Monday, December 12, 2016

This Old Sink Revisited

The 1890 hand washing sink off the kitchen dates from the period when American plumbing was the envy of the world. Raw materials and train transportation were cheap and abundant. The sink is a thick casting of iron coated with an equally thick fired layer of white enamel. Its long history has been a fortunate one of careful and diligent maintenance. From time to time I have contemplated having the sink recoated, but the evolution of the neighborhood still makes making do the more rational choice. Consequently, I can contemplate the sink and realize that it represents a living encyclopedia of cleaning techniques.

Before the Seventies, it was standard practice to abrade the surface of a plumbing fixture with coarse pumice. Go figure. Someone realized that leaving sand out of the cleaning product would protect the surface one was trying to refresh and keep the drains from silting up in the process.

It took a while to find ways to manage the porous surface of the powder room sink, but over time I have discovered ways to make it presentable. When I was using bar soap, it left a waxy residue that was the devil to remove. I would fill the sink with boiling water and detergent, let it soak, and then drain and scrub with the white nylon pad that is sold for cleaning floors. A rinse and boiling soak with bleach followed, and then I drained the sink, toweled it dry (always a good way to finish), and polished the brightwork with biker's chrome polish. I've only had to do that several times over the last few decades. It's a good way to restore any vintage fixture. 

Once the pores of the porcelain are clean and sanitized, relatively minor attention will keep it fresh. I find that sloshing the surface with the undiluted neutral pH janitorial cleaning liquid I use on floors, letting it sit for a minute or two (Don Aslett calls this dwell time), and then rinsing keeps the surface clean.

Different cleaning agents remove different fractions of soil. Regular attention with one product will leave subliminal residue that eventually becomes apparent. I switched to sloshing window cleaning solution from the YinYang grocery chain over the sink when I could see the residue with my glasses off. A brief dwell and scrub got me a clean fixture.

When the spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide I use to sanitize salad greens was nearly empty, I sloshed the dregs over the sink, forgot about them for the day, and returned to wash my hands over a pristine surface. Now and then I spray the sink with white vinegar, the other half of the salad-sanitizing duo. 

Aslett, a house-cleaning guru, says that, like teeth, surfaces accumulate plaque. When the sink is clean and garden tools out of the room, the space smells fresh and immaculate -30-


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