Can you guess what prompted this Host Parent tip?

by cv harquail on January 5, 2009

bleach cleaner au pairs system
My husband laughs at me — in a kind way, he insists — every time he sees me do something like this. I try to explain that there is indeed a method to my madness, and that behind every quirky tactic in our household is an accident that’s now easier to avoid. But he still thinks stuff like this annotated bottle is funny.

It was a whole lot less funny when one of our au pairs used the Lysol Disinfectant Mildew Remover wth BLEACH to clean her bathroom, and ruined the (fabric) shower curtain and several towels.

I am often telling the kids, our au pairs, and myself that if something is damaged by being used the way it is supposed to be used, there is no reason to get mad. When playclothes get muddy when the kids are outside, bowls get chipped when the table is being cleared, or the handle on the snow shovel breaks when our au pair is helping to clear the front steps, I can take that all in stride. Those sorts of things come with the territory.

But sometimes au pairs (and others) aren’t really clear how things are supposed to be used, or what they should watch out for when using them. That’s were I come in. Some things can be managed by teaching, but other things are best managed in some other way.

Yes, I do keep the cleaner with bleach in a special cabinet, away from other cleaning products and tools. And yes, this particular system does depend on someone actually reading the ‘extra alert’. I haven’t figured out a way to insure that– but I’m trying.


Angie January 5, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Love it!! :) Any ideas on how to put the warning “acne medication may cause bleaching” on sheets? Our last au pair completely ruined a set of $80 sheets & pillowcases due to applying acne medication before bedtime. I wish I would have known that she was using this so I could have explained how to prevent it. I only recently found out when after her departure, I was going through all of the linens in her room to prepare for our new au pair.
I will know better next time! :)

cvh January 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm


That happened to us too! Now, every time I see a ProActive ad I get just a bit a little bit steamed remembering the ruin.

There must be a version of the Serenity prayer just for host moms….so that we can accept the accidents that do happen that we can’t avoid.

Anna January 5, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Come on, I think it is invasive and rude to comment to an au pair about her achne gel and your sheets. They will be mortified. Just get her cheap cotton sheet sets at Marshalls, no need to spend $80. Then at the end of the year you can afford a whole new set for your new au pair. Things happen, achne, menstruation…
It is also “their” room for that year. They take care of it, they clean it, etc… So for the year, your $80 sheets are “their” sheets. If you’ll regret losing them, don’t give them to her.
One of my au pairs walked away with “her” set of towels, but I bought new ones for her upon her arrival, so maybe she thought it was a gift… No big deal.

cvh January 5, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Hi Anna-

I can appreciate that it may be awkward to talk about some things that an ap might do/might happen to an ap. YMMV

You raise another interesting point, about which there is probably some disagreement… the idea that it’s “her” room, etc. and that “if you regret losing them, don’t give them to her.”

Some families feel that, to treat an ap like a family member, they need to give the ap the same quality of stuff that the children and/or adults in the family have. So, for some moms, getting their ap cheap sheets might just create a different problem. Who wants an ap who thinks that you don’t value her b/c you got her sheets at Kmart and yours at Bloomies?

There is another principle at play here too. There’s a differenc ebetween things that are ‘hers to use as she wishes’ and ‘hers to use for the year she’s here’.

I don’t know that just b/c you let the au pair use something, you should be willing to accept whatever happens to it. We have an ‘au pair’ car, but if she keeps it dirty I *do* care- because I paid for it. Also, I care that the ap vacuums at least once a month. She can live in as messy a room as she likes, but if she doesn’t vacuum, then the rug gets irreparably dirty. And I can’t afford to replace that every year.

I expect an ap to treat the things she’s given to use with some respect. Yes, accidents happen. Accidents can’t always be avoided. But carelessness can be avoided. You just have to find the line, in each situation, between what’s acceptable wear and tear, and what’s carelessness.

Anna January 5, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I agree. Maybe each family has their own threshhold with carelessness and wear and tear. We are pretty careless ourselves, and I can’t hold our au pair to standard higher than we ourselves are capable of meeting.

I don’t give her stuff that is worse than I have, but I am pretty easy to please myself, and sheets from Marshalls is what adorns my bed. :)

deb January 6, 2009 at 12:19 am

I guess I may be a little over cautious but I do any bleaching that needs to be done and only leave the products for everyday cleaning (of showers, basins, laundry etc) in a cupboard for our au pair to use. (If clothes are stained after washing I deal with those too.)I have cleaning instructions for each product – how and where to use it – on a reference sheet as I have found our past au pairs did not read the instructions on the back of the bottle. As for acne creams – why not buy and extra set of pillow slips that can be used instead of your good linen and throw them away when she is gone.

cvh January 6, 2009 at 3:43 am

Deb, thank you. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my caution, or for that matter in having au pairs that didn’t read labels before using.

Maya January 6, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I think I have a very different household then most then. LOL

Accidentally bleaching shower curtain with Lysol will probably be something I will do before anyone else will have a chance to get to it. Same with sheets and towels. (Yes, I have dark burgundy sheets with splash of bleach on it. It’s a small splash so sheets are still used by us.)

On the other hand, all of our and au pairs bedding and linens are from BJ’s at a very reasonable price and thus if something happens to them they will be disposed of and replaced. (Kids have cheapy bedding form Wal-Mart, but that is because they wanted crazy princess themed items that they will mentally outgrow quickly. Older daughter is already asking to change her Cinderella sheets to Hannah Montana sheets, which I still need to get her. LOL)

If my AP would’ve complained about the cheep bedding, I would suggest that she goes and buys her own, as what she has is basically the same quality as the rest of us. But, at BJ’s you can find really good quality for a really good price.

Also the same with laundry. I did not give either of my 2 AP’s any special instructions for laundry other then use so much detergent, add a scoop of Oxi Clean and don’t forget to clean a lint trap. I suppose I view kids clothing as more or less disposable. We rarely have issues with stains, but when kids get them, so be it. I shop sales and bargains for kids stuff and am ok if things get stained. The only thing regarding laundry that I did is I handed a washer garment bag to my 6 year old daughter and explained to her that her clothes with beads and sequence on them need to be washed in the garment bag so that beads and sequence will not fall off. I think I even forgot to tell that to my AP. But, I want for daughter to learn to be responsible for her things and so far her favorite skirt with beading has been washed in the garment bag every time (btw, the instructions on the skirt say dry clean only, as if…) . She has never forgotten to put the skirt in the bag before she drops it into the laundry hamper.

And, are my APs the only AP that are not required to do any cleaning other then clean kids rooms one a week?

How much cleaning do you required your APs to do? Does the amount of cleaning/chores depends on the total amount of time they work (out of their 45 allotted hours) or does that not play into it? I am curious now.

Angie January 6, 2009 at 5:58 pm

I definitely appreciate that all households are not the same. In order to keep the chaos in control, we try to keep a very organized and tidy home so the snowball effect does not occur! :)

We truly believe our au pair should be treated as a family member and extend the same quality of items to our au pair as we do to ourselves and our children.
I’m all about stretching the doller, but I also draw the line when it comes to “quality” vs. “quantity” and I truly believe you get what you pay for. So, when we buy nice things for her room, we expect the au pair to take care of these things, just like we teach our children to respect the value of things.

Accidents happen, but we do ask our children (as well as our au pair) to let us know if/when they happen so it doesn’t end up being an expensive “surprise” and it can be taken care of sooner than later.

I take pride in the fact that we work so hard to provide for our families and give them the extras we’d like for them to have and extend that to our au pair as well. I grew up in a household that was very “fair” and want my children to learn those qualities as well.

So, just as I may pick up little happy day surprises for my children, I do the same for our au pair as an extra “thank you” for all of her hard work.

I do understand that at the end of her year, some things will have to be replaced due to wear and tear, but hopefully, carelessness will not be the reasons.

Avoiding bleach accidents January 6, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Years ago I gleaned this tip from a learned mom who had several teenagers at the time:

It seems counterintuitive, but if you buy only white towels, shower curtain, bathrug and mats, then it’s much easier to keep it all clean without ruining it. This would solve the benzoyl peroxide problem in bedrooms, too, though we haven’t run into this problem. Yet.

Our kids share the bathroom with our au pair, and even the rug is white. An added benefit is that the hand towels get changed frequently because people can see the dirt they leave behind, and the rug actually gets washed often, which is also a good thing.

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