This morning my iron threw globby black crud onto one of my favorite shirts. I had noticed the black stuff on day one here, and I had tried the iron out first on an old towel to see if the stuff would come off. For the first two weeks none did. All seemed well. But today I had to take action.
Probably I should have just called my mother and asked her what to do, but I'm in Russia so the idea didn't cross my mind till too late. I tried Google. Lots of different pieces of advice, and the most common ones seemed to center around white vinegar and salt, the latter presumably for its abrasive qualities. On my shelf there are two bottles of acetic acid, which we all know and love in salads as vinegar. 70% strength. Cool!
I pulled out two shot glasses. Poured the vinegar in one. Poured salt in the other. (That's right: my apartment came equipped with shot glasses. I'll save that for another entry.) I placed the whole assembly on a big plastic plate. I pulled out a spare toothbrush and began to scrub the bottom of the iron, alternating vinegar with vinegar salt. After ten minutes of rubbing it look like this.
That actually looked like an improvement, but it was taking way too long, so I pulled out a couple of sponges with nylon scrubbing surfaces and used them instead. It was immediately obvious that something was blackening the liquid, but the results were very, very slow. After an hour's scrubbing it looked like this.
Now that's a drastic improvement.
But let me tell you some of the things on the way that I had sort of not thought about. First off, the smell was nearly overwhelming. If you have ever run a bottle of vinegar through a coffee maker to de-lime it and been foolish enough to do it inside the house, you know what I'm talking about. Second, I have no idea whether the vinegar actually helped. Stuff sort of came off slowly when I used water as well, but of course the sponges still had leftover vinegar in them, so who knows. And did the salt particularly help? I have no idea.
And then something else should have crossed my mind. Normally when you buy vinegar—and I did not realize this when I started—the acetic acid concentration is 5-8%. This stuff was ten times as strong, which means I now have minor acid burns on my fingers, and the black stuff under my fingernails looks as if I have tried to dig myself barehanded out of an untimely burial. I even pulled out that dopey nail scrubber from my dopp kitt to decontaminate my fingers.
I was reasonably proud of my iron cleaning the other day. Then I decided that I should try it out on another cloth. The cloth was made in China and labeled 100% cotton. I ironed. White-grayish crud accumulated on the iron, just like you would expect if an iron that is too hot is going over synthetics. I conclude this is a poorly labelled Chinese towel. It's not the iron's fault.
Then I remember an e-mail by EC Paul (East Coast Paul... I have two friends name Paul, and it's convenient to lable them by the continent that divides them.) He had though my problem was with the tank of iron spitting out crud from previously used tap water. I actually don't have any reason to think that he is right/wrong, so I consider his hypothesis and possible solution, which involves running vinegar through the iron. Oh, what the hell. Let's try it.
Out of the steam holes came little brown squirties that looked like nothing so much as silk worm feces. Having raised silk worms several times, I may assure you that this is not merely artistic embellishment, although I am congratulating myself for working the phrase “silk worm feces” into a bit of writing.
Then I tried the other direction, that is squirting some water directly into the steam holes and then seeing what comes out. An iron douche, as it were. Wow, more silk-wormy pellets.
This leaves the residue from the other day. I asked Flyura what to do. She said to run the iron over a cloth that has salt on it. I mentioned it to language partner Alan, and he said, “Why didn’t you ask me?” “Because you are not a housewife,” quoth I. I mean what 20-year old kid is going to know about such things, right? He is not Will Truman. He said, “I am such a housewife. I have no job, and I stay at home all day. All the stores have this stuff that will clean the bottom of an iron.” Wow, I guess he is Will Truman after all. So we stop off at the market — not the store — and we get this thing called an “iron cleaning pencil.” It looks like half of a wickless white table candle, maybe half an inch thick, but made of urea and stearic acid. You heat the iron to cotton level; rub the pencil on it, which melts; and then wipe off the muck. Don’t let the word urea scare you; it smells nothing like urine.
So I tried that. Maybe it helped a bit. But it still didn’t work as good as the scrubbing, so I did one more round of scrubbing. Wow, now the iron looks beautiful. I try it on another piece of Chinese cotton. No reside.
I may finally have a clean iron.
My friend WC Paul (West Coast Paul) will doubtless mock for not simply going out and buying a new one. But where is the joy of problem solving if I simply buy a new one? Plus the idea offends me of buying something new if the only issue is cleaning it right. I mean, then it just goes into the landfill and speeds our current environmental degradation, right?