One Saturday morning, I was putting dishes away while my 2-year-old played with his crayons just a few feet away. He started singing his favorite — “The Clean Up Song.”
“Are you putting away your crayons?” I naively asked.
And then I looked up. No. Instead of putting away his crayons, he had a navy blue crayon in his hand and was drawing on the wall.
My first thought: “No problem, I did that all the time as a kid and my parents just painted over…”
And then I remembered. My parents owned those walls I decorated with Crayola. I don’t own the walls my son was making a mural of circles on.
So what happens when the messes of toddlerhood meet the realities of renting?
First, remain calm. The benefit of living in the 2010s is that we seem to be at a height of stain removal.
Second, do a quick analysis of what kind of clean up you’re dealing with. What is the stain? What is it on? What color is the thing that it’s on? How old is the stain? How much is your security deposit? And can you possibly paint over it without your landlord ever knowing the wiser?
In this case, I had dark blue crayon marks on a mocha-painted wall. My security deposit is an amount I would really like to get back eventually. I couldn’t paint over it because the color was dark and unique enough that it would be difficult to match.
I needed to identify a way to get the crayon off the wall without removing the paint. Key to this would be testing every type of removal on a small corner of the stain. I’m one of those people who usually eschews that advice when it comes on products. (You know that whole “test this hair dye on a strand 24 hours before coloring”? No one has time for that.) But when it comes to walls and carpet you don’t own, it’s very important.
What works? After trial and error, I found that a green scouring pad with mild dishwashing detergent and warm water worked best for my wall. I scrubbed lightly in a circular motion, and the crayon came right off, even though it wasn’t a washable crayon. What to avoid? All that Pinterest advice about toothpaste and Windex. Toothpaste does nothing, and Windex strips the paint. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers (or their generic equivalent) can sometimes do the trick, but you will have to use a light touch and make sure the amount of paint that will come off isn’t noticeable. But key to any cleaning method is to test first. Every wall is different.
If you have my level of luck, 24 hours after you’ve removed the crayon, you’ll find your toddler dropping strawberries on the cream-colored carpet. Luckily, carpet stains and I are old friends. Get your toddler away from the stained area (in another room, preferably down for a nap) and use a pet stain remover. They are strong, but they are the only stain removers I’ve ever had luck with on white or cream carpet. (And for some reason, every single carpeted apartment I’ve lived in has had cream-colored carpet. Why?!) If the stain just occurred and is light, I’ve had recent luck with Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner. It smells much better than pet stain remover, and if you hit the stain in just enough time, it works. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but I’m not asking questions.
Is it easy to navigate the messy toddler years when you rent? No. But it will put your MacGyver skills to the test.