Just the Other Day: Use Soap

When I was a little boy, Dad would hear me coming out of the bathroom.  “Did you flush?” He would call out.  I went back in the bathroom to flush the stool.  When I walked out to the living room, he would ask, “Did you wash your hands?” I assured him I did. Then he would follow up, “Did you use soap?”  Dad was always prepared for inspection. “Come here. Let me smell your hands.” I presented my hands.


If my hands smelled of soap, he would smile and give me kudos for a job well done.  If not, I was sent back to the bathroom and told, “Go wash your hands again, and this time – use soap!”  I think about those days frequently and quite fondly.


With the Memorial Day weekend now behind us, the summer travel season has officially begun. Those words of Dad’s still stand out for me; “Use soap.” Especially when I pull into a gas station.


Summertime brings with it bugs – lots of them. When I drive, bugs get all over the windshield. Using my windshield washers is not going to clean them off. The wipers just smear the bugs all over the glass in a sweeping arch pattern, making it impossible to see well.  Sometimes, even when I don’t need gas, I’ll pull into a station to top off the tank, just so I can clean my windshield.


I walk to the squeegee bucket, always expecting the worst. Yep, plain stinky water that permeates a putrid smell of bugs.  It’s a very distinctive, nasty smell. I wish someone would tell the gas station people that bugs won’t wash off with just water and that blue windshield washer fluid they often pour into the bucket doesn’t remove them either. In the words of my beloved father, “Use soap!” Just a squirt of any kitchen dish soap will do, although I prefer Dawn. It cuts the grease.


It’s a pleasant ordeal when you pull up to the pumps and find suds in the buckets.


One day last summer, my windshield was particularly bad. Most of the bugs were a foggy or translucent-white color. There were also several big yellow splotches, a few green and a couple red ones, too.  It was getting hard to see as I headed west into the setting sun. I exited off Interstate 94 at Valley City, North Dakota and pulled into the Tesoro gas station.


I swiped my card and answered the twenty questions asked by the card reader. Next, I lifted the nozzle, selected my grade of fuel, then placed the nozzle into the tank filler spout.  I pulled the trigger and set the holding tab. While the tank was filling, I prepared myself for disappointment as I walked toward the windshield washer bucket.


I grabbed the shiny black squeegee handle, looking into the bucket as I pulled it out of the water. WOW! Suds! And fresh ones at that. I moved the head of the cleaning device up and down in the water bucket several times, like one moves the paddle of an old-fashioned butter churn. I was agitating the water, working up a good head of suds. I swung the squeegee over to my windshield, carrying a liberal amount of soapy water.


As I worked the tool back and forth over the glass, bugs were practically falling off; splats of dried bug guts were dissolving like Jell-O powder in hot water. Bugs were disappearing like magic.


When I was ready to wipe the glass, I noticed the cleaning side of the tool. The mesh covered sponge looked brand new and so did the rubber edge. I pulled the squeegee across the windshield. Water ran from the top to the bottom with no streaks at all. I took a second pass, then a third. Still, no streaking. “This is awesome!” I called to June, who was sitting in the car.


I felt like a kid in a bubble bath with a brand-new back washer. I was so thrilled I went ahead and cleaned the back window – and all the side glass too.  I even thought about cleaning the windows on the car on the other side of the pump island, but the driver looked kind of grouchy. I didn’t want to risk him bursting my gleeful spirit.  With a big smile on my face, I returned the squeegee to the bucket, stirring up the suds one more time, just for fun. I hung the nozzle back on the gas pump and went inside the store.


After picking up a couple of snacks, I headed for the checkout counter. A young man named Jerrod was behind the register. “Jerrod, I have to tell you, I get so tired of gas stations with nasty bug water in their washer buckets and worn out squeegees. But your water was clean and your squeegees were in great shape. This place is amazing!”


Jerrod shared my enthusiasm. “Oh yeah! My boss is a real stickler about those wash buckets and squeegees. He says, ‘When the mesh starts showing wear, throw it out and get a new one. You can’t scrub bugs off a with a worn-out sponge.’ We just replaced all the squeegees about an hour ago.”


“I like that you add soap to the water.” I complimented.


“Always in the summer.” Jerrod confirmed, explaining, “Plain water isn’t going to clean bugs off a windshield. I put a shot of Dawn dish soap in every bucket. It’s just the right amount of soap to break down the bugs without being too much.” He really knew his stuff. “The last C-store I worked for,” he said with disdain, “they put blue washer fluid in the pails, but that stuff won’t remove bugs and it’s a lot more expensive than a gallon of tap water and a shot of Dawn.” Jerrod was clearly speaking my language.


I thanked Jerrod for his good service, especially the windshield washers – it was the best ever.


I headed west down the highway, thinking that running into that particular Tesoro station and their window washing set-up may have been better than winning the lottery.


A couple hundred miles later, my windshield was really getting bad again. I pulled off the interstate into another gas station. When I walked up to the washer bucket, I could already smell the stinky water. “Great,” I said.  I used the worn our sponge to wet the glass with the nasty water. I tried to scrub the bugs away, but they weren’t coming off. I heard a voice in my head saying, “Use soap.” I reached behind the driver’s seat and grabbed the bottle of Windex I always keep in the car for just an occasion such as this.


I sprayed the ammonia based product across the window. Even with the worn-out sponge, the bugs came off easily with a little cleaner. I pulled the worn rubber squeegee across the window, then used a paper towel to wipe off the streaks that were left.  I wish all C-Stores would take a lesson from Jerrod’s boss – keeping good squeegees at the pumps – and everyone should use soap.