This is the Way We Wash the Floor

Like so many other things, we decide whether or not to have paid cleaning help based on outside expectations. If everyone in the neighborhood has cleaning help then we need it too, right? There are worse ways to spend one’s money, and doing without can be foolish in some circumstances. But overall, cleaning help falls into the luxury category.

Over the years I have had my share of ozrot (helpers). I went in cycles: Do without for a long period of time, get frustrated by a neglected house, have someone convince me how necessary it is for young mothers to have help, and finally, break down and hire one. She would come, “tut tut” over the state of the house, and restore it to order over a few weeks. Gradually I got frustrated again: by my house being taken over when I wanted to rest quietly with the baby, the conversation and attention these ladies so often demanded, their idiosyncrasies (more on that in a moment), and having to clean up in advance so they wouldn’t waste time dealing with clutter, only to have the house looking a short time later like they had never been.

My first ozeret in Israel was Rachel, a young Yemenite divorcee from a large family. I considered her a “typical Israeli” ozeret, but of course there is probably no such thing. She was careful to inform me of her rights as an employee. She arrived hours late, put on the “kumkum” for coffee and then ignored it for ten minutes or longer after it whistled, used massive amounts of water and detergent, and insisted that I buy specialized cleaning supplies like “St. Moritz” (an extremely toxic substance). But worst of all was her desire to chat for long periods and give advice on all subjects. One time she went too far and I snapped at her; she was crestfallen. I had fallen for her superior attitude and abused my power as an employee. When my life is replayed after 120 years, that will not be one of my finer moments. Shortly after that I calculated how much money I owed her, based on Israeli employment law and let her go. She said I gave her too much money but accepted it. I muddled on.

Several years later I decided to try again. At this stage most people I knew had gotten rid of their ozeret and hired a menakeh (male cleaner). These were mostly illegal foreign workers. Shortly afterward the government began deporting them and fining their employers. I hired Svetlana, known as Svjeta, an older, legal immigrant who barely spoke Hebrew. Svjeta was extremely cheerful and energetic, and her lack of language skills did not prevent her from trying to communicate. But we rarely understood each other. I recall putting the cleaner into a small bottle, in the hope that this would encourage her to use less as it was easier to pour from. It didn’t work; she thought I was measuring out the quantity she should use each visit. (How much cleaner you put in the water matters. Using too much is less effective and requires larger quantities of rinse water. See here for more on perfectionism.)

She ruined our area rug. In order to clean underneath she would fold it and put chairs on top, making large holes. I showed them to her but she didn’t understand. I just let it go. The rug’s previous owner had given it to us because it had belonged to her husband’s first wife. Another of Svjeta’s habits was “decorating” with items she found around the house. She made sculptures out of raw vegetables; her masterpiece involved a plastic chess piece in the antenna hole on top of the television. Svjeta left on her own; when her son left the country, she returned to the Ukraine to live with her sister.

Housekeeping used to cause me no end of anxiety, but has gotten easier in the recent years. I think it’s because I (kind of) mastered washing the floor. I’ve given up on the help (except from my kids). If the house manages to stay neat, cleaning isn’t a big deal. If it’s full of clutter, the cleaning lady’s work amounts to a drop in the bucket.

Floor-washing remains a challenge but here’s what I do:

  1. Remove everything from the surface of the floor. This is usually the hardest part of the job; a basket helps. I try to clean under the sofas on a different day.
  2. Gather supplies: Broom and dustpan, one or two large buckets, cleanser or vinegar, several floor rags or the equivalent, squeegee with long handle.
  3. Sweep well.
  4. Fill a bucket with soapy water, hot if you have it.
  5. Pour “puddles” of water in each area of the floor you are planning to wash. One bucket of water is enough for my kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom and two bathrooms.
  6. Put a “smartut,” or floor rag over the squeegee. You can cut a hole in the middle of the rag and drop it over the handle. Spread the water over the surface of the floor.
  7. Use a hard broom to scrub any stubborn spots. Some squeegees come with a scrubber on the back.
  8. Put the rag in the hamper (I have one just for rags) and use the squeegee to “sweep” the dirty water into a drain. You can open one of the holes in the bathroom floor, or sweep it into your garden if you have one. (Don’t do what the cleaner in my building does and sweep it out the front door, where everyone just tracks it back inside.) Alternatively, sweep the dirty water into a dustpan, or soak it up with a rag and squeeze it into a bucket.
  9. Put a few inches of clean water in a bucket, and drop in two or three clean rags. Wipe the floor with the rag and the squeegee, replacing as the rags get dirty. If you want to be really Israeli you’ll open up all the windows and doors so the floor will dry quickly, even in the dead of winter.
  10. Replace furniture and put away supplies.

Like anything else, it takes practice. Eventually you figure out how much water to spread and the most efficient way of sweeping it up. And there’s nothing wrong with doing it the American way. Happy cleaning!


  1. Don’t forget to collect the loose debris in the water before sweeping it down the drain or you are just supporting your local plumber.

  2. mother in israel says

    Thanks for the tip, Yehudit. My shower drain has a strainer.
    ProfK, with a mop?

  3. Okay, I’m confused–the American way?

  4. I hate having cleaning ladies in my house. On the very few times that I have tried it, (before Pesach, after surgery) I found that I wanted to strangle them within the hour. These women insisted on chatting with me about personal matters, made me feel bad that the house was dirty (duh! what do you think you’re here to do?), and kept touching my stuff (which drives me bonkers). I would much rather do it myself than put up with the intrusion.

  5. you can come practice and perfect your method over by us any time…

  6. My aunt once wrote a college term paper on how to clean a floor. Or so my father tells me.
    I have had so many bad experiences with cleaning people. The last one stole from us when I was pregnant. Children’s toys. And she was also stealing from four other local families. Stuff like sea shells and one teacup out of a set of five. My husband and I are now the cleaning crew.

  7. One thing that I found helps – Instead of sweeping, we vacuum. It takes less time.

  8. Lion of Zion says

    “Like so many other things, we decide whether or not to have paid cleaning help based on outside expectations.”
    we would like to get some help, but nothing to do without outside expectations. it’s just necessary. we haven’t yet, as i refuse to have a stranger in the house when there is no one else is home.

  9. mother in israel says

    LOZ, perhaps. But if no one in your circle had help, would you still be considering it?

  10. We had an ozeret for a while- she started the last time I was pregnant and for about a year afterwards, but she disappeared one day (I’ve always wondered if the police nabbed her- this was around the time that they were cracking down on illegal foreign workers…though to be honest I’m not even sure she was here illegally).
    We never hired another one because it was a waste of money. Sure, the house looked great the day she was here, but by that evening it started looking messy again…and a day or so later you couldn’t even tell she’d been here.
    I’m not influenced by my neighbors having or not having cleaning help- I don’t deny anyone the right to an ozeret (most of my friends and family have one), it’s just not for us.
    I do hate washing the floor, though! I was just thinking today that the floor gets dirtier faster in the summer. I just washed it the other day and it already looks filthy. SIGH.

  11. Forgot to add, I bought one of those “St. Moritz” cleaning products many years ago because they were so cheap- never again! The smell was horrible.

  12. Lion of Zion says

    i don’t have a circle where i live to influence my daily decisions, so i guess it is irrelevant. (and my life would be very different, aside from having help, if i had a circle from my neighbors and tried to live like them.)
    it also happens to be that most of my friends (they all live elsewhere) don’t have help, but this is because the women don’t work (in the modern capitalist sense of course)
    in any case, for some reason i just don’t see having help as a status symbol. either you have enough hours in the day to do the housework or you don’t (or it is not cost-effective to arrange those hours),in which case you need outside help.
    also, are we talking here about full time help or 1 day a week?

  13. mother in israel says

    LOZ, and RR too, I definitely don’t see it as a status symbol, nor do I mean to criticize anyone who has it. I think we’re talking about once a week.

  14. I think Mother in Israel is right on about getting a cleaning lady being heavily influenced by what others are doing.
    I grew up in a small place (mostly non-Jews) where people just didn’t have a lot of money. Besides some older ladies from our own community who had assistant (home care nurses who cleaned a bit), I never heard of anyone with a “cleaning lady.”
    Since then, I would surmise that every single Jewish community I have lived in, large and small, most families have cleaning help.
    Personally help isn’t for me. I’d need someone trailing me 24/7 to take care of the big problems (spills on the floor, spills in the refrigerator, accidents on and next to the toilet, etc). I use the clean and tidy as I go. Taking care of the unplanned messes makes the one big job (cleaning the floor) look like child’s play because I can kick everyone out on a Sunday afternoon and mop my way out the door too.
    Where I get behind: filing papers. But, unless I want my identity stolen, I better deal with that myself.

  15. When we got married, my husband took me aside one day and very nicely said that he was not a big fan of “the mop of the hairs” that I was using. He proceeded to show me the style of mopping he was familiar with.
    When my husband moved from Russia to Belgium as a child with his mother and sister, my mother-in-law worked cleaning houses for a time, and my husband would accompany her sometimes. His method of cleaning the floors is very similar to the Israeli sponja style you describe, MiI. The Israeli stores here sell the long sponja stick and the same rags. But since we don’t have a hole in the floor, our method entails vigorously dunking the rag into the bucket repeatedly while holding it by one corner, which apparently pulls most of the dirt off and leaves it to sink to the bottom of the bucket. In the beginning my husband did the mopping, but I eventually caught the hang of it and took over. It does beat swishing that hairy mop around. Oh, and Trilcat, I also vacuum beforehand instead of sweeping.

  16. for most of the ten years i’ve been married, i honestly had no idea how to mop a floor, israeli style or american style. sadly, i used to dump hot water on the floor, squirt some cleaning fluid elsewhere on the floor and mop away, replenishing both when they were needed. until the day my husband “caught” me doing this, i never really understood why my floor was so sticky after i’d just “cleaned” it.

  17. Sigh. I always feel so inadequate when I read these kinds of posts. Our method is using the sink to get the rag wet, add in the economica, and swish, swish with the squeegee and rag. Rinse and repeat as rag gets dirty.
    Oh, and sometimes I just wet the rag and use my right food to clean those horrible black spots. Back and forth, back and forth. (But that’s not for a major cleaning.)
    Don’t ever eat off my floor, okay?

  18. Regular Anonymous says

    I confess. I love having a cleaner. I hate to wash floors and scrub toilets. Of course having somebody once a week for 4 hours still leaves me with plenty of housework to do, but it goes a long way towards eliminating the big jobs.
    I did fire one cleaner, an Israeli woman, who was very nosy and actually yelled at me once. Then I had some Russians who worked very nicely and quietly and would still be working for me had they not moved away. The woman I currently have does a nice job even if she talks a bit too much. I’ve also had a few teenagers from the neighborhood now and then, also doing a good job.

  19. Tile floors- wash and dry. They’re great.

  20. Lion of Zion says

    i was studying today at a classmate’s house. some workers made a mess trying to fix something, and my friend wanted to clean up the floor before his parents came home. he had know idea what to use and had to ask us whether to use a broom, mop, swiffer, etc. to clean up the sawdust. he didn’t know what a broom was called.
    i’m serious.

  21. Lion of Zion says

    know = no

  22. MiI, some questions. How do you clean the rags after you’ve cleaned the floors with them? Do you stick them in the washer? Do you wash them in the bucket? I’d love to hear some useful tips on that. Thanks in advance.

  23. mother in israel says

    BB–I wash all household rags together in the machine about once a week.

  24. i had a woman come to my house recently looking for work as a cleaner. as we already have cleaners who i am not looking to replace i told her no thank you, i already have. she took a look at the floor in the entrance of my house, upon which two post-shetach-tiyul-going children had just trod upon and told me that my cleaners must not be doing a very good job because my house was disgusting. way to criticize a potential new employer… i think not. i simply closed the door on her.


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