Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person," debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we've launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
Here's the thing: I did NOT pay attention to the "easy to clean" feature when buying a high chair. Instead, we wanted one that would look pretty in our dining room. (This was dumb.)
So we have this, the Joovy Wooden Nook, that has since been discontinued. It supposedly has a "high-gloss" finish on the wood that makes it easy to clean. That is a lie. If you don't wipe off food within 30 minutes, it sticks. The high chair also has lots of tiny little crevices, perfect for food particles dropped, or thrown, by a toddler.
We have not been that diligent, and sadly, it's kinda gross. Do you have tips for cleaning stuck-on, dried food gunk from worn down wood finishing and crevices?
Let me level with you: In this column I'm going to tell you to get at that high chair with a toothbrush, and in order to make up for that, I feel compelled to butter you up by laying out a precise and streamlined order of operations. Why do I feel compelled to do that? Because you're a parent and you're likely to read the word "toothbrush" and storm my home with pitchforks and torches. "LADY, DO YOU KNOW HOW TIRED I AM? I DO NOT HAVE THE TIME OR ENERGY TO FOOL WITH USING A TOOTHBRUSH TO SCRUB A HIGH CHAIR."
Which is fair! But also, I really promise that this operation isn't going to take you more than 15 to 20 minutes and that using the toothbrush won't be as heinous as it sounds like it will be. One of the reasons for this is that we're going to let the products do a lot of the work for us. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Here are your basic steps:
- Remove the tray and straps. On this particular model of high chair, the tray comes off, so the first thing to do is to remove it from the frame of the chair and deposit it in your kitchen sink to soak in hot water and a small amount of dish soap. The water is going to, essentially, reconstitute the stuck-on food, meaning that when you head in to give it a scrub, you won't have to put that much elbow grease into it. If the straps are also removable, take those off and throw them in the sink with the tray.
- Lay down a "tarp." This job is going to get a little drippy, so to save yourself the trouble of doing a lot of cleanup after your, um, cleanup, throw something down underneath the high chair to catch drips and crumbs. A trash bag would be perfect, but you can also use newspaper (provided you have newspaper!) or an actual tarp.
- Give the high chair a good spritzing. The choice of cleaner is actually not as important here as the choice of tool, but generally speaking, you'll want to use an all-purpose cleaner that's in a spray bottle. Why a spray bottle? Because it's going to make applying the cleaning product to the high chair so much easier. Here's what I want you to do: Starting at the top of the high chair and working down, give the whole thing a really good spritzing with the all-purpose cleaner. Go ahead and get wild! Then, head back over to the sink to wash that tray while the all-purpose cleaner starts to penetrate the stuck-on food and drool and grubby handprints.
- Wash the tray like you would wash a dish. This is pretty straightforward, but it's worth noting in this step that if there are stains left behind after you wash the tray, a Magic Eraser will likely lift them right up. If the straps were removable and they have been soaking in the dish soap solution, simply rinse them well and lay them flat on a towel to air dry.
- It's toothbrush time. OK, here comes the toothbrush. Working from the top down, give the high chair a good chh-chh-chh-ing. You could also swap in a slightly larger scrub brush like this one or a Dobie Pad, which is a scrubber sponge that won't cause scratching. The idea here is basically that you want the one-two punch of letting the all-purpose cleaner penetrate all that dried-on food and using the toothbrush or scrub brush or scrubber sponge to do the heavy labour for you.
- Wipe the whole unit down. Since we went pretty wild with the all-purpose cleaner, there will be a lot of residue, as well as those now-loosened food particles. Wet a clean rag and wipe the whole high chair off very well, rinsing the rag as needed. If the straps were not removable, use the rag and a little dish soap to give them a scrub.
- Dry the high chair off and put the tray back on. Drying the high chair with a rag or microfiber cloth, rather than letting the unit air dry, is a good final step because there are probably some lingering crumbs that a dry cloth will get in a way that a damp one won't.
One last tip about crumbs: Depending on how crevice-y the high chair is, you may want to begin this process by using canned air to blow out crumbs before you introduce liquid cleaners. You always want to start with canned air (this is also true of cleaning a keyboard) because its force will blow crud everywhere. If you use canned air as your last step, you'll just have to do another pass at wiping everything down.
Before we close this one out, let's throw a query out in the spirit of making each other's parenting lives easier: Do you have a high chair that's a cinch to clean? Please tell us about it!