy water. First, the mop is dunked in a bucket of soapy water. Then it is hand wrung. Some broad swishing about the floor follows. After that a DRY mop is swished over the same area, reducing the water residue. This is repeated until the entire floor surface has been cleansed. Mops are left to dry with the strings up, handle down.
When building your home, take this into consideration. Once you are ready to install tile, be proactive and buy brown floor tile, preferably with speckles that already resemble dirt. NEVER buy white tile even though it is usually cheaper. Choose dark grouting as well, not light. Also, smooth tiles may be easier to mop but are slippery when wet, so not the best option for bathrooms, kitchens, hallways or anywhere else where water accumulates.
Don’t be shy about using the water that you’ve used to wash clothes for mopping. We have a washer that we catch the gray water from the outtake hose in a bucket for this very purpose. When we hand wash, we do the same thing.
Some cleaning can be reduced in intensity or avoided altogether if you are wise. For example, don’t buy white towels. I know that it gives your kitchen or bath a bright, clean feel, but it won’t last. Instead, buy brown towels. Seriously. The same goes for bedding. White sheets???–PLEASE! You’re just asking for trouble. Dark colors, like brown, are good.
The reason I suggest this is because Tide Ultra is not available at the local super (supermercado). Instead, you’ll find a paltry selection of overly aromatic laundry soap which can’t quite cut the mustard, literally. I use Foca liquid detergent which is biodegradable and has a very mild scent but doesn’t get clothes as clean as my detergent did way back in the day when I lived in another country.
Since the detergent available is not great for stain treatment, a scrubber bristle brush works is another tool you’ll want to add to your cleaning arsenal. You really need to put some muscle into scrubbing at those stains. though. After you’ve scrubbed the bejesus out of those chili stains, hang the garment in full sun for some natural bleaching.
Bristle brushes work for the walls in your shower too. Take one in while you shower and scrub away. The floor is already sudsy from your shower, so go ahead and broom scrub it then too.
Whether your washer is indoors or out, a washer cover goes a long way in keeping dust from accumulating in the wash barrel. Covers are easily found for square washers as well as the round chaka-chaka ones at the places that sell blender lids.
Roma powder detergent works great to clean grease off the stove. On some stoves, it’s possible to put aluminum foil around the burners and stovetop which can be changed out as needed. Remember, prevention is the better part of cleaning valor.
Dusting is a never-ending battle. You can buy a feather duster or make your own from your backyard fowls’ plumage. The roving carts that sell the chimney sweep brushes also carry feather dusters. A slightly damp cloth will do too.
Most kitchens have a vitrina which is like a pantry cupboard. Use that to store your dishes. Make sure to replace broken glass doors. It keeps the dust build-up to a minimal. If you have knickknacks–keep them in a vitrina as well.
A few stores carry products like Windex that you can use to clean your windows and mirrors. I’ve found that an auto detailing cloth works well to wipe them clean. I don’t bother with the exterior side of the windows unless they are extremely dusty. I do run the chimney sweep brush over the screens periodically to knock the dust off, however.
Flies make icky dirt speckles when they poop. Having screens in your windows and keeping the doors closed will curtail that. Those sticky fly traps will reduce the population and keep the poop speckles down too.
Trash accumulate can be a problem in some areas. In town, the trash tractor comes by three times a week to collect your refuse. Where we live, it doesn’t. We burn some of our trash every other day or so. We recycle plastic containers, cans, and caguama (beer) bottles by taking them to the appropriate recycling center every month or so. For other items, we shop mindfully. For instance, we drink Cafe Oro because the glass jars it comes in make excellent pantry storage containers.
If you are a financial position to do so, consider hiring a cha-cha, the term used for the cleaning muchacha (girl) even if she’s older than your mother. The cha-cha will come to your house for as little as 200 pesos a week, depending on the number of days and hours you require. It’s a fairly common practice even among the middle class and it provides a much-needed source of income for the women living in rural Mexico. While she’s scrubbing away, be sure to take notes on her techniques. Be sure to share them with your other clueless friends (and me in the comments below).
Realistically, you’ll need to learn to make peace with some dirt living in rural Mexico. It comes with the territory. Do what you can each day and don’t stress about the rest.