Alumni Share Clever Cleaning Stories from Their Days at BYU
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First Person

First Person: Cleaning Checkout Cometh

Students find some clever—and some clueless—cleaning solutions.

An illustration of female student opening the smoking stove to find a melting mass of rainbow colored plastic.
Illustration by Travis Foster

White Gloves and Hamburgers

By Renee Polson Condie (BA ’88), Lindon, UT

My checkout assignment was the dreaded task of cleaning the bathroom—including the shower, which had a full school year’s buildup of soap scum and hard water clinging to every surface. My dad was coming from out of state to pick me up, so I needed to pass the white-glove inspection the first time.

This is where my science class finally came in handy. The professor said that grease cuts grease, and I figured soap scum and yuck were almost grease, so why not? On our stove we had a container full of ladled-off hamburger grease, which I painstakingly rubbed on all shower surfaces from floor to ceiling. I then wiped them down until they shined.

It did the trick: during checkout, the inspectors commented on the gleaming shower, and my dad and I were soon heading home.

The next fall I happened to talk to one of the girls who had rented the apartment for the summer. She said things had gone great, except they could never figure out why it smelled like hamburgers every time they took a shower.

Art from the Oven

By Sara Sorenson Woolstenhulme (BA ’10), West Jordan, UT

After a year together in Deseret Towers, my freshman roommate and I moved into an apartment our second year at BYU. There we acquired random dishes from our parents, including plastic plates and cutlery.

One day when I was preparing to bake something, I turned on the oven to preheat it as I normally would. When I opened the oven to insert my pan, I discovered colorful plastic melted like a waterfall from the rack to the bottom of the oven!

I was so confused! After a quick investigation, I learned how my roommate cleaned the kitchen: in her house growing up (due to frequent problems with insects and little counter space), dirty dishes or dishes that still contained partially eaten baked goods were frequently stuck in the oven until it was time to wash them. Consequently, everyone in her family was used to checking the oven before turning it on.

Since I had no idea to first check the oven, we ended up with a lovely plastic art installation (mixed with brownie crumbs) that took some effort and extra cleaning to remove from the oven.

I remain best friends with this roommate, and we still laugh about the time I melted her dishes.

“When I opened the oven to insert my pan, I discovered colorful plastic melted like a waterfall from the rack to the bottom of the oven!” —Sara Woolstenhulme

The Big-Box Solution

By Evan K. Stephens (BS ’01), Herriman, UT

Sometimes the line between genius and madness is razor-thin. My five roommates and I may have crossed that line one year when we solved the pesky problem of having to take out the trash every few days. When our apartment received a new refrigerator, the installer left the cardboard box behind. We recognized a golden opportunity and replaced our kitchen garbage can with the enormous box. Brilliant! Now we’d have to empty the trash only once a semester.

For a few weeks we basked in the glory of our indolence and ingenuity with nary a trip to the dumpster as the huge box filled with vast amounts of garbage. But, predictably, things did not end well. Soon visitors stopped coming, complaining of an odd smell. Eventually, even our own adjusted noses could not disregard the foul stench that permeated the apartment. To our horror, the weeks-old food in our beloved trash can had rotted and was leaking through the cardboard. Many messy, smelly trips to the dumpster later, we were forced to admit our crazy brilliant idea was just crazy.

Illustration of a female student holding a mop and dishcloth in a kitchen covered in soapy bubbles.
Illustration by Travis Foster

Bubble Trouble

By Jamie Johnson Torgesen (BS ’98), Azle, Texas

I lived in Heritage Halls during my freshman year. One weekend, four of my roommates were out of town, leaving only one other roommate and myself. We decided to take advantage of the empty apartment and spend the time doing some deep cleaning. We started in the kitchen and quickly loaded the dishwasher. Unfortunately, we were out of dishwasher detergent, so we just substituted liquid dish soap instead. We moved on to the bathroom, and after a few minutes made our way back toward the kitchen. We were shocked to see every inch of the kitchen floor covered in white suds, several inches thick.

We stopped the dishwasher and then spent the next several hours getting rid of the thick bubbles all over the floor. We used every towel, including the ones belonging to the absent roommates, and mopped the floor three times to remove the soapy film. We did not finish cleaning the apartment, but our kitchen floor was spotless! When we told the story to our other roommates, they all seemed surprised that we didn’t know better than to use liquid soap in the dishwasher. To prevent a repeat incident, someone made a beautiful sign and teasingly hung it on the kitchen wall. It read, “No Dawn in the Dishwasher!” We never had a shortage of detergent after that weekend.

“We were shocked to see every inch of the kitchen floor covered in white suds, several inches thick.” —Jamie Torgesen

Floored by an Angel

By Anna Strickland Brooksby (BA ’03), Show Low, AZ

My junior year at BYU was a busy one. For the first time, I was working while going to school. I had a heavy course load, and as finals week approached, my to-do list was getting overwhelmingly long. My visiting teacher, Olya A. Pestova (BS ’04, MISM ’04), had it even worse: she was in her last semester of a challenging program, working, and serving as our ward Relief Society president—no small responsibility with our large off-campus ward.

I came home from a late night of studying and finishing up final projects, dreading the all-nighter of white-glove cleaning ahead of me: I had had no other time to do it before the end of the semester checkouts. But when I walked in, there was Olya on her hands and knees, scrubbing away, doing my cleaning for me. I was floored. With all she had to do, how on earth, and why, had she found the time to do my cleaning along with her own? I still don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know she was an angel of a visiting teacher to me in so many ways that semester.

Sibling Revelries and Rivalries

If you grew up in a big BYU family, chances are you spent time on campus with a sibling—or several. If so, did you blaze the trail or follow the lead? Did you room together or as far apart as possible? Did you negotiate over a shared vehicle or play surrogate Mom or Dad? If you had a college-age sibling, you likely have a story to share. So give it up. Deadline: Dec. 9.

BYU Magazine pays $50 for stories published in First Person. Send anecdotes of up to 300 words to Submissions may be edited for length, grammar, appropriateness, and clarity.