I wrote the following after years of struggle, not with dirt or cleanliness, but with guilt that my house was never clean enough. I hope it proves cathartic for those of you raised in homes where Cuban Clean® was a thing. Also, this is NOT a sponsored post. This is The World According to Marta.
This is the time of year when you throw open all the windows and drive the musty smells out of your house. Winter is over. Spring is upon us.
The way the house smells is everything, isn’t it?
But if you’re Cuban, Spring Cleaning may not really be a thing. Because if you were raised in a Cuban household, your house is pretty much spotless year round. Because Cuban Clean® is real. (I registered the phrase, Cuban Clean® – in my mind anyway – back in this post right here, but that’s not important right now.)
The Struggle is Real. Cuban Clean®. photo: Eric Darby
There is an obsession with cleanliness that is very much part of our Cuban culture. Kept alive by our abuelas and very carefully passed along from generation to generation.
Cuban Clean® Rule #1 – No floor is ever mopped well enough.
You have moved all the furniture out of a room and have mopped the floor within an inch of its life. You can actually see your reflection in the dull tiles. No good. Do it again. Because God himself may be coming through that door at any moment.
Cuban Clean® Rule #2 – The vacuum lines on the carpet need to line up perfectly.
Don’t be thinking that moving the vacuum cleaner around the entire room is good enough. It’s not. There must be very distinct vacuum lines. Spaced evenly or it has to be done again. You need to know this important fact or your life will be hard.
Cuban Clean® Rule #3 – Dust must never be visible.
To this end, you must dust Every. Single. Day. You must make it your earthly goal to never see dust. Because those random acquaintances that have never set foot in your home and probably don’t even know your address, might just drop in unexpectedly and you don’t want these people to think you live like wolves.
There’s no such thing as dusting too much.
Cuban Clean® Rule #4 – Everything must be moved or it’s not really clean.
You know, you really can’t just be dusting every day. You must move every single knick-knack and picture frame you have on display. Step 2 is to wipe everything down. Yes, everything.
And then you dust. Because you don’t want people to think you live like wolves. (Who are those judgy people who never come over?)
Cuban Clean® Rule #5 – Cleaning your room means something different to your Cuban abuela than it does to you.
When the Cuban Female in Charge of the Household says, “Clean your room,” (Notice it is a strict command, never prefaced by a “please”), they don’t just mean “make your bed and put things away.” That’s for cleaning amateurs! We are Cuban. Cuban Clean® is not to be trifled with.
The expectation is that you will move things (*see Rule #4), dust (*see Rule #3), and vacuum to where you can see lines (*see Rule #2). Anything less than that is not acceptable.
Cuban Clean® Rule #6 – The house must always smell like it’s been freshly cleaned.
Fabulosa is the preferred fragrance du jour in a Cuban home. It signals to your guests that you are relentless in your struggle against germs and you are a tireless worker in the fight against dirt. Did you just mop yesterday? The smell seems to be fading. Time to do it again. (*See Rule #1.)
Cuban Clean® Rule #7 – It’s not really clean unless you use a wooden mop.
You can keep your heavy-duty-microfiber-new-fangled-swiffer-thing. There is no real cleaning happening unless you use a classic old-school wooden mop. (see Rule #1.)
Wooden mop for the Cuban Clean® win.
Technically this is a crossed piece of wood with an old towel draped over it. But trust your abuela when she says nothing gets your floors Cuban Clean® like a good old “trapeador.” Don’t argue and put your back into it.
Wait? Did you sweep first with a REAL broom? Think again. Your broom must be made from real, honest-to-goodness corn-fibers. Anything synthetic just doesn’t clean like it should. *insert abuela making a disapproving face here*
Cuban Clean Rule #8 – You must use a toothbrush to clean grout.
You may be sweeping with a corn-fiber broom and mopping with a “trapeador,” but your floor and the grout between the tile is not going to be Cuban Clean® enough unless you use a toothbrush to really get in there. And not a used toothbrush, mind you. *crosses herself* A new just-for-the-grout toothbrush. And you have to get down on your hands and knees. Because you can’t be too careful in your struggle against dirt and germs.
Truly, I am a wonderful “home-maker,” but a terrible “house-keeper.” Shut up. I have other skill sets. So, if my mom is going to be coming over or I’m having company and I don’t have time to do the serious Cuban Clean® Regimen, I have an back up…
Marta’s Alternative to Cuban Clean® – Don’t judge me.
- Sweep the floors real quick. (I know it has to be done.) Only if you can find the broom.
- Use a rake to get those lines in the carpet. Because lines. (I may or may not have done this.)
- Quickly wipe down counters with Fabulosa – for the smell.
- Pour some Fabulosa down the drains in the kitchen and bathroom and in the toilets. Let it sit for awhile.
- Sprinkle the sheets on your bed with Violetas. (Shut up. It works.)
- Leave a toothbrush dipped in Fabulosa on the counter. This is a decoy and it works most of the time. “She must have really scrubbed that grout. There’s the toothbrush to prove it.”
- Take the old-school wooden mop thing and lean it upside down just outside the kitchen door, but plainly visible.
- If everything is in place and it smells of Cuban Clean®, call it good.
- I sincerely hope abuela never catches you cheating on the Cuban Cleaning®. If this happens, “arreglate como puedas.” Umm… I mean, good luck with that.
Now that your house is freshly clean (or alternatively clean-smelling), you’re probably hungry. You might consider decorating your Cuban Clean® home with my fabulous Cuban Food Poster.
Cuban Food Poster by Marta Darby Designs on Etsy.
Angela Alen-Martinez says
This is hilarious and oh so true! Thank you for making me laugh Marta! I had knee surgery earlier today and this definitely took my mind off of it for a while! Un beso from the 305!
Hola Croqueta says
9 You must have salsa music playing at full blast or 0 motivation will be had. LOL! These are hilarious! I’m more of a Mistolin kinda girl though. 😉
Julie Monzon-Parsons says
Before the Mistolin and Fabuloso, there was Pinosol (Pine Sol). And lets not forget the ‘aja’ (aka: Ajax) con un estropajo (aka: Brillo pad) for the kitchen sink. Love reminiscing. Thanks!
Carmen Cristina Calero says
Definetely I have mastered the Cuban Clean from my mothers teachings…need to show this to my cleaning lady who says Im obsessed with l limpieza. She needs to read this…lol Greetings from Miam and yes I tell her the house must smel likel Fabuloso when I Get frombwirk. You hit it girl!!!
Michelle Ashby says
This makes me super jealous. I came from the Cuban family where everything was done for you while growing up. It wasn’t until I left the house that I learned to do anything for myself, and mostly the hard way, by learning that you don’t use dish soap (to Abuela that was called Pal-mo-LEE-veh) in the dishwasher, to other things like not flooding a washing machine. I am 38 and finally learned to cook in my 30s. Ay Dios mio. Love this article.
Olga Isabel Dickieson says
Well all I have to say is do not complain and get to work – have a place for everything and everything in its place. If you dust your house every morning be sure to dust it in the afternoon before the mad rush of company that never comes in this hole in the world we call home now away from the Miami Florida Cuban reservation… Well maybe Cuban do not live in Miami anymore, but the Cuban Clean most never die…. I remember fondly cleaning with my daughter moving all the furniture out of the way and for fun use the garden hose spray from the front to the back of the house. We had tiles everywhere even the closets and none of that filthy carpet that hold all kinds of germs is HOT, smells, and you cannot ever really get it Cuban Clean……. Just you try to have a Cuban Clean house during spring when all turn first yellow and them green. You even get pollen in your eyeglasses. Be happy you are in Miami!!! Yes, correct I am a Cuban Grandmother and as for your short cuts in cleaning young lady they are not acceptable go back and do it right all of us grandmothers and mother we can see all… Cariños from the North… Abue
PS: By the way, Cuban Clean is a proud heritage that must be maintained in perpetuity. When my husband was in the hospital, the nurses loved to come to visit us because our hospital room smelled so nice and clean. I had no need to ever press the nurse’s help button for anything I new they would come by any minute and yes we where ready for company…. NO GERMS are allowed or welcomed in a Cuban Clean Home.
Luisa Alvarez says
This is so good is unbelevable I’m a 74 year old cuban and i havent laughed this good in years, is so true i hope abuelas are happy I am.
Karen Philipp says
That is an interesting article.I love the cuban people & I love cuban food.I have some good cuban friends too.I try to keepnmy house very clean too but it is just me & you have alot of kids to clean after & most are very small.
Asbel Jonathan Corrales says
Óyeme, Marta, ¡qué bueno te quedó el artículo! ¡Muy cierto! ☺
I was taught to use my bare feet to clean the corners and edges of the floors. My abuela and Mami do it and I’ve taught my daughter it as well. Feet aren’t only to wear shoes I was always told.
Isabel Cowley says
That’s how I clean my floors with an old towel or paper towels and use my feet to clean. I’m older live alone no grandchildren as of yet so I have been reminded about Cuban Clean.
Barbie Tejedor says
Same here Isabel, el trapeador can’t get in those corners! I’ve also gotten really good at using my toes and a washcloth to clean the base boards lol.
Raquel Contreras says
These are hilarious, so so funny but true! My mami taught me right. To me, the smell of cleanliness is the smell of Pine Sol. 🙂
YES THIS IS THE Cuban CLEAN!!! GENERATION FROM GENERATION. MARTA
So are so funny. Thank you for sharing. I drive my children crazy. When my parents use to visit I would tell them we have to clean. They didn’t understand they would look around and tell me the house was clean and I would reply not Cuban clean. Now they have a place of their own and when I come to visit they make sure to tell me they have Cuban cleaned their house for me.
Kristine Puzel says
Marta- Well…here are few lessons for me to learn! Entertaining and informative–thank you inspiring me, even without an Abuela looking over my shoulder!
Betty, I’m always complaining to Maggie. Now I know why She clean the house twice a day, and if we have company I have to leave, is picking everything up and dusting wit FABULOSO.Good thing we don’t have fango (mud) here.Ja ja funny
maria k says
This is how I was raised. Having an american husband and children that are half Cuban and German just don’t understand. When I say clean I mean Cuban clean. LOL, they think I am cray-cray.
Joan Aleman says
I didn’t think the wooden mop was a real thing. That was my Mother in laws thing. Brings back memories, good ones. Too funny.
This is so true. I always tell my son that we need to clean the house and he doesn’t get it. I have un palo de trapear.
I still use Violetas as my cologne everyday. I get so many compliments on it.
My mom has always told me how the women in Cuba would clean in the morning and evening. And all of the cooking inbetween!
Thanks for writing this. You really nailed it!
Neldy Arocha nee' Chacon says
Sometimes in a real pinch I’ll do a "limpieza de suegra"!!! ????????
Cristal Yellen says
I prefer the alternative method as well and will add too it by suggesting pouring some fabuloso to your sented wax melter…. Your welcome.
Blanca Aguilar de Miranda says
Absolutely hilarious!!! But since when I was a kid Fabuloso (which I despise!) wasn’t around, it was ‘el trapo con cloro’! Otherwise known as Clorox and EVERYTHING was cleaned with that!! Still remember my Tia Beba with her chancletas, pasando el trapo around the house!! Thanks for the laughs!!
My friends think im crazy! My "unclean" house, to my standards, is super clean to them. They will never understand…lol
Maria Victoria says
Absolutamente la verdad…menos la parte de trampear. Mami y Tati, conjuntas o separdas, encontrarian las trampas, no importa que minima. ????
Helen Pressley says
Remind me never to invite any of your family over to my house. You’d all have collective coronaries!
AnI O. says
Pre Fabuloso it was Pine Sol. Our terrazzo floors were mirrors. Not sure the younger generation follows to the T but, this is exactly what I experienced as a child. No other cleaning style compares!
Loved it. Sharing with my housemates who think I’m insane. Definitely Pine Sol in our house and it wasn’t "un trapeador". It was "el palo del suelo".
Love it. I am like that always cleaning. I use Pine Sol all the time. Since a teenager always cleaned my house until now. Todos los dias sacudo y barro. Lol.
Hey Marta, you have made my evening. I have friends (non-Cuban) who don’t believe me when I tell them that I went through training by the age of 5 of how to properly dust the house LOL. I really enjoyed reading this. FYI…at my house it was Mistolin with un churro to de Clorox.
SARA stricklen says
Omg ? so manny memory’s before my mom would come over I would bleach the grout with a tooth brush , then and only then it knew is was clean , Bleach was huge in our home , Toilets etc , till today I like the smell ?Of bleach
Big Time Memories of Growing up in a Cuban Home and to this Day , My Wonderful Mother
Who just turned 92 still cleans with the Trapedor ,Clorox (or is not clean). Pinesol and Ajax is what I grew up with and always cleaning , dusting , sweeping and moping and even with Dishwashers and Washing Machines you’ll still catch my Mom doing the dishes and certain clothing items by Hand .Since I’m disabled she is a Huge help to Me but she says Wirking is what Keeps her going …
Jackie Cruzada says
Marta, I am a Cuban American that grew up in South Florida and you are on fleek girl. Now 52 yrs old and I still use my “palo de Trapiar” and my fabuloso. One thing though don’t forget that if you didn’t clean the entire house on Friday’s no going out that weekend with your friends and the famous chaperonas.
Que te puedo decir haci creci y estoy muy orgullosa!
Barb Jones says
All my American friends and in-laws think I have OCD. No, I’m Cuban.
Barbie Tejedor says
So much of my life is making sense now that I have found your blog! Thank you! 🙂
Barbie Tejedor says
I will tell my American friends that I can’t go out because the house is a wreck and they don’t get it. If it’s not Cuban Clean it’s not really clean. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some grout to scrub.
I freaking hate those Cuban mops. My mother loved them, but she would never have passed the Cuban clean test. Maybe because she was only half Cuban…
Angelina C says
Greetings! What a cute website. Thank you for sharing.
Sometimes modern IS better!
Having new tile floors meant learning how to clean them for me. My USA version of the Cuban Mop:
Microfiber towels because they pick up so much, but release it when washed, much better than cotton. I can throw bleach, degreaser and any thing on them and they hold up.
I am Asian, like Asian born and bred. I married a Cuban,-American a few years ago and we were living in Japan until recently. We just moved back to Miami and my Cuban in laws are living with us now. This article just shed light on everything my MIL does! Thank you for demystifying this phenomenon to me! The mopping 5x a day was (still is) driving me nuts but at least it sorta kinda makes sense now. LOL.
I don’t know if you will see this, but I’ve been thinking about getting a Quick Loop mop, which is supposedly an “updated” version of a cuban mop. I feel like the traditional mop is probably actually better, but can you use a cuban mop to dust the ceiling fan? Or will the rag fall off?
María Nevarez says
Hi Martha! I love your stories you are so humorous. Thank you for sharing, you bring back so many memories and all of them true. As I was growing up, I thought it was just my mom with the Cuban Clean, but she sure instilled in me the “right” cleaning methods. It’s never clean enough was so true. Love your blogs, your humor, you and your family. May our traditions continue strong for the world as we know it. Pa’lante con fe. Felicidades y muchos besos y abrazos en el saludo y el despido. María N.