After Monday’s letter about the boss who pees in a cup and dumps it in the kitchen sink, I asked the brilliant Jolie Kerr of Ask a Clean Person to weigh in. Jolie is a cleaning expert, advice columnist, host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person, and a regular contributor to the New York Times. (She wrote an amazing recent profile of Charo!) There is no better person to answer the many burning questions that many of us had about the cleanliness element of this debacle.
Earlier this week, Alison answered a question about a man who was urinating into a jar in his office, and then walking the jar of pee to the shared kitchen sink to dump the contents down the drain. In one instance, he disposed of the pee while someone was washing actual dishes in the actual sink. She quite rightly said that this is in no way acceptable workplace behavior! It is not.
But there were also questions about whether this is something that is actually gross or just psychologically disgusting — after all, under normal circumstances, urine goes into the same drain system that sink water does. And peeing in the shower, i.e. into a similar drainage system, is okay to do. There was also the question of whether the dishes that bore the brunt of the pee-pouring could be used again. And so I will try to answer them, in my capacity as an official Clean Person.
Let’s first establish two things: First of all, this man is disgusting. For many reasons! It is never okay to dispose of your personal waste on someone or on their things unless it is consensual, and so pouring urine down a sink while someone is standing there doing dishes is absolutely not okay. Also, he is clearly not washing his hands after he relieves himself, which everyone should be doing every time. Yes, every time. Second, it’s important to know that urine isn’t sterile, as many people believe it to be.
With that said, technically speaking, yes you can clean those dishes — after all, we put plenty of bacteria-ridden items on plates, things like raw chicken or pork that can make us quite sick! There are several ways to do this: You can run the dishes through the dishwasher using the “sanitize” setting; you can soak them in a mild bleach solution and then wash them with hot soapy water; or, depending on what they’re made of, you could even boil them after first washing them with dish soap. All of these methods will leave the plates entirely clean.
But you will know what happened to them, and unfortunately there is no safe way to bleach a brain. I would say that the plates, simply by dint of having been doused with pee, are goners. If the idea of throwing out still-serviceable items bothers you, however, I might suggest getting a Sharpie and writing, “THIS IS BOB’S PLATE. THAT HE PEED ON.” on it and reserving it for Bob’s use and Bob’s use only.
So there you have it.
P.S. Jolie’s past advice has now saved my favorite pair of sweatpants and a Frappuccino-stained sheet. She will save all your belongings. Her book is My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.