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June 13, 2011 12:23 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I have very different views on what constitutes "clean". I'm not talking about differences when it comes to keeping one's room neat and organized. We're on the same page about that. I'm talking about re-using towels, sponges, dirty dish rags, and keeping counter tops SANITARY. Help me parse this one out.

I come from a family that's very hygiene-oriented. We rarely get sick, and we put effort into keeping things that way. We clean counters with hot water and soap after we've cooked, especially if we've been using raw materials like egg (mostly to keep away pests, but also to prevent contamination); we never use sponges (or if we do, they don't cross-contaminate one surface to the other, like the dirty counters to a dirty dish); and, after suffering a bad bout with hardcore tinnia and athlete's foot, we now wash our bath towels every day, and foot rugs every two weeks or so.

My boyfriend is also very into being clean, but he thinks nothing of reusing the same damp sponge on different surfaces for up two months. He never wipes down a counter after he's placed raw meat there. His bath towels are reused until they reek of moisture damage. Worst of all, he re-uses the same filthy, wet dishtowel over, and over, and over to wipe down dishes instead of putting them in the dishwasher. Sure, some of this is a matter of preference -- I know not everyone operates in the same way my parents and I do. The rest of this, though, is a matter of common sense, and for all his brilliance and commitment to a clean house, I cannot fathom how to communicate to my boyfriend that I'm grossed out by this other stuff. I'm less worried about catching a cold or the flu -- I'm more concerned about the fungus, the athlete's foot, and the occasional food poisoning I keep getting whenever I visit him. He has all these things too but cannot see the correlation between his habits and his chronic infections. It's like he's never heard about how food poisoning works or how germs and viruses get transferred from one place to the next.

Am I fighting a losing battle? Right now I've taken to ferreting away unsanitary things in his house and replacing or cleaning them when he's away at work. I don't want to keep doing this anymore because it's passive aggressive and I know there's a better way. This matters to me because I live with him almost 75% of the month now and recently I just got over a very debilitating illness and I am desperate to stay healthy. I've already managed to get sick once after staying with him since getting over my illness. It's just a matter of healthy living for me.

Is there a gentle way to work with him on this without offending him too deeply?
posted by patronuscharms to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I seriously doubt that his habits are actually making you sick (with the possible exception of the athlete's foot). What "debilitating illness" would any of these things cause? If you find them disgusting that's one thing but they almost certainly aren't actually harming your health.
posted by The Lamplighter at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


I honestly think there is a middle ground here...but I'd say that if you get food poisoning from visiting him, the "middle ground" is probably closer to you.

You could make your recent illness be the impetus for the talk -- "honey, after all that I talked with my doctor about how to stay healthier, and he gave me some tips..." and then tell him how to make things more sanitary.

Now-- when I say there's a "middle ground," I mean things like "there is a way to sanitize a sponge." You say he re-uses sponges -- maybe he's doing so for economic or "I don't want to keep buying sponges and throwing them out" reasons. However -- there is a way to sanitize a sponge (I believe you just dunk it in a bowl of water and then zap the whole thing in the microwave for a couple minutes, or something that simple). As for the dishtowel -- maybe he's trying to be conservative with water and not use the dishwasher so much. But if that's the case, he could clean his dishtowels more often. That's the kind of thing I mean when I say "middle ground" -- find out whether there's any reason for him re-using a sponge and then see if you can find a way to satisfy you both.

But yeah, try taking the "I just got sick recently and want to really be careful, can you help me? Great, here's how" approach.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on June 13, 2011


This strikes me as a choose-your-battles issue:

Can you make every Saturday "bath towels washing day?" Yes, you probably can. Same with simply making use of the dishwasher "standard" for cleaning your dishes, instead of wiping them down with a dish towel. You can make wiping down the counters part of the standard part of "cleanup" after you cook.

You probably won't be able to enforce "a sponge that has touched one surface shall never touch another" and the like. Most of the rest of the country uses sponges without having major health and hygiene problems.
posted by deanc at 12:35 PM on June 13, 2011


Well, this is always a personal matter, but you both sound a bit extreme to me. I always use the same cloth to wipe all counters - but I rinse it in hot water whenever I use it and change it 1-2 times a week. But scrubbing all counters with hot water and soap every day? that's extreme. They aren't that dirty - raw eggs, for example, won't hurt you in trace amounts - raw chicken would be much worse (which is why I don't put that on a counter). Also, while extreme lack of hygiene can make you ill, extreme hygiene can also make you ill; it's correlated with allergies and other health problems. You need to be exposed to SOME dirt - but preferrably not food poisoning. As said above, his habits need improvement, but I think you need to find some place in the middle.

Perhaps start with the raw-meat issue - get him to never put it on the counter, and never use the same cutting board for raw meat as you use for vegetables. But don't worry about the counters -- just don't go licking the corners and wipe them down with a clean cloth before doing something like rolling raw dough out (though even that is going to be seriously baked).
posted by jb at 12:36 PM on June 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think that you need to pick your battles here, and that the battle you pick should be the countertops first, and then maybe getting him to replace his sponges and dishrags more frequently (you really don't need to launder towels every day to be healthy). He might find a spray bottle of antibacterial cleaner and a roll of paper towels to be more appealing than hot water & soap.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:36 PM on June 13, 2011


It's just a matter of healthy living for me.

You keep saying this in different ways throughout your post, as if to try to create a bedrock for your argument: your preference isn't just a preference, its rational behavior. I'm very skeptical of this. Obviously, hygiene plays a huge role in disease transmission, but I still think most hygienic behaviors are based on cultural standards of "grossness" that are fairly arbitrary. Like, how often do you sterilize your computer keyboard? What about your phone, which is constantly collecting aspirated mucus and so on from your face, and which is also probably rife with coronavirus particles, etc. Do you use the buttons on public ATM machines at the bank, deli, etc.? Do you sterilize the bathroom after flushing the toilet (I read somewhere that the flushing sends a geyser of microscopic fecal particles several feet into the air, and then the particles drift down onto surrounding surfaces. possibly BS).

Even in places where these standards are Life & Death matters, like hospitals, cultural grossness factors seem to dominate data-driven standards. Doctors, for instance, wear the same dirty-ass ties all the time, and all while everyone's terrified of MRSA.

So, I think the first thing you need to do is abandon the notion that you are the rational one here and he is the irrational one. Neither of you is rational. You are both operating in a received cultural framework of grossness. No big, I'm sure there's a million things like this in your relationship. What does it mean to be 'on time', what does it mean for something to be 'affordable', what gifts are in the category 'appropriate wedding gifts', and so on. And the solution is going to be the same: you talk about it, you learn to tolerate a reused bath towel, he learns to clean the counter after dropping raw meat on it (seriously, I'm with you on that one: gross as hell).
posted by jeb at 12:36 PM on June 13, 2011 [98 favorites]


The first thing that comes to mind for me is that since it's his house, it's kind of his say.

That said, I know what you're going through. My SO's fam was just a bit less uptight about things like squeezing out sponges and avoiding cross-contamination. As a result, I pick up the slack: when she finishes the dishes, next time I'm at the sink, I know I've gotta squeeze the sponge out. When she finishes using the cutting board, sometimes it's me who washes it, since I notice it shortly after.

I chalk this up to the broader give-and-take. When I do these things, I just gently remind myself that in some other capacity-- whatever it might be-- she's picking up some slack for me too, for instance getting grocery items that I forget like clockwork or vacuuming the area rug that's starting to send up dust storms when you step on it but I haven't noticed it yet.

Because your health is an issue, it sounds like it's more serious than these kind of little symbiotic nuts and bolts. If you have health concerns that are directly linked to neglecting certain household duties, I would hope that he wouldn't be offended when you raise your concerns about it and explain that your well-being is tied into it.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:36 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you willing to explore any middle ground? Frankly, it sounds like you're both unhealthy. It sounds like you and your family have some sort of OCD thing going with cleanliness while your boyfriend is an unhygienic slob.

I can't imagine living with someone who wiped off dishes rather than washing them, but I also can't imagine living with someone who washed their bath towels every day and scrubbed the counters with soap and hot water after every use.
posted by alms at 12:38 PM on June 13, 2011 [26 favorites]


I used to have similar problems and just started cleaning my ex's flat in an attempt to show him how I would like things to be. Didn't work.

Why don't you just have a straight conversation with him? Say that you think that this and that and other things that he does really gross you out + give you reason to worry about your own health.

I also agree with posters above that a few things like antibacterial cleaner and paper towels may help.

But...nothing like a good honest chat. If you don't say what is on your mind, you will probably explode one day and tell him how disgusted you are by all these things that he does. THAT will probably offend him.
posted by heartofglass at 12:45 PM on June 13, 2011


Washing the bath towels every day is the exact opposite of common sense. But then again, waiting until they stink doesn't make a lot of sense either. I agree with everyone else that you're at two weird extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to hygiene. It shouldn't be too difficult to meet in the middle, where most other people are.

Wash your towels weekly. Buy a lot of cheap dish towels so you can quickly and easily swap out the damp ones for clean, dry ones. Use the dishwasher when it's convenient. If you're washing dishes by hand, use soap and hot water and dry them with a clean, dry towel.

And by all means, yeah, disinfect counters and cutting boards after they touch raw meat. That's actual common sense.
posted by booknerd at 12:49 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


How sick does he get? I understand the desire to stay healthy, but it seems your family might be going above and beyond the necessary steps. Cleaning surfaces touched by uncooked meat is good, but this is the first I've head of cleaning all cooking surfaces with hot, soapy water after cooking of any sort. And sponges are sold by the boatloads, but there don't seem to be as many sick people as there should be, if sponges are such a dangerous vector for contamination (they can be, but with the proper cleaning, 99.9998 of bacteria can be killed).

I am not a doctor or pathologist, but I could see that he has become more resistant to the illnesses associated with his living style, while you are more susceptible, given your extremely clean upbringing. But given that you like each-other and want to spend time together, health is not the only concern. Your personal comfort is critical. Just like a couple who must find some common ground between keeping warm all the time and a preference for brisk air, you two must find some common ground. If he isn't concerned about your plea for cleanliness (which he should, to a degree -- 1 month with the same dish towel is a bit much, IMO), tell him it just makes you uncomfortable, and anything he does to change will make you feel more at rest in his place.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:49 PM on June 13, 2011


The bath towels issue seems like a middle ground thing to me - washing towels daily seems overkill (unless someone has an active fungal infection) but obviously keeping them until they're stinky is gross.

The raw meat on the counter giving you food poisoning should be non-negotiable. Why would you keep visiting someone who is making you ill? Raw meat should not touch the counters and if it does they should be properly cleaned immediately. Have you talked to him about it? Maybe he just doesn't know about the whole raw meat thing. Does he use the same knives/utensils on the raw and cooked meat without washing them?
posted by missmagenta at 1:00 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing -- my parents and I used to get sick a lot more often before we made certain changes to our lifestyle. We now get sick much less often, and we really enjoy that. I personally have a weaker immune system right now due to an infection I contracted from a facility at a university I attended and it took a while for my doctors and I to establish a treatment that truly got rid of the infection once and for all. Right now I'm rebuilding my immune system and after being in and out of hospitals for a while, I'm really tired of being sick. Yeah, I'm extreme. I really don't care if you see it that way, and if you couldn't live with me, fine. You don't have to. :P This is an issue that really matters to me and it's one I would like to approach with my SO.

Also, I would LOVE to explore middle ground. I am totally willing to compromise on certain things. I get that my views are different. Putting raw meat on the counter, using the same cutting board for meat and veggies without cleaning it in between, and never cleaning his dishtowels or nuking those sponges on occasion? I gotta at least try to make some headway there.
posted by patronuscharms at 1:01 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm reasonably tidy, but a complete slob in comparison to my girl, who is a bit of an obsessive clean freak, but at least she's aware of it and laughs about it.

I give her a raised eyebrow or a poke in the ribs sometimes when she's washing out the bathtub for the second time today or having her third shower... but it's never a genuine interpersonal issue. See, she knows she's being crazy and marginally-OCD clean for her own happiness, and so quite reasonably doesn't expect me to enter her bubble of super hygiene.

So I do my best, but if I leave a two-day old dishrag in the sink? She tosses it, or cleans it, or does whatever magic it is that she performs when I'm not looking. But she doesn't complain about the fact that I am not her, nor does she expect me to change, see?

And to be comprehensive: I used to be with a woman who was frighteningly bad at cleaning, or more accurately just had no fucks to give. But it's just cleaning, right? So tried not to bitch about it. If something was so dirty that it actually bothered me, but was clearly just fine with her... well, I generally just cleaned it myself. There are bigger deals to worry about in life.

Sure, I spent more time cleaning then than might have liked... but I don't think I lost anything by not spending time trying to change who she was, either. That sounds like a path full of frustration and misery to me.
posted by rokusan at 1:04 PM on June 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think that you need to approach this with you SO less from less of a "your gross/your cleaning is insufficient/you're irrational/I'm right" angle but from a "you know these are a few small things that you can do that would mean a lot to me. Do them as a favor for me" angle.

I'm no saying I think your wrong (separate cutting boards and washing down the counter after having meat on it for example is something I would insist on) but from the point of view of how you're going to get him to do this for you.

I think its going to take a combination of you doing some of it. Toss the sponge and replace it, swap the dirty dish rag for a clean dry one, bring him paper towel etc and asking for the really important stuff as a favor. The more you can phrase it as a favor or your pet peeve and the less as a judgement on him I think the easier it will be to get him to do what you want.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 1:08 PM on June 13, 2011


I think you're framing it in a way that reduces the chances of him doing what you'd like him to do. I don't mean this to be critical or accusatory, but your tone sounds as though you believe you've claimed the moral high ground here - maybe he will respond to that, but it come across to me as more extreme and therefore less believable (i.e., it sounds like an exaggeration).

If it were me, I would pick your biggest issues and explain to him that your family started to do things x,y,z way and you feel like it has really helped your health, and since you are staying with him more, would he be okay with trying to do some of those things since it would make you feel much more confident about doing good things for your health.

Let him help you - there's no points for being right about it. If you explain it in a way where you set up a right vs wrong, then he's not doing something good for you to help you but instead he's admitting he does things wrong and gross.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:08 PM on June 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having a compromised or weaker immune system is a serious thing; you do need to be more careful than the average person.

What if you approached your boyfriend with your own health front and center? Basically go to him and say, "Due to my infection, etc, my immune system is weaker than yours and I really need you to change some things because of that" -

that would take away any personal judgement on his behaviour and may make him much more open to changing (because it wouldn't be because he was doing wrong - though he may have been - but because you need "special" conditions).
posted by jb at 1:11 PM on June 13, 2011


I think you're being a little unreasonable. If you want it cleaned a certain way, do it yourself.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:17 PM on June 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I personally have a weaker immune system right now due to an infection I contracted from a facility at a university I attended and it took a while for my doctors and I to establish a treatment that truly got rid of the infection once and for all. Right now I'm rebuilding my immune system and after being in and out of hospitals for a while, I'm really tired of being sick.

Then that is what you need to tell him. If this is the case, it's not you being all Joan-Crawford about cleanliness, this is something your doctors have told you that you must do, so he needs to be on board with it.

But presumably, too, your doctors gave you a list of tips to follow to improve the quality of your environment. When you tell him, "Look, this is the kind of thing my doctors say has to happen," then give him that list.

I'm assuming the fact that this is more "oh, shit, this is a doctors-orders thing, this isn't a Martha-Stewart anal thing," may bring him on board easily, and having a set of clearly-written marching orders will also help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


missmagenta has it.

Kitchen hygiene needs to be well organized:
* Dish towels: use to wipe damp, but previously washed, dishes/plates/cutlery. Don't use to wipe counter surfaces. Hang to dry after use.
* Kitchen sponge/other wipe-countery items: use to wipe counters, with a squirt of detergent, rinse after use, squeeze dry, hang over tap or so to dry (i.e. don't let them ferment in some vessel with damp grimy water).
* Rags for cleaning the floor: clean the floor, rinse, hang to dry.
* Meat/fish/poultry/seafood/rat fillets: use separate cutting boards, and not the counter. Don't mix with your salad-and-tomato cutting board of the day, keep track of the surfaces where you put it, clean these, after use, with hot water and some detergent, as well as your cutting tools, dry thoroughly.
* food debris: throw away, wipe surfaces.

That's all common sense stuff, a matter of organization and awareness, and it doesn't at all need to veer off into Kill All Germs territory. Other than that, I put my dish towels into the washing machine when they just start smelling a bit; ditto with all types of spongy items. It ain't that hard.

Bathroom less of a problem, if items are kept personal. However:
* stinking towels are icky and they stink even for those who don't have to use them. So there's definitely a best-before date, but nothing dramatic. I guess a week is okay; depends on shower and sport routines, and on the humidity around where you live.
* but if there's fungus involved, a stricter routine is necessary.
posted by Namlit at 1:19 PM on June 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


My parents both work in the medical field (a primary care doctor and an ER nurse), and I was raised to be more on your boyfriend's side of the spectrum here. A lot of your assumptions about what is necessary for the typical household in terms of hygiene is simply not axiomatic.

That said, if you're immunocompromised, there you go. That's your framework for getting your boyfriend to do this stuff. You say, "I know this isn't what you're used to doing, but because of my health issues I need to live* in a space that adheres to these standards." If he respects you and wants you to be healthy, he should understand that.

*If we're talking more like you stay over one night a week or you guys go there sometimes on weekends, then you're probably SOL on this stuff - it's sort of nutty to decide that your boyfriend needs to wash his towels every day because you might pee in his toilet every so often.
posted by Sara C. at 1:23 PM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just to follow up on what mrs. taters mentioned, I think the way to deal with this is to frame it as a request to indulge your preference, rather arguing that he's failing to meet minimum standards.

I'm pretty OCD about samonella/raw meat contamination/refrigeration. I've also lived with a lot of roommates who think the exact opposite. There are practices that absolutely freak me out that I can tell are yet standard for many people. (Putting cooked burgers back on the tray the raw ones came out on, eating cookie dough, leaving the fridge open for 30 seconds at a stretch.)

The reality is that many of these practices elevate health risk slightly above zero, but that we also focus on them because they're easily identifiable. Health is way less deterministic than that thinking suggests. Many, if not most, of the ways you are exposed to illness do not fall into these identified moments.

This is all a precursor to saying that you need to treat these as preferences. One opening salvo is that you prefer to use paper products in the kitchen (worse for the environment, but better for your sanity) and that you'd prefer he put all things that can go in the dishwasher in the dishwasher.

(This takes a little self-control to not get annoyed that you have to allow people to tease you about what you internally believe are rational, common sense precautions, not OCD. It gets easier with time. Also, the more it's a common refrain, the easier it is to train people to do things your way.)
posted by mercredi at 1:26 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there any reason you aren't addressing this with him in the moment, as opposed to making it A Big Deal Conversation? If he's doing something that directly affects you (e.g., not wiping down the counter after the raw meat, when you might put your drinking glass there, or whatever), why not just say to him, "Boyfriend, can you wipe down the counter? Meat has germs. Thanks." If the towels stink, say "Boyfriend, let's go to target and buy 7 towels for which you clear out a space in your cabinet so I can always have a stash of clean ones when I stay over."
posted by yarly at 1:44 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are 100% right, he is 100% wrong.

The way you described him using the sponges was absolutely disgusting and I knew you were in the right at the point.

I think you really need to bring him up to date on current literature about raw foods, eggs, etc.

Also...if you don't want to go about it from a hygiene perspective, you need to say "Listen, this makes me very uncomfortable...can you do it my way. It will add a bit more effort to your daily day, but less effort in terms of arguments...and I'll feel better. That's worth it, right?"

And seriously...don't bring up that "Well I don't get sick because of my way". Not only would it be extremely hard to prove that in a non-laboratory setting...but you will look like an asshole.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:04 PM on June 13, 2011


"daily chores"
posted by hal_c_on at 2:06 PM on June 13, 2011


Blargh. That's f-ing GROSS. I really do not understand the merry attitude to infection control here, especially given your compromised immune system.

Anything that touches raw meat is contaminated and has to be wiped down with hot soapy water before anything else touches it. This isn't a matter of opinion. This is basic food hygiene.

There should be one dishcloth for dishes and one for surfaces, and they should be changed every day. When you wash them you can use the bed/bath or other hot cycle and that will be plenty to get them clean enough for all normal purposes. Likewise, one dishtowel for dishes and one for surfaces, also changed every day.

Hand towels changed when you start to get a feeling of wrabness from them.

Bath/shower towels should be changed two to three times weekly.

None of this is the least bit difficult. At all. I'm a lazy slob and I can easily do this. Calling it "OCD" is playing fast and loose with epidemiology, and in particular with your precious immune system.
posted by tel3path at 2:07 PM on June 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Calling it "OCD" is playing fast and loose with epidemiology, and in particular with your precious immune system.

You're a human. Your immune system isn't precious. It works very well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:09 PM on June 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oops, your question wasn't "is this gross" but "how do I work with this".

I don't necessarily think a softly-softly approach will work. I mean, you are getting sick. That's a fact. I think you might have to just say you can't visit him because of this. I really don't think that extended periods of cajoling and coaxing are going to get you anywhere except maybe the hospital. Sorry.
posted by tel3path at 2:11 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that OP and SO are so far apart on the spectrum. "Disgust" is an emotional, visceral response-- whether socially constructed or scientifically proven [germ theory]. Personally, I am closer to OP on the disgust spectrum in terms of festering damp rotten Lovecraftian slime.

However, you can't impose your own standards on someone else's house. You can impose general social standards. In those areas where he falls well below the line, it is fair to ask him to modify his behavior. There are Legal Food Handling Guidelines for restaurants which might be posted on the internet. That might be a common ground. Raw chicken and the exterior of egg shells are contaminated with Antibiotic Resistant bacteria. Damp towels that have been previously used for hands or counters should not be used on dishes

Make sure that he has enough bath towels and kitchen towels. perhaps he is still exercising graduate student economies, where he has a single towel and keeps using it until he runs a load of laundry.

For your own comfort, prepare a bubble of relatively sterile surfaces around yourself while you are at his house. Get a package of germicidal wipes, to store in his kitchen. Keep some single use bathroom cleaning scrubs in his bathroom. When you get to his place, scoop up all the towels from bathroom and kitchen and wash them immediately. Put the sponge in the top shelf of the dishwasher whenever you run a load.
posted by ohshenandoah at 2:12 PM on June 13, 2011


patronuscharms: "We clean counters with hot water and soap after we've cooked, especially if we've been using raw materials like egg (mostly to keep away pests, but also to prevent contamination); we never use sponges (or if we do, they don't cross-contaminate one surface to the other, like the dirty counters to a dirty dish); and, after suffering a bad bout with hardcore tinnia and athlete's foot, we now wash our bath towels every day, and foot rugs every two weeks or so."

Just to give you a different perspective on behaviours, this strikes me not as sanitary but as flat out bonkers. I say this so that you understand that other people who have functional and healthy sanitary standards do indeed operate in very different ways. I abide by standards much lower than yours. The only thing that overlaps on your list and my is taking care with raw meat. I have never had nor caused food poisoning, had tinnia or had athlete's foot.

he thinks nothing of reusing the same damp sponge on different surfaces for up two months. He never wipes down a counter after he's placed raw meat there. His bath towels are reused until they reek of moisture damage. Worst of all, he re-uses the same filthy, wet dishtowel over, and over, and over to wipe down dishes instead of putting them in the dishwasher.


A reasonable starting point is if it smells, it needs to be washed. "Dude, smell this. Not washing shit with that. Put it in the wash and get something else we can do this job with."

and the occasional food poisoning I keep getting whenever I visit him.

I am very sorry but I find this... dubious. Really? You repeatedly get food poisoning when you eat at his house? Because it would be very, very unusual for one person in an eating group to repeatedly get sick when the other does not. Are you immunocompromised in some way?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:13 PM on June 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


"You're a human. Your immune system isn't precious. It works very well."

Right. But apparently not well enough to keep the OP out of the hospital. She has a weak immune system right now.
posted by tel3path at 2:13 PM on June 13, 2011


Right. But apparently not well enough to keep the OP out of the hospital. She has a weak immune system right now.

Right, understood. But there's no reason the OP can't clean the way she wants to. But you shouldn't force it on others.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:20 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you immunocompromised in some way?

Guess you missed the follow up from the OP ;)


You say you're currently doing things behind his back while he's at work (I'm sure he'd noticed though - who doesn't notice clean towels or new dish cloths?!). Maybe you just need to stop doing it behind his back - IMO, its likely he's not being purposely 'gross' and he probably wouldn't/doesn't mind you cleaning his towels and replacing his dish cloths before they get skanky. I would say that they get that way because he doesn't really care, not because he wants smelly towels (unless there is a financial concern). If you don't mind washing the towels and replacing the dish cloths etc, I doubt he would have a problem with you doing it and if you just talk to him you shouldn't have to hide it. It might be a deeply personal issue for him but its probably not. You really need to talk to him about the raw meat though, that's not a preference or a special accommodation for your condition - that's food hygiene 101.
posted by missmagenta at 2:25 PM on June 13, 2011


If you are actually immunocompromised your doctor will have given you guidelines to follow, in which case follow them (obviously). Otherwise, raw meat should be prepared on a separate cutting board which should be washed with soap and hot water. Sponges and towels should be stored dry. Everything else is personal taste.
posted by myeviltwin at 2:29 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Immunocompromised or not, you're not being unreasonable in the slightest. I'm a little ticked at the other commenters who are OCD'ing you.

Here's my take: Have a serious conversation about this. Don't be defensive. Don't be attacking. Tell him there's something you want to talk about that's really important to you. If I were him, I'd say "of course" and just change the things you mentioned. It's not that big a deal - but I think the key, as other commenters have noted, is not to make it like "YOU this" and "YOU that" but just 100% "I need" or "I really want" etc. If you make it easy for him to take care of you, it increases the chances he will.
posted by facetious at 2:49 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd say to bring the hammer down on the one or two things that are the worst. (For me it would be the raw meat, but if you're immunocompromised it might be the dishtowels or something.) The rest of it, just do while you're there and make it easy and part of your habit, so it doesn't come across as so control freaky. For instance, put sponges in the dishwasher utensil rack every load, like it's a normal thing. Toss dishrags in the washing machine.

I grew up with a nurse and we weren't particularly hygenic until a family member ended up immunocompromised. THEN things changed, especially as concerned double dipping, using the same utensil for too many things, and not washing the HANDLES of utensils and pots even more than the mouth-touching or more obviously dirty parts. Handles are apparently the culprit.

I would find the different-dishtowels-for-different-uses (just wash them every day) and the every-meal-counter-decontamination a little annoying, but hey, if you want to do it, go for it. It seems unreasonable to expect him to do it, though. If he wants to use a stinky towel, I guess let him, but yours should be clean and washed every couple days.

My boyfriend has much slobbier household habits than I have. I have (mostly) come to grips with the fact that if I want things clean, I will have to do the washing. When it pisses me off too much or I don't feel like being the maid, I stay at my own place for a few days. If we ever move in together, I see a cleaning service in our future.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:56 PM on June 13, 2011


A thought: where I grew up it was necessary to treat the water- most people did it with a combination of boiling and filtration. Another family had a fancy pants filter- and they found that they couldn't even drink other people's (clean!) water without getting sick.

So perhaps your very clean upbringing has meant that you can't handle small exposures to germs?

Also, dish towels- are we talking for drying dishes or for washing dishes? To properly wash dishes without using the dish washer: 1 sink of hot, soapy water, 1 sink of very hot rinse water, dish rack. Wash dishes, rinse, leave to dry in dish rack (no tea towels!) clean, dry tea towel may be used if more space needed in dish rack. Otherwise, just wait for the dishes to dry.
posted by titanium_geek at 3:34 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even in places where these standards are Life & Death matters, like hospitals, cultural grossness factors seem to dominate data-driven standards. Doctors, for instance, wear the same dirty-ass ties all the time, and all while everyone's terrified of MRSA.

MRSA came about BECAUSE of lax hygiene standards. If hospitals followed the basic hygiene that fucking McDonald's does, there would be no MRSA.

Get a book about food service sanitation. Read it, get your BF to read it, and agree to follow its rules.

The bath towel thing is a little on the edge- it's his bath towel, let him wipe the filth all over himself if he wants. But still, fresh towels every day IS the gold standard of hygiene, and perfectly rational if someone has been prone to athlete's foot types of infections.
posted by gjc at 3:54 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


A thought: where I grew up it was necessary to treat the water- most people did it with a combination of boiling and filtration. Another family had a fancy pants filter- and they found that they couldn't even drink other people's (clean!) water without getting sick.

So perhaps your very clean upbringing has meant that you can't handle small exposures to germs?


It is kind of the opposite. The people without the fancy filters have already been sick and become immune/accustomed to whatever filth is in the water.
posted by gjc at 3:56 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


patronuscharms: "I personally have a weaker immune system right now due to an infection I contracted from a facility at a university I attended and it took a while for my doctors and I to establish a treatment that truly got rid of the infection once and for all. Right now I'm rebuilding my immune system and after being in and out of hospitals for a while, I'm really tired of being sick. "

With the greatest deference, you might have put the fact that you are actually immunocpompromised front and center in your original post, because it is a factor here. Otherwise what tel3path says.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:57 PM on June 13, 2011


I come from a family that is not in the slightest bit hygiene-focused. We aren't dirty, or gross, I don't think, but growing up I just didn't see a lot of the cleaning that was going on or learn about what should be happening. So now as an adult, I just don't know this stuff. I'd like to know it, but I don't, and because it was never "important", it's not really ever in my mind.

So I'm thinking, if I were in your SO's shoes, I'd be fine with someone saying "Oh wow, haven't you had this sponge sitting in the sink for like 3 weeks? Let's replace it." I'd be like, shoot! I do need to change out the sponge! Whoops! And then next time I got around to looking at my dish sponge, I'd think about changing it a little sooner.

If someone actually sat me down to have a serious talk about my hygiene protocols, though, I'd be extremely embarrassed, and probably a bit defensive. (And the initial argument wouldn't work because I've never had food poisoning and rarely get sick.)

If my SO sat me down, however, to say, "Look, I am immuno-compromised, and here is what I'm hoping you can do to help me stay healthy," and said it in a non-judgmental way, I would respond positively.
posted by violetish at 4:13 PM on June 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I think it's all about tone here. I didn't realize for the longest time that washing bath towels and changing sheets was something people did with any kind of frequency - I changed houses as a kid on a roughly two-week rotation, so I actually missed a lot of that stuff. And we were often poor, so it still feels decadent to pull out a brand-new kitchen towel every day and toss the used one in the towel hamper. If someone got all judgmental about my towels before I knew about and was comfortable with these concepts, I'd be all kinds of offended just on principle.

However, I would draw the line on the cross-contamination/cutting board thing. Yikes.
posted by SMPA at 4:20 PM on June 13, 2011


The standard you're describing is absolutely appropriate for an immunocompromised person, but a bit over the top for a person with a normally functioning immune system. In my house, the standard is that meat and dairy only get cut on cutting boards, which get washed in between uses. I will cut vegetables on the same cutting board that cut meat if those vegetables are going to be cooked along with the meat (like the eggplant in a chicken tagine), but otherwise I will wash it with hot soapy water in between. The counters get wiped down but not washed unless meat goo has hit them.

We have a system for sponges, where we have 3 tiers for them: wiping off the counter and the table, washing the dishes and the counter, and cleaning the sink. Sponges get bumped down one tier every week; a new one gets opened for the wiping-off, and the old sink-cleaning sponge gets thrown out. We cut a corner off the sponge when it gets deprecated; the wiping-off sponge has no corners cut off, and the sink-cleaning sponge has two. Apart from that, we don't wash our sponges.

Dishtowels and bath towels get washed every couple of days. Except when I'm battling athlete's foot, or when I thought I had thrush (I'm a nursing mother), in which case I never re-used a towel, ever.

I do get sick frequently, but it's always with respiratory stuff not GI, and I attribute it to having a kid in preschool. I've never had food poisoning once in my life.

Were it not for your compromised immune system, I'd gently suggest that perhaps you might be able to relax your standards a bit. WITH a compromised immune system, though, you're absolutely bang on.
posted by KathrynT at 4:23 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks all. Yes, I realize that under normal circumstances I probably appear OCD. My family and I have had some major health scares that have led to us restructuring our lives to try to mitigate our exposure to other health risks. I really appreciate the frank responses and I will be approaching this from two vantage points: for minor, quirky requests, I'll just go with the "hey, did you know we haven't replaced this in a while? I'll go get new sponges/towels/whatever and we can do a little housecleaning today." For the big stuff, I'll be more en point about my health scares with him. I definitely don't want him to think that I think he's gross. I just think some of the stuff he does is a) gross and b) impacting my ability to stay as healthy as I need to while I heal.
posted by patronuscharms at 5:22 PM on June 13, 2011


I think I'm fairly typical of "guy psychology" in that I believe in achieving maximal comfort with minimum effort. I believe I choose everything I do rationally, and whether or not most guys do, I know my attitudes click nicely with male stereotypes. I'm not lazy, I'm efficient, right? I do not believe I am lazy or unreasonable or gross. And when my ex said I was, my first response was usually: "But the studies show X is fine. Why should I change?" She'd say, "Because it grows germs and you're gross, now fix it!" I did not actually fix it, because I thought she was "wrong" and being silly. She in turn thought I was being selfish and didn't love her. I thought she was being stupid, she thought I was being heartless. AVOID THAT CYCLE. DEATH AND DRAGONS AWAIT YOU THERE.

So what's to be done? Well, what worked with me was when my ex convinced me to change my habits on grounds other than "do this for me" (yes I know I'm selfish, I'm better now). "Use fabric softener because it protects the clothes." "Wash your socks separately because they'll make your t-shirts smell like feet." "Wash the towel more often because if you leave it in the hamper it gets moldy, and if you dry it in the bathroom all the time we have to turn the fan on or the bathroom will get moldy (an unfortunate reality in most apartments where I live)." "Use the expensive dish soap because I'm allergic, and wash the glass stuff with the soft side of the sponge because if it's not all scratched up, it rinses a lot faster." Those times, and many like them, my reaction was, "Hey, you're right! Good idea!"

Whenever and wherever you can, address these issues in terms of betterment/process simplification/economy. Keep it objective, and do your best to be non-accusatory and unemotional about these things. And that goes for asking him to change any personal habits. I think the "do it for me" card is one you should pull as little as possible. At the time, it felt like she was testing me. And maybe she was? And I know I was more selfish than I should have been. But still, it's just best practices, like turning your headlights on when it rains. Whenever you can, come up with an objective reason for what you're requesting, even if all you can come up with is a trivial improvement. Before you ask him to do something, go online and look up statistics/studies to back up your case. I think you'll find that avoids a lot of arguments.
posted by saysthis at 7:34 PM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Show him this post?
posted by Anything at 8:40 PM on June 13, 2011


Anything: "Show him this post?"

DEATH AND DRAGONS AWAIT YOU THERE.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:59 PM on June 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


You know.... food contamination can give you a nasty stomach bug, but won't give you the flu.

The fact that your family changed its lifestyle, and suddenly started being healthier is not necessarily a causal relationship. The fact that they have literally become obsessed with cleanliness and food safety as the root of their former illnesses is a trademark symbol of OCD, despite the fact that you've really got no evidence to back you up. (The fact that you're claiming to be immunocompromised without a diagnosis doesn't help either.)

Yeah, food safety is a very good idea. However, the rates of foodborne illnesses are actually still quite low.

For instance, did you know that Salmonella is only found in one of every 30,000 raw eggs? Eat enough raw egg, or manage a dirty restaurant, and you'll eventually catch it. However, if you cross-contaminate a bit of raw egg by accident, it's not too much cause for concern.

"Icky gross germs" is not a scientific analysis or basis for getting sick frequently. No matter how paranoid and obsessive you are about cleaning your kitchen, it's still going to be loaded with gobs of germs and bacteria. The Mythbusters
posted by schmod at 7:17 AM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


And, yeah. Don't show him this post. If somebody told me that I gross them out (on both general and specific terms), I'd DTMFA.

That doesn't mean you should, but this is far more nuanced than "I'm Right, help me show him that he's wrong."
posted by schmod at 7:19 AM on June 14, 2011


ick. didn't finish that comment. *The Mythbusters proved that even a meticulously-cleaned countertop contains WAY more bacteria and other nasty germs than a toilet seat. Like, it was by far the most dirty surface that they could find.

If you looked at the Petri dish, you'd assume that kitchen sponges will kill you on contact. Of course, we know that this isn't true. However, I've started to shy away from sponges for this reason, because they really *are* breeding grounds for mold and other nasties.
posted by schmod at 10:09 AM on June 14, 2011


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