I saw my coworker wiping down our kitchen sink with Drano

A reader writes:

I am a junior staff member in an office of about 20 people. I have a colleague, Felicia, who is also junior and a good friend. Felicia is smart and a great colleague, and both of us are usually the first to arrive in the morning.

Felicia also openly “jokes” about having OCD. (I insert quotations because I’m not really sure if she’s just kidding with the term, has actually been diagnosed, etc.) When she is stressed , she cleans the office kitchen, and people are very thankful that she willingly does so.

On one morning, I walked in to find Felicia wiping down the kitchen sink with Drano, using our communal sponge and her bare hands. She was lathering it on the sponge. I don’t know much about Drano, but I know it’s not intended to be used where people eat.

While I wanted to tell her to stop, Felicia is also my friend. I casually warned her that Drano is not meant to be used that way, and that she should be wearing gloves if she’s handling it at all. I also warned her that our building might not allow us to use Drano frequently, as many buildings in our area don’t want their pipes being damaged.

Felicia laughed it off and said that “nothing cleans the sink like Drano.” She also said she would rinse it out before anyone else came in.

However, she actually forgot to wash it off before a few more staff came in. I know at least one person washed their coffee mug with the Drano-filled sponge. A little before lunchtime, Felicia realized that she had forgotten to rinse it out, and ran over to the kitchen to do so.

I haven’t told anyone else about this, partly because I don’t think Felicia will continue to wash the sink with Drano and partly because she is my friend. However, I know at least a few colleagues are sensitive about chemicals and would be upset to hear about this. Since the incident, I have done some research to confirm that it’s actually very toxic and dangerous to human health. I don’t think she has the same understanding of what Drano is. I think she was presuming that the stronger the chemicals, the better.

We have an office manager, but she’s also junior and I don’t want to make Felicia feel attacked.

Part of me feels silly for making such a big deal about this, but I want to do what’s in my power to make sure we avoid this in the future. What do you think? Am I being crazy?

What?! She was wiping down the sink with Drano?! And lathering it on the sponge?! And then people used that sponge on their dishes?!

Drano is toxic.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Drano for drains. But I do not care to eat it or coat my mug with it.

You aren’t making too big of a deal out of this. It’s actually the opposite — you haven’t made enough of a big deal about it. That’s what I think is really interesting about this letter — the way that our relationships with people sometimes make us soft-pedal really important messages to them. (More on that in a moment.)

The fact that you’re friends with Felicia isn’t a reason not to tell her that she needs to cut this out. If anything, that might make it easier! But regardless, you need to say something.

In the moment, I would have said this: “Hey! That’s really dangerous! You could get people sick. We need to throw out that sponge right away and get the Drano fully out of the sink.” If she blew you off, you’d need to keep pushing it — as in, “I’m not kidding. People would be horrified by this if they knew about it. I’m going to give (office manager) a heads-up so she can make sure it’s taken care of.” (And frankly, I would have just thrown away the sponge myself.)

That moment has passed, but you can still say something to her now. For example: “Hey, the other day when you were cleaning the sink with Drano — I did some research to make sure I wasn’t overreacting, and it is indeed dangerous to use Drano that way. Someone used that sponge to clean a mug afterwards and could have gotten sick. Seriously, can you not do that again?”

If she pushes back, tell her that she can clean with Drano in her own house all she wants, but that if she’s going to insist on doing it at work, you’re going to give your office manager a heads up since you assume the office will not be okay with it. And then do that.

Now, on to the bigger implications that I alluded to above: Your letter has a lot of “she’s my friend” and “I don’t want to make her feel attacked.” But it’s really not attacking someone to speak up when they’re doing something dangerous to others. It’s sort of your obligation, in fact. And there are going to be other situations in life and at work where a friend is doing or saying things that are harmful to other people — whether it’s sexual harassment or casual racism or trying to cover up a serious work mistake or safety issue, or whatever it might be — and you want to be prepared to be forthright when that kind of thing happens.

I know that might sound like an awfully serious turn from a letter about Drano, but people opt out of speaking all the time because they’re afraid of offending. Sometimes that’s no big deal, but other times it’s what lets pretty serious problems take root or continue. So I hope you’ll resolve to speak up, whether it’s Drano or something bigger down the road.

{ 328 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. fposte

    Also worth weighing how much you don’t want people to unwittingly eat Drano against how much you don’t want Felicia to feel attacked.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      That’s what came to my mind. If I saw someone cleaning out a food prep area with something that wasn’t safe for humans, I would be shouting at them until they fixed it.

      OP, never, ever worry about feelings when the health and welfare of someone is on the line. Safety issues are pretty much the exception to all “professional” situations at work.

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    2. JMegan

      Right, and also against how much you want to have the conversation with your manager about how you knew and didn’t say anything. There’s really no way to get out of this without having an uncomfortable conversation with *somebody*, so I think your best bet is to have it with Felicia.

      OP, you clearly have a good heart, and it’s nice of you to want to find a way out of this that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. But as others have noted, there are bigger issues at stake here than just Felicia’s feelings – the health and safety of people in your office is way more important. Good for you for asking Alison for help! I hope you use her diplomatic scripts, and I hope everything works out well (and quickly!) for your office mates.

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      1. fposte

        The other thing that occurred to me is that Felicia would likely feel absolutely terrible and be haunted the rest of her life if somebody was injured by this, because that’s a serious injury we’re talking about; she’d certainly be fired. So it’s no kindness to Felicia to let her be exposed to a risk she doesn’t seem to realize.

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        1. Artemesia

          The thing that makes this so terrible is that no one is likely to have a serious injury linked to this sponge and sink, but they could inflame their throat and digestive track in more subtle ways that would leave them ill but having no idea why. This might well be much worse for someone who already has GERD or an issue with throat irritation from allergies or minor infection. No one would know. No one would be getting fired or blamed. But someone has suffered.

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      2. OP

        Thank you for your kind words, JMegan! In fear of hurting a friend, I inadvertently left other friends at risk. Doing what I can now to amend the situation.

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    3. INTP

      Or suffering other injuries. People could have gotten chemical burns on their hands from using the sponge. You just cannot ignore something like that because speaking up is uncomfortable. Felicia might be super sensitive or confrontational and make it a hard conversation, but how would you feel if you suffered a burn or got very sick because a coworker didn’t want to have a hard conversation?

      (I trust that OP didn’t realize the severity of the danger in the moment btw, so I do not mean to attack them, but for future reference, Drano situations are something that have to be dealt with in the moment and not after you’ve brainstormed ways to not hurt feelings.)

      Reply
  2. aebhel

    Yeah, not poisoning people at the office is more important than not hurting your coworker’s feelings. There are a million things she could use to clean the sink that wouldn’t make people sick; she should use those if she feels the need to do it.

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    1. Sadsack

      It has never occurred to me to use Drano for any purpose other than unclogging a drain. I wonder if she does this at home! Do not eat from Felicia’s contributions at your next office pot luck!

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      1. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

        I never use drano without wearing full body armor (I’m exaggerating-a little). That stuff can eat through skin. Was Felicia wearing gloves? In any event, DO SPEAK UP. There is a lot at risk here.

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        1. charisma

          No joke! I fell down the YouTube hole the other day and came across an episode of Doctors where a woman intentionally used Drano to blind herself. It takes a matter of seconds. UGH.

          This is why I don’t use communal sponges, sinks, etc. If the Drano doesn’t cause illness, the germs on the communal sponge certainly will. *shudder*

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          1. ROK JP Teach

            I also take the same response of just not using communal sponges because even just in college I’ve had roommates that will use the same sponge to: wash dishes, clean the counter/sink, and wash shoes… I bring my own sponge everywhere or wash dishes without one.

            There’s too much chance of people getting sick from this communal sponge so it needs to be tossed and some rules should at leats be put in place if you or your company are to replace it with another communal sponge.

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      2. Michelenyc

        I would never use any sponge at my office ever. Ewww! I do the wet paper towel with soap. I just can’t bring myself to touch them!

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        1. Windchime

          Me, too. There are several sponges and scrubbing brushes available to wash dishes with at work; I pass them by and use a clean paper town with dish soap. No way am I using a communal sponge that’s been sitting there for weeks.

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      3. Ruffingit

        I hate office sponges as a general rule. When I have to clean stuff out at the office sink, I get a paper towel and put some detergent on it. The sponges are always gross, no one cleans them, etc. No thanks.

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  3. Leatherwings

    Sorry, she was TOUCHING the drano? With no gloves? For an extended period of time? She’s going to really damage her skin and probably some of the office counters as well. Do not mess with Drano, it’s made to break shit down!

    OP, you definitely have standing (I would argue an obligation) to make sure this stops. I would probably tell an office manager no matter how Felicia reacts just to make sure she doesn’t start using Drano out of habit or because she can when people aren’t around. I feel like the Drano just needs to be removed from the office – it’s not even supposed to be used on drains that often!

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    1. Sadsack

      Yeah, I would tell the manager whether or not you bring it up again with Felicia. Maybe the manager forcefully telling her to stop will have more impact. I wonder how long she’s been doing this and worry that she’ll continue sneaking it when no one is looking if someone doesn’t seriously confront her. And I would definitely stay away from the sink at work and her home if you are ever there. Yikes, who knows what’s going on at her house!

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    2. Trillian

      I’d say you have no choice but to tell the manager, for your own sake as well as everyone else’s. The last thing you need is for someone else to find out, report it, and have Felicia claiming that other people — i.e., you — have no problem with it because you tried to go kindly on her and she did not get it.

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    3. Joseph

      Yeah, I’d tell an office manager regardless. You can frame it as “I wasn’t sure how to handle this…” or “I mentioned it to her, but wanted to follow up with you”, if that makes you feel better, but this is a big problem.

      A (probably incomplete) list of potential major issues:
      >Drano isn’t intended to be used commonly, so it could degrade your pipes leading to a leak
      >Worry about her health personally if she’s not using gloves
      >Potential liability for the company if someone else is poisoned due to her actions.
      >A work-related injury can affect your corporate safety “multiplier” – which controls your corporate insurance rates. And in some industries, if your accident multiplier is too high, you might be ineligible for certain government contracts.
      >Potential issues with OSHA – both for her actions directly and for the fact that chemicals are apparently unsecured and accessible

      It might seem over-reacting, but this is a critical safety issue.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        We have an old house built in the ’60’s, and a few years ago we noticed a terrible smell coming from the kitchen drain. We called several plumbers, and they all told us over the phone to just snake the drain; we couldn’t even get anyone to come look at it.

        Finally, we got a recommendation for a good plumber from my then boss, and he explained that people used to believe that they should periodically run Drano down the pipes just to keep things unclogged. He said he bet that our pipes were probably corroded all the way through by Drano and that the food we were putting down the disposal was probably not passing through the pipes, but was instead sitting on the ground under the house. Which is exactly what turned out to be the case.

        My husband had to rent a ditch-witch and dig up the pipe from the water meter to the house, and then he had to jackhammer up the slab from underneath the kitchen sink and 2/3 of the way across the kitchen. The plumber worked on a consultation basis, which saved us a ton of money. He coached my husband through the ditch-witching and jack-hammering, and through replacing all the old corroded pipes with PVC pipes.

        Anyway, that is what Drano does: it is a corrosive, and it will eventually eat through metal pipes. Nobody needs to be scrubbing a sink with it or leaving it on a kitchen sponge for people to wash their coffee mugs with.

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        1. OlympiasEpiriot

          Hope the plumber also recommended the enzyme-based drain openers…

          But, yeah, this is exactly why lots of owners of older apartment buildings tell their tenants NOT to ever use Draino.

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          1. fposte

            A plumber also mentioned that it’s a hell of a thing to deal with a clog that Drano *didn’t* solve–it’s really dangerous to be snaking or plunging and find out there’s caustic coming at you.

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        2. SystemsLady

          Sink plungers are plenty powerful and cheap, and I often wonder why Drano is sold at grocery stores because this misconception is so common. It also shouldn’t be used at all in a garbage disposal or in a pipe shared with one, and I fear a lot of people don’t know that.

          We’re forbidden from using Drano anywhere due to the place we’re renting being a similar age, so I was forced to research all of this.

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        3. Petronella

          ” people used to believe that they should periodically run Drano down the pipes just to keep things unclogged.”
          Wow, so Drano is the Summer’s Eve Douche of building maintenance – unnecessary and actively harmful, yet heavily used by a whole generation.

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          1. Christopher Tracy

            Wow, so Drano is the Summer’s Eve Douche of building maintenance – unnecessary and actively harmful, yet heavily used by a whole generation.

            LMAO!

            Meanwhile, I will never buy another thing of Draino again after this post. My pipes frequently clog, and I never stopped to think about what this stuff is doing to my plumbing (and heaven forbid it does end up eating through my pipes – my poor downstairs neighbors).

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      2. Laura

        Also, employees shouldn’t even have ACCESS to Draino. Why is it hanging around the office? At the very least, give it to the office manager to handle drain issues. At the most, drain problems should be dealt with by facilities management.

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        1. 42

          Was she bringing it in herself? I read this as “OCD” + stress-cleans kitchen herself [and everyone’s grateful] + small 20-person office had me concluding that there is no facilities dept, and that the coworker brought stuff in herself. I Can’t tell you why that was my go-to scenario, and it’s likely incorrect anyway. Monday brain.

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    4. Mallory Janis Ian

      “I feel like the Drano just needs to be removed from the office – it’s not even supposed to be used on drains that often!”

      That’s what I was thinking. Definitely tell the office manager, because people not being poisoned with Drano is more important than Felicia feeling warm and fuzzy about using Drano on the kitchen sink and sponge. But seriously, I’d also dispose of the Drano so I could use the office kitchen with my peace of mind intact.

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    5. Mike C.

      Sure, tell the manager, but take matters into your own hands in the moment as well. This is a safety issue here.

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    6. INTP

      I agree to bring it up with the manager regardless. The manager absolutely has to know the FULL story including Felicia’s “jokes” about having OCD, because the manager needs to understand that the Drano can’t be kept where Felicia can reach it anymore (no matter what Felicia says about not realizing the danger and promising not to use it that way again). If Felicia has real OCD, and that’s why she was cleaning the sink with Drano, then she cannot be trusted not to do the same thing again no matter what the OP diplomatically explains to her about the dangers. People joke about OCD like it’s just a compulsion to have things clean, but it’s an illness that warps a person’s sense of reality and makes them terrified of certain things, and she may not be willing or able to control her urge to use the Drano. Who knows how many times she has done this before the OP caught her.

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      1. Not So NewReader

        Ordinarily, I would let the OCD remark go, but here I absolutely agree. Human health and human lives are at stake. Remove the Drano from the kitchen, put it under lock and key if necessary.
        To the friend I would say, “People have to go with what we tell them about ourselves. You said you cannot control your use of Drano. People are taking you at your word. Since this is a health and safety issue, then it must be addressed.”
        If they hide the Drano on her that would be a pretty mild outcome really, considering she is could be the cause of many people getting sick.

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      2. Wildkitten

        My bet is that Felicia doesn’t know what drano is and thought it was just sink cleaner. It shouldn’t be in your office accessible to regular employees.

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        1. Wildkitten

          Oh I missed the nothing cleans like drano comment. Get drano out of the office tell Felicia to stop cleaning.

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  4. orchidsandtea

    Oh my good gracious me oh my I am very sensitive to chemicals (can hardly stand Lysol) and could have been made really ill even without washing my mug with Drano! The office manager needs to figure out what can effectively rinse Drano residue off the sink, then get all new sponges. Do not keep Drano in the office any longer; it can live in a locked closet somewhere that is else.

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    1. INTP

      Yeah, I know it sucks to clean but I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone for Felicia to keep cleaning the kitchen. For her, it’s clearly a coping mechanism that she takes too far. For everyone else, it carries the risk of who knows what harmful chemicals on their cleaning supplies and eating surfaces.

      I don’t really buy that this was 100% pure ignorance of the dangers of Drano. They’re clearly printed all over the stuff. Even if she stops using the drano, who knows what other harsh products (whose warning labels she has also conveniently neglected to read) she would replace it with?

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      1. Not So NewReader

        I don’t think it’s healthy for Felicia, but OP did not ask about that, you’re right though. You do offer a good suggestion that Felicia be told not to clean any more because she cannot be trusted to use products in compliance with what it says on the label of the product.

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  5. LDSang

    Your response didn’t even touch on liability if someone were to get sick as a result of the Drano. This would assuredly impact the company and the “friend,” but I suspect might even impact the author for knowing about it and not acting on it.

    Great response, though. Thanks for taking it to that “serious” level. I think we all need to be reminded that friendship should never trump safety, responsibility, or common decency.

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    1. AD

      Ingestion of Drano causes caustic injury of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Dependent on level of exposure, this could result in need for hemigastrectomy or related surgery.
      In other words, very serious consequences for all involved. OP, you need to report this immediately if you ever see it happen again.

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      1. alter_ego

        Yeah, my seventh grade english teacher ate drano crystals as a kid (she thought they were pop rocks) and even as an adult, she can’t do any kind of cardio or anything, because it burned off layers of her throat that never grew back.

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        1. Elizabeth West

          Yipes.

          A very long time ago, the magazine Good Housekeeping used to have these horrifying tabloid-esque stories about stuff that happened to a mum or a kid. The two I remember most vividly were one I don’t want to say because nightmares, and a little boy who ate some drain cleaner. It burned right through his esophagus. >_<

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      2. INTP

        I wouldn’t even wait until she sees it happen again. If Felicia is cleaning with Drano because she has OCD, she may continue to do it no matter what OP tells her about the possible dangers, just being more careful to avoid getting caught again. While I wouldn’t advocate approaching a manager with concerns that a coworker is seriously ill and might injure people just because that person joked about having OCD and did something weird under most circumstances, as you mentioned, the consequences of being wrong about it being an innocent one-time mistake are very dire here.

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        1. caryatid

          i don’t know that you need to mention the OCD and the kidding/not kidding self-diagnosis – OP can just lay out the facts. that should be enough, right? “i saw felicia using drano on the kitchen sponge in the sink with no gloves.”

          if i were the supervisor there, that would be enough for me to take action, OCD or not.

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          1. INTP

            I said to mention it because what I predict is that Felicia will swear up and down that she had no idea Drano was so dangerous, and promise never to use it again and to read all the labels on everything she uses from now on. Without the OCD context, I could see people (myself included) taking that at face value – I might believe she was stupid, but I wouldn’t be suspicious that she would do it again, bring in her own Drano after I got rid of the office supply of it, etc. Knowing about the likely OCD, I would know not to allow her to bring her own cleaning supplies anymore and might take precautions to avoid her being alone in the kitchen.

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            1. Chinook

              “what I predict is that Felicia will swear up and down that she had no idea Drano was so dangerous, and promise never to use it again and to read all the labels on everything she uses from now on”

              Maybe it is the industry I am in, but that wouldn’t be enough to give her a pass. Basic WHMIS training would have told her that this is wrong and that she is required to read the labels of anything she is using. Almost everybody I work with is required to either have WHMIS or not touch anything chemical warning signs (which includes cleaners). Saying she didn’t read the warnings is no excuse.

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    2. Gandalf the Nude

      Yeah, as an HR person, this raised my blood pressure. If this were one of my coworkers, I would be none too happy about the liability she’d created for the company. If someone actually got sick from this, that would potentially be a workers compensation issue. We’d be having a very serious discussion, at the very least.

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    3. Elle

      Personally, I’m glad I don’t work with either one of them. If someone let me wash my mug out with Drano, and said nothing to me because they were friends with someone, would make my blood boil (maybe literally.) You’re not allowed to be an innocent bystander when someone else’s health and safety are at risk.

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      1. LeRainDrop

        Totally agree. I am horrified by this story. Personally, I don’t use the sponge at the office anyway because I know they are germ magnets and I’m probably more afraid of germs than is reasonable. I never would have even imagined a risk as great as a co-worker putting Drano on the sponge! And “rinsing” the sponge does not eliminate the toxicity that was already put there by the Drano in the first place. I am completely appalled both by Felicia and by OP silently allowing the other co-workers to be at risk.

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      2. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, this is the stuff newspaper headlines are made of. How many church picnics do we read about where half the people there know X is going on and no one does anything? Then the next thing is 50 people are laying in the ER.

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  6. Karyn

    Also… Drano is expensive. How is no one noticing that it’s gone through so quickly (assuming she does this daily)?

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    1. Leatherwings

      I’m a bit worried Felicia is buying her own Drano. It seems like she might be using at at home, hence the “nothing cleans like Drano” comment.

      That makes it even more dangerous because there’s a replenishing supply that an office manager or operations person wouldn’t notice.

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      1. GigglyPuff

        That’s what I’m wondering, if she’s bringing it in; and if she does actually have OCD, this might be something that needs to be addressed. (Maybe not by the OP or people at work, but man, this is just such a dangerous habit. I wanna do something to help them understand how bad it is.)

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      2. AW

        Honestly, it’s likely that the office doesn’t stock Drano themselves *at all*, at least not where employees can get to it, and for this reason.

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        1. Joseph

          Most companies keep any cleaning supplies stronger than soap locked up for this precise reason. In fact, Drano’s MSDS (someone else linked below) specifically states that it should be locked up at all times.

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      3. Mallory Janis Ian

        How are her hands not chemically burned? Drano is caustic! and she’s using it, apparently regularly, without any gloves on. o_O

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    2. some1

      Are there any uses for it besides a clogged drain? I would imagine if the drain is not clogged nobody is paying attention to how much is or isn’t left.

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      1. Aurion

        Well, Drano is pretty much concentrated sodium hydroxide (and some hypochlorite), which is great at cleaning. But it’s completely overkill for the level of cleaning this coworker is doing, because at that concentration it’s dissolving organic material (i.e. the drain clog). It’d be like using a tank to kill an ant.

        There are cheaper, safer alternatives if she just wants to spruce up the kitchen sink. Yeesh.

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        1. Jeanne

          Yes. If I was in a chem lab I wouldn’t worry much about using those things. But I don’t want to eat them in high concentrations and I don’t understand using Drano to clean a sink. Her skin must be abused and the fumes aren’t nice either. (Trivia: Pretzels are dipped in concentrated sodium hydroxide before salt is added. Makes them shiny.)

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            1. Aurion

              At the concentration Drano is presumably in (I’m guessing around 10% or higher)? They’d definitely be in a hood. No chemist (or lab tech) I know worth their salt would be screwing with conc acids or bases without PPE (lab coat, gloves, eye protection, possibly face shield depending on their level of paranoia/directives by higher ups, and all in a fume hood).

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              1. Gene

                If you make pretzels or bagels without the lye rinse, you’re just making rolls. The reaction between the caustic and the starch is what gives them the characteristic crust and flavor.

                And if you don’t want food that’s been anywhere near lye, don’t eat hominy, hominy grits, corn tortillas, tortilla chips, tamales, or any Mexican or Central American stew that might have been thickened with masa.

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                1. Solidus Pilcrow

                  Or lutefisk – lye-cured cod. Tho I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually *wanted* to eat the stuff. Norwegians and their Wisconsin/Minnesota decedents are weird. :)

                2. DMented Kitty

                  There are bottles of lye water being sold in Asian stores – it’s a pretty common ingredient for delicacies. It’s a matter of making sure you use the right amount when cooking.

          1. Talvi

            Huh. Last time I made pretzels, the recipe called for an egg wash to make them shiny. (And a baking soda wash gives them their nice dark brown colour.)

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            1. Friday Brain All Week Long

              Baking soda is basic, just like lye. So you achieved the same thing as lye but in a less toxic way for the home cook to handle.

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      2. INTP

        No official uses. However, I did notice that it lifted all the stains off my white sink when I had a really horrible clog that resulted in the draino being stagnant in the sink for hours before the water drained. So, I can believe that it cleans pretty well, but it’s not worth the danger.

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  7. Gene

    Yeah, that’s not something you want to be ingesting. The liquid version (which I assume she was using based on the letter has the following active ingredients: sodium hydroxide (lye) and sodium hypochlorite (bleach). If, for some really bizarre reason, she was using the solid version, that’s sodium hydroxide pellets and a little aluminum powder so it will fizz and you’ll know it’s working.

    I’ll put a link to the liquid version MSDS in a comment.

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      1. Meg Murry

        Actually, no. MSDS are about safe handling of a chemical, period. While it is true that many of the recommendations are assuming a person will be handling the chemical in large quantities or for multiple hours a day (there is a huge difference between being exposed to certain chemicals once vs being exposed 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for years on end), they are still applicable to small situations like cleaning a sink.

        The MSDS here actually separates ‘industrial use’ and ‘household use’ – but both recommend gloves and adequate footwear.

        Drano is not something you want to mess around with, even in small quantities, on your skin or on your sponge.

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          1. Chinook

            Ditto. In Canada, MSDS sheets are required to be available to all employees who use any type of chemical. The most intense MSDS training I ever took was working for Tim Hortons serving coffee because we cleaned the bathrooms as part of our job.

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  8. Petronella

    +1 to throw away the Drano and any tainted sponges, yourself, immediately. Stop trying to convince your crazy friend to do it and just do it.

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    1. OhNo

      I realize your “crazy” comment probably wasn’t meant as an insult, but please be careful about using that word to refer to someone who (according to the OP) may have OCD. Mental illness already has some nasty stigma and it would be unfortunate if we added to that.

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      1. Engineer Girl

        I realize that you want to avoid stigma. In this case, the OCD is actually causing harm to others. That’s why there’s stigma!
        There’s a point where politically correct collides with harm to others.

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          1. INTP

            In this case, the OCD is likely leading directly to the terrible decision making about cleaning solutions. Someone without OCD is highly unlikely to decide that the dangers of chemical burns, GI trauma, and the like is worth a cleaner sink. Someone who is irrationally terrified of whatever they are cleaning off the sink, on the other hand, might decide that the risk is worth it. I have a branch of my family where OCD runs rampant and they all make a lot of decisions that could generally be recognized as reckless and irresponsible because they are trying to control their fears.

            Reply
        1. OhNo

          That’s no excuse to throw around harmful terms. It’s a good reason to talk to her, to escalate the issue to management, maybe even encourage her to seek treatment. But not to brand her as “crazy”.

          Misguided, harmful, dangerous… There are a ton of other options that aren’t offensive. Take your pick of those.

          Reply
        2. INTP

          While I agree that the OCD is causing harm to others, I don’t think acknowledging that and being politically correct have to be at odds here. You can point out the role of the OCD in the situation without using loaded terms like “crazy.” In fact, “Crazy” is not even a helpful word to use because it’s not at all specific, and there are words to describe what is going on that are more accurate AND less insulting.

          Reply
        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          Y’all, I’m going to ask that we move on from this since it’s becoming derailing. It was fine for OhNo to respond initially but I don’t want it to turn into its own sub-thread. Thank you.

          Reply
  9. GigglyPuff

    Wow, I can’t believe she didn’t burn her hands.
    Honestly after that, I don’t think she should be allowed to clean the kitchen. It just seems to be lacking in common sense when it comes to communal areas. This is definitely a bigger deal than you are making it out to be OP. I don’t know if you guys share the same manager, but honestly I would bring this up, because I feel like Felicia needs to show some serious awareness of how bad this could’ve been before she should be allowed to clean up the kitchen again.

    I mean did she bring this from home also? because Draino isn’t something typically just lying around, I’d think it would be in a locked cleaning closet. And seriously if she did bring it from home…

    Reply
    1. Amadeo

      Your first sentence. I make cold process soap and have seen lye burns and frantically rinsed off spattered raw soap batter from my skin and dealt with the horrible itchy spot for days.

      I have no idea how she’s cleaning bare handed with basically what’s straight up lye and her hands are not severely burned. She needs to stop immediately, that sponge needs to go into the trash and the sink thoroughly rinsed and the rest of the office needs to know. What an awful, dangerous thing to do.

      Reply
      1. WT

        OT – but yeah for a making cold process soap. I am not comfortable with the lye so I just make little melt and pour crafts for kids. But I love all the cool effects and textures of cold process.

        Reply
        1. Amadeo

          Just wear gloves and goggles and treat it with respect and you’ll be fine. (Oh, and don’t hang your face over the water while you’re mixing the lye in, the fumes burn like the devil!)

          I was so scared the first batch I made last year I mixed my lye water outside!

          Reply
      2. Mike C.

        My mother does the same thing, and it itches because it’s still there. Use a light acid like coke or vinegar and it shouldn’t itch anymore.

        Reply
        1. Amadeo

          Oh no, please don’t ever pour vinegar on lye on your skin, it will just make the burn worse because that reaction creates heat. Just rinse it with water for a good while, take stock of what it looks like and see the doctor if you need to.

          I will only ever use vinegar to neutralize lye on the countertop, not my skin!

          Reply
          1. Mike C.

            I’ve done this myself several times and it works just fine. Are you talking about something other than dissolved lye?

            Reply
              1. Jasper

                Why not do both? Rinse for fifteen minutes (or however long you have patience for), then rinse with a little bit of vinegar to neutralise remaining base, and rinse again with more water to get rid of the vinegar.

                Reply
    2. INTP

      Agree that she shouldn’t be allowed to clean the kitchen anymore.

      Hopefully, she just lacks common sense, and that’s enough reason to ban her from cleaning alone. (What other cleaning supplies has she not read the labels on?) But this could also all be much more than what the OP is seeing. I have family members with OCD, and it’s a much more serious illness than it’s often made out to be, and sufferers often behave like addicts in their resourcefulness and willingness to rationalize, bully, or deceive in order to continue engaging in their compulsive behaviors. It would not surprise me if she knew the dangers of drano, has been cleaning with it for much longer than the OP realizes, and intentionally “forgot” to rinse the drano out of the sponge, because the fear of germs or whatever else she thinks she’s eliminating with the drano is greater than her fear of the effects of the drano itself. I would also not be surprised if the OP’s fear of making her feel attacked is because she cultivates a fear of calling her on her behavior (consciously or unconsciously) to avoid being confronted about it.

      I’m not posting about this to say horrible things about people with OCD, but because I think OP needs to be aware of what they’re dealing with if it is OCD.

      Reply
      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

        This is a really good point and a very good argument to loop in the office manager / someone else with authority. As someone who truly enjoys deep cleaning, I probably use bleach more often than the average person, and at full concentration (though not drano, because I don’t want to ruin my sink). But I’d never just let something sit on a surface for an indefinite period, walk away, then return to rinse it later. That detail was quite odd to me, and I agree that her motivation may have been to attempt to sanitize or something.

        Regardless of her motivation, the fact that she left the sink and sponge covered with drano and left the area is deeply concerning, and cause not to trust that she won’t do it again in the future.

        Reply
  10. Aurion

    What the hell?

    Drano is quite alkaline and decomposes organic material, and I would not want its residue on your dishes. Hell no. (Depending on the formulation, it can also have sodium hypochlorite or nitrates, neither of which I want on my foods.) I’m actually surprised she could touch Drano with her bare hands, but that’s besides the point. Ingesting Drano residue is not a joke.

    Shut this down, hard. Your other coworkers will thank you.

    Reply
  11. OlympiasEpiriot

    Why the heck IS there Draino even in a common office kitchen? This is a chemical that is intended for occasional use and preferably by building management or the super.. As a matter of fact, it isn’t even the best thing to clear clogs and many, many older buildings tell their tenants and occupants specifically NOT to use it.

    It is lye, it reacts with the fat in your skin and essentially dissolves it out of your hands. I know of someone who attempted suicide by drinking a lye-based drain opener (different product name, not in the US).

    And if you really need to unclog drains, using an enzyme-based drain opener is best. My favorite is “Earth Enzymes Drain Opener” by Earth Friendly Products. Comes in a white, plastic, cylindrical container and is available pretty widely. Like Walmart and Office Depot in addition to health food stores. Much less toxic and actually works on the things that cause clogs…like anything carbon-based.

    Reply
    1. OhNo

      I was wondering the same thing re: Drano being in an office kitchen, but I’m thinking that others might be right about the possibility of her bringing it from home.

      Even if it is from the office in the first place, it needs not to be. Unless someone is stopping up the sink drain with food every single day, you really don’t need it often enough to keep a bottle in the office kitchen.

      Reply
  12. KR

    Has she ever seen Heathers? I will repeat what the others have said here and say that this is a Big Deal and your boss needs to make it clear to her that she is more than welcome to clean the kitchen but she needs to use cleaners that are meant to do that.

    Reply
  13. Jellybish

    Drano to clean a sink, without gloves? Drano left on a sponge for unsuspecting coworkers to clean their dishes with?? BYE, FELICIA.

    Reply
  14. Menacia

    We have a Safety Committee at my company and I was a member of it for four years. I took that commitment very seriously, and would absolutely speak up if I saw something that was potentially dangerous, whether it be something was broken, someone was standing on a rolling chair(!), someone was driving too fast in the parking lot, etc. If I saw anyone washing anything with Drano (it’s not a cleaner!) I would have said something and even helped them clean up any residue so that no one would be harmed by it. Regardless of your relationship with your coworker, she was putting other coworkers in harms’ way due to her OCD. Where in the world did she even get the Drano? Did she bring it in from home? Yikes.

    Reply
  15. WT

    I have to say if nothing else – items like these are part of why I avoid the communal sponge at work and prefer just taking my mug home each day to clean. The fact that your coworker seems so blasé about the use of highly toxic chemicals around a food prep/clean up area is very concerning.

    Reply
    1. Jeanne

      I would use my hand rather than a communal sponge. Rinse your dishes at work if necessary and take them home to wash.

      Reply
    2. Lily Evans

      Same! I only clean my things with paper towels at work, or rinse them to bring it home later. I also bring all my own utensils because who knows how thoroughly other people clean them.

      Reply
    3. irritable vowel

      Yeah, I just use a little hand soap and my hand to clean my work dishes – communal sponges are disgust-o!

      Reply
  16. Liana

    No. No no no no no. Please bring this up with the office manager, and provide links explaining the dangers of Drano, if necessary. I’m glad Felicia was trying to be helpful, but this is super dangerous.

    Reply
  17. AW

    There’s something about a person being blase about something you thought was obviously wrong that makes you question your own judgement.

    OP, however your friend might feel about you telling them they need to stop, it will not be as bad as a co-worker becoming seriously ill/injured due to her Drano use.

    Reply
  18. AW

    Should the OP also talk to the co-worker who used the Drano sponge? I would think so: just because she didn’t need immediate medical care doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer ill effects and if they did they ought to know why, right?

    Reply
    1. afiendishthingy

      And what the hell, rinsing out a drano sponge doesn’t make it safe for washing dishes! Seriously, OP, this is not about Felicia’s feelings.

      Reply
    2. Emmy

      Yes! I would let her know that Drano is a dangerous chemical that needs to be used according to the package directions.

      Reply
  19. Ruby Jackson

    Drano isn’t just toxic, it’s caustic. Poison. It wouldn’t just cause a chemical reaction if ingested, it would destroy the esophagus. As in, eat through someone’s throat, or drill a hole in someone’s intestines. This could be deadly. The co-worker doing this needs to be shut down. Immediately.

    Reply
  20. Betty Sapphire

    I want to reiterate how toxic it is for humans (and all living beings) to ingest cleaning fluids like this. I was accidentally served Urnex (coffee urn cleaner) in my coffee and I was violently ill for days afterwards. I’m not well-versed on the similarities between Urnex and Drano, but I think Drano is more harmful. I can’t imagine what it would be like to ingest even a trace of Drano. Please speak up louder next time if you see this happening!

    Reply
  21. Nerd Patrol

    As a safety manager, I wish people would understand that it saying something is basically the same as if you committed the act yourself. OP allowed people to touch and eat from contaminated surfaces and allowed her “friend” to cause herself harm by using this chemical without gloves. She also put the company at risk of workers compensation claims.

    Give that woman a pair of gloves and a box of baking soda, and please separate the cleaning supplies from the dish washing supplies.

    Reply
    1. afiendishthingy

      Yes! Love baking soda annd white vinegar, it makes a cool drain volcano and as a bonus it won’t kill anyone!

      Reply
    2. Construction Safety

      S/B: “Not saying something”.
      Yep, just like the folks who love to take a pic of the infraction & email it around rather than immediately addressing the issue, especially when it’s IDLH.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        Yeah, all this about going to the manager is really driving me up the wall. If you see that someone is going to hurt themselves or others you act if you can do so safety and worry about “reporting” it later.

        Reply
        1. INTP

          I think people are focusing on what the OP can do now because it’s too late to change what the OP did earlier. This could become a very vicious pile-on if we all focus on how we feel about the OP doing nothing in the moment, and Alison discourages that. In the future, absolutely, the OP is morally obligated to act in the moment, but for now, going to the manager is important because the coworker may continue to use dangerous chemicals and just avoid getting caught.

          Reply
    3. Lucina

      In my place of work, this would qualify as mishandling of chemicals, and we are supposed to report it to the safety manager. The idea is that every slip in safety is a chance for somebody to get seriously hurt. And if somebody does something wrong, they deserve to be educated, so that they (and the people around them) can be safe at work.
      We also get to see a little movie every so many months, about a guy who lost his eyesight because he forgot to wear his safety goggles, and this colleague who killed himself/ended up very badly and riddled with guilt because he didn’t speak up when he could!
      Do you want to be the person that didn’t prevent an accident?
      By the way, Drano could be kept under lock. Fairy liquid is enough for the dishes.

      Reply
    4. Tacocat

      Additional solution, invest in one of those scrub brushes that stores dishwashing soap. That way people aren’t using the same sponge to clean the kitchen as they are to wash dishes (since the brush is dish washing specific and will only ever contain dish washing liquid, particularly if Felicia gets set straight).

      Reply
  22. Mkb

    This (and several other reasons) are why I never ever touch the communal work sponge. I put dish detergent in my mug and use my hands to wash it out.

    Reply
  23. Newby

    Drano is dangerous and definitely not meant to be used to clean the bowl of sinks. If you feel really uncomfortable just telling her how dangerous Drano is, you could get a bottle of another cleaner that is effective and actually meant to be used that way and tell her that it would be a better choice than Drano (while also telling her the dangers of Drano). My mom swears by the Scrub Daddy sponges with very mild cleaners. She says it works better and is not as hard on skin. The conversation might feel more positive if you can focus on the benefits of some other cleaner.

    Reply
    1. TL -

      I wouldn’t worry about making the conversation positive so much as making sure she knows she can’t endanger other people at work.
      I’m pretty lax about a lot of things – I have indeed stood on rolling chairs to reach the top shelf – and if I see someone doing something mildly risky but only endangering themselves, I’ll tell them it’s risky and ask them to stop. If they don’t, I generally just leave so I’m not a part of whatever happens (unless they’re an intern, in which case it’s not a request.)
      But if they’re going to do something that could seriously hurt themselves at work (Drano counts) and/or put other people at risk, that’s when I stop asking and start saying, “I’m going to go talk to Safety Authority about this.” Putting other people at risk is never okay.

      Reply
    2. Mike C.

      The primary concern here isn’t the positivity of the conversation, it’s about the safety of this person and everyone else working in the office.

      Reply
      1. Newby

        I agree that the primary concern is safety. The letter writer seemed very uncomfortable being confrontational so I was trying to suggest another way to do it that she might make her feel more able to speak up. I have also found that providing alternatives can sometimes make people more willing to change what they are doing than simply being told to stop.

        Reply
    3. TG

      Some things are so egregious that safety trumps etiquette. I would be okay hearing someone tell a coworker, “Hey, stop using Draino to clean the sink!” and “Hey, that sponge just had Draino on it, don’t use it.” And I would definitely want to know immediately if someone were using poison to clean the sink where I’m washing my coffee cup.

      Reply
  24. On Hold

    How do you know someone used the Drano sponge on their mug? Did you see it happen? That’s really a time to have spoken up!

    Who knows how many sponges had touched mugs?!

    Reply
    1. Nikki T

      Yes! I think that would have been the moment that snapped me out of it…

      The Office Manager needs to know now. I may have just gone to get her because I’d need to know where the gloves were in order to clean it up.

      Reply
    2. OP

      Just to clarify, I did not realize that someone was cleaning mug with the potentially Drano-y sponge UNTIL I saw Felicia run over the to the sink to start rinsing out the sponge and start wiping down the surfaces. I put together the pieces myself. Had I known Felicia had still not cleaned out the Drano, I would have intervened.

      And yes, I threw away the sponge myself and got rid of the Drano. I did not mention in this in the letter for space constraints.

      Reply
      1. Mochafrap512

        I don’t want to pile on, but even at that point, someone was DRINKING the drank mug. She could have still been stopped

        Reply
  25. CeeCee

    The smell of Drano came wafting back to me as I read this letter.

    Frankly, I’m surprised that the OP didn’t go rinse out the sink herself and throw the sponge away after seeing what was done with them (when the friend walked away and wouldn’t see) to make sure that it got done and that other people wouldn’t be using it for regular kitchen uses (like cleaning mugs and utensils.)

    There comes a time when you have to put friendships aside and put safety first. What would have happened if the mug-washer became violently ill that day because of it? I’m sure it would be even harder to stand up and admit you knew something was going on once someone was affected by it than it would be to say something before anyone could potentially get hurt.

    Reply
    1. TL -

      Especially since if Coworker went to the hospital, knowing that she had ingested Drano would be really important for a treatment plan!

      Reply
    2. OP

      Repeated from above:
      Just to clarify, I did not realize that someone was cleaning mug with the potentially Drano-y sponge UNTIL I saw Felicia run over the to the sink to start rinsing out the sponge and start wiping down the surfaces. I put together the pieces myself. Had I known Felicia had still not cleaned out the Drano, I would have intervened.

      And yes, I threw away the sponge myself and got rid of the Drano. I did not mention in this in the letter for space constraints. No one reported any illness or side effects—of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel obligated to keep this from happening again. I posted an update below.

      Reply
      1. Mochafrap512

        There could be long-term effects or things tummy issues she’s not telling people about because she thinks they’re from something else. My boyfriend is going through something similar

        Reply
      2. CeeCee

        I read your update below and I’m glad that you’re taking steps to ensure that you kitchen is regularly stocked with “Kitchen Friendly” cleaners and chemicals. I did read that you haven’t notified management yet, however, regarding the incident.

        If I were you, I would say something. Even if it’s along the lines of: “I saw this happen, it seems to be resolved now, and with my suggestion, it shouldn’t be a problem in the future.” That was management has a heads up to keep an eye out for it not happening again, they have some background if someone does end up sick because of it, and they can keep an eye on Felicia to make sure she isn’t jeopardizing her own safety or the safety of others in other aspects of her job. It will also serve to cover yourself in the case that something may come up (so you don’t fall into a situation where people found out you knew about these things but never said anything.)

        Also, a piece of wisdom I’ve always held close regarding friendships: “Being a good friend doesn’t always mean being friendly.” Sometimes, with people we care about, we need to be the blunt voice of reason — the person who says, “I know this is hard to hear, but I’m telling you because it’s important and I care about you.” It might be worth keeping in mind as you continue your friendship with Felicia.

        Reply
  26. Leatherwings

    I’m wondering if OP can forward her some material illustrating exactly how dangerous her favorite cleaning supply can be.

    Mind you, this is in addition to telling Felicia she needs to stop using Drano and speaking to an office manager. Hell, can you forward her this thread where many many people have expressed how dangerous this is? It’ll be uncomfortable, but she needs a serious wake up call. Getting her to stop using the stuff at work may not be good enough – what if she has friends over to her home and the dishes have been drano-ed?

    Reply
  27. Observer

    If you saw your friend leave a loaded gun teetering on the edge of a cabinet with no safety on it, would you say “she’s my friend” and “I don’t want her to feel attacked” and walk away? If you’ve really done your research, you should know that this is pretty much what she is dong. Think about it – SHE LEFT A SPONGE WITH DRANO ON IT TO BE USED ON DISHES!

    Being friends gets her to the level that you don’t consider her a crazy mass murderer type who is *trying* to kill everyone in the office. But, it does NOT get her to the point where you step back and look the other way when she does things that absolutely put people at significant risk. It’s bad enough that she actually used it on surfaces that people use. That would be sufficient risk. But, she’s worse than that – she left it on something that *insures* it WILL be transferred to surfaces that most definitely come in contact with food just before consumption.

    Sure. She didn’t realize. And she forgot and. And she just proved that she is totally untrustworthy with basic safety.

    She put people’s safety at significant risk. And you covered for her. You are STILL covering for her. Why? Why do her feelings merit more consideration than her wilful endangerment of people’s safety?

    Reply
  28. AnonAcademic

    OP, your coworker is basically being blase about potentially *poisoning* people. This is such an egregious show of poor judgement that I would be concerned for her well being and that of those around her. If she cannot distinguish safe from toxic cleaning products and methods, she should not be cleaning a communal area at work at a minimum. I think you need to let HR know not least of all because this coworker has self-identified as having OCD, because if this behavior is related to a disability that’s another layer on top of the issue. It reminds me a lot of how people with hoarding disorder don’t “see” clutter and unhygienic mess but in the inverse way.

    Reply
  29. Lauralk80

    Oh no. See this is why I use paper towels and hot water with dish soap to wash my coffee cups at the office. Plus our sponge always has that mildew odor that stays on your hands for a long time.

    Reply
  30. Observer

    I’m looking at how the thread is shaping up, and I’m afraid that it’s beginning to look like a pile on. I’m really sorry about that, but please take it as an indicator of how serious the issue is.

    Two other thoughts on this. One is that you should really, really take Allison’s comments about learning to speak up and push back very, very seriously. As she says, this is probably not the last time you are going to be faced with a serious issue where you may have a legal, moral and / or practical requirement to rock the boat. You really need to learn how to do that.

    Also, I was wondering why you are so worried about not irking your friend. From what you describe this friendship is not terribly long standing, deep or extensive (like you know her really well and are really, really close.) Yet you almost seem desperate to hang on to this relationship. That’s a bit worrisome for your well being, and it may be something you should explore a bit.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Hmmm, I don’t get that sense from the letter; I think it’s actually so, so common for people to feel the way the OP described when it comes to taking a harder line with someone. It’s why people hint and suggest and feel awkward about even that, when the situation calls for “hey, you need to cut that out.”

      Reply
      1. AMT

        Even when it’s a situation where I definitely, unambiguously need to speak up, my brain is like: BEEP BEEP WARNING POTENTIAL RUDENESS AHEAD, CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK. If I saw someone setting fire to the office kitchen, my first instinct would be to gently inquire if, y’know, maybe it’s a cultural thing? Stupid polite brain.

        Reply
        1. Lily Evans

          “Um… excuse me, Felicia, but is that an intentional flambé, or should I grab the fire extinguisher?”

          Reply
          1. Creag an Tuire

            I’d have the exact opposite problem and probably slip into “parent of toddler” mode.

            “NO! PUT THAT DOWN!… it’s okay, I’m not angry, but you could’ve gotten hurt and had to go to the doctor.”

            Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        And actually, I think people are a little more hesitant to be critical or be seen as harsh when the friendship is newer.

        Plus, she can’t just dump this “friend”–they work together.

        And yes, speak up, and learn how to do so in a constructive way.

        I think so many people only have one paradigm–a scolding one–in their repertoire. (That’s why I love when Alison provides the script and the framework.)

        Reply
    2. Pwyll

      I sorta read this as the coworker being completely oblivious to the fact that Draino is toxic and caustic, and the OP knowing that you’re not supposed to use Draino to clean, but not knowing how incredibly dangerous it is. So, the question becomes whether you make a big deal out of something, with a coworker and friend, in the moment when you’re not entirely sure yourself just how serious of a deal it is. I could understand some trepidation if both honestly didn’t know.

      At the very least, I think I would have googled Draino and, seeing how dangerous it is, thrown out the sponge and followed up with the coworker to let her know what I found out. It’s not attacking someone to correct dangerous behavior, and I think it’s fair to take the time to investigate if you’re not entirely sure whether something you’re observing is dangerous or not. Especially if you voice your concern in some fashion (like OP did) before investigating.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        The issue that’s bothering me here is that the OP says that she did google drano, and sees that it really is as dangerous as she thought. But she STILL is afraid to rock the boat – to “make a big deal” and make her friend “feel bad.”

        I don’t care how common this is. It’s terribly unhealthy. And it leads to all sorts of problems, both at work and in personal areas as well.

        Reply
        1. Engineer Girl

          It bothers me that the OP is willing to put her friends feelings over peoples physical health and safety. I can’t think of anything more irresponsible.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I think that’s overly harsh. She spoke to her and she wrote in for advice about what to do next and specifically said that she wants to do what’s in her power to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

            Reply
    3. SL #2

      One of the things I’ve learned is that the “regular crew” at AAM don’t usually do pile-ons unless it’s warranted. I’m seeing lots of familiar usernames in this thread, all saying generally the same thing. There’s a reason for that. I hope OP comes back and reads all the comments (after reporting the Drano use to the manager, throwing out the sponges, and telling Felicia that she’s put an entire company’s workforce at risk for poisoning and needs to stop that immediately.).

      Reply
      1. Florida

        I disagree. If I had written this letter and started reading these comments, I would be turned off by this blog.
        I understand that Drano is dangerous and it’s a serious situation, but many of the comments have a feel of, “Are you eff-ing nuts?! Are you trying to kill the whole office?!” When people make mistakes, even bad mistakes, and ask for advice about it, they don’t need a hundred comments saying they are crazy. What they need is practical advice on how to do it better next time.
        I would call this pile-on because there are many more comments telling the OP that she made a huge mistake (she must sense that or she wouldn’t have written in) and very few comments with practical advice on how to handle a similar situation next time.
        The “Drano is dangerous” message can be transmitted in a few comments, rather than dozens and dozens of berating comments.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          The thing is, on this one, she can’t wait for next time. The LW still has to act and she has to act NOW. Hence the pile on – this is a big big deal. There cannot be a next time.

          I don’t want you to feel attacked, either, LW -but you have to deal with this immediately.

          Reply
          1. Florida

            Do you think that anyone can read the first dozen or so comments and not get the gravity (and urgency) of this? If you get it after a dozen or so comments, then everything else is pile on. Do you really think OP will act faster if 100 more people say the same thing? (Slower probably because she’ll have to read an extra 100 comments.)

            Reply
            1. Ultraviolet

              I actually do think hearing 100 more people say the same thing could make a difference. If those 100 people were just stating the same factual information over and over, that would be overkill. But in this case the comments basically boil down to, “If I were your coworker I would want you to put a stop to this, or tell someone who could put a stop to this!” And it’s reasonable to react differently if a few people have that opinion vs dozens of people vs a hundred. I wouldn’t necessarily be moved to action by similar comments from twenty Internet strangers, but near-unanimity from 100 Internet strangers would absolutely give me food for thought.

              Reply
        2. AD

          I think people are concerned by the potentially major safety issue involved, which trumps anything else (and which the OP seems unaware of in his/her letter).
          There’s no berating going on, and I’m sure Alison would deal with that effectively were that to be the case.

          Reply
          1. Florida

            Given that the letter is about speaking up when you see something that seems off, that’s what I wanted to do. I respect that you don’t think what’s happening is berating. I disagree and I wanted to speak up.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think it’s a valid point. Maybe there are other aspects of the letter we can dig into instead, now that this one has been thoroughly covered? Like, WHY are we so reluctant to make waves?

              Reply
        3. SL #2

          In all honesty, if the OP knew that she made a huge mistake, she wouldn’t have written in, she would’ve done everything necessary to fix the mistake immediately. I’m not getting that sort of urgency from the letter, I’m getting a “I don’t want to upset Felicia” vibe. Sometimes, 100+ comments is necessary.

          Reply
        4. OP

          Thank you, Florida! I appreciate your kind words—even if i have pretty thick internet-skin and expect commenters to use hyperbolic language. Your empathy is refreshing.

          I think Alison’s response was enough to confirm that my gut reaction to the incident was correct, and today I escalated the situation. You’re totally right that I knew I had made an error when I submitted this letter, and I wanted to figure out the best way to follow up on my original “disciplinary” conversation with Felicia. (What I hadn’t mentioned in my letter is that I did already dispose of the contaminated sponge and the Drano carton—space issues, and the real challenge for me was figuring out how to escalate the situation appropriately.)

          The way a lot of people read into specific parts of my letter is actually also very interesting to me. For instance, many readers took it to mean that Felicia has a severe OCD condition. But as her friend, I’m fairly sure that she is simply throwing around the term. However, I mentioned it because it complicates the way I would choose to share the incident with the highers-up.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            I’m glad to hear that you’ve kicked things up.

            I wouldn’t allow the OCD jokes to get in your way.I’d just not mention it to them. Keep it straight and factual. While I totally believe you that she’s just throwing the term around – it’s incredibly common – it wouldn’t make a difference. Diagnosis in this type of situation is really not helpful anyway.

            Reply
      2. Observer

        You are right that there is a good reason for this – and I pointed out to the OP that she needs to take it as an indicator of how serious the issue is. But, it still can’t be pleasant, and I do feel bad about that.

        Reply
    4. Joseph

      I can’t really agree with the last paragraph. There are a lot of situations, particularly as a junior employee, where it feels weird to speak up. Especially when Felicia essentially countered with “it’s cool bro, I do this all the time”.

      It’s also likely that OP may not have realized just how dangerous it is given that Drano is freely available at any grocery/drug store. So it’s entirely reasonable that OP didn’t want to make a huge stink about it since she worried “maybe I’m blowing this way out of proportion”.

      Reply
      1. KR

        +1 I don’t see this as a pile-on just yet. AAM has a lot of readers and on situations where there is a clear answer , it’s to be expected that many people will have the same thing to say.

        Reply
      2. Florida

        Agreed, especially with your first paragraph. There is actually research about how we behave when someone says, “It’s cool. I do this all the time.” We depend on others so much for social cues. If everyone else ignores the alarm, you ignore the alarm too (even though it could be just as life-threatening as Drano) because you don’t want to be the fool who makes a big deal about nothing.

        Reply
  31. a nony mouse

    Hmm I just watched The Pope of Greenwich Village last week…someone murdered someone with lye (Drano) in their coffee…
    I would not touch anything or eat anything in that kitchen until it is all rinsed thoroughly and, preferably, washed down with a 20% vinegar/water solution to neutralize the Drano.

    Reply
  32. Temperance

    Yikes. I would have thrown out the sponge, because you can’t just rinse off Drano and magically make things safe.

    Reply
  33. OlympiasEpiriot

    Coming back to highlight Alison’s conclusion with a few snips to shorten:

    … it’s really not attacking someone to speak up when they’re doing something dangerous to others…there are going to be other situations in life and at work where a friend is doing or saying things that are harmful to other people — whether it’s sexual harassment or casual racism or trying to cover up a serious work mistake or safety issue, or whatever it might be … people opt out of speaking all the time because they’re afraid of offending… I hope you’ll resolve to speak up, whether it’s Drano or something bigger down the road.

    Not speaking up when you know something is wrong is dangerous.

    Thanks, Alison. Great response.

    Reply
    1. Student

      Any thoughts on when to take something like this to management vs. when to take something up with the person directly? I struggle mightily to figure out when to let things go, when to talk to someone directly, and when to bounce things up to management when I see safety violations. I try to go off magnitude of the issue and generally try to take it up directly with the person causing the issue, but grey areas just confuse the heck out of me. Example – what do you do if you are hearing about the safety violation second-hand? Does it depend on the magnitude of the violation and the hierarchy or not? What do you do if you don’t know who caused the violation, but see that one has happened?

      Reply
      1. Observer

        The last is the easiest. If you don’t know who caused the problem you go up the hierarchy – there really is no choice there.

        Something you heard about second hand – 1. how sure are you of the veracity of the report 2. your relationship with the person who could / should correct it 3. how severe the risk is 4. how many people it could affect and 5. how likely it is.

        Something you know about directly? Same as above, but you don’t have to worry about veracity.

        Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        I think when someone is doing something and saying it’s OK, and you know it’s really dangerous/caustic (literally, and figuratively), you owe it to them to tell them directly.

        They need the counterpressure so that at some point, they’ll stop doing that. So they’ll be safe themselves, and so they’ll stop endangering other people.

        Treat it like an education issue, not a scolding. (Though, feel free to communicate your alarm!)

        If they don’t “learn,” or if you suspect they’re blowing you off, you then -also- take it to management.

        Reply
      3. Not So NewReader

        If I hear of a safety violation second hand, my go-to is to tell the one talking to me that it needs to be reported. (You can’t dump problems on me, type of thing.) If they hem and haw then I will say, “If I see it, it WILL get reported.” This makes the complainer realise there are not a lot of choices going on here. They can report it or I will report it when I see it.OR if the problem is immediate such as the room is filling with smoke, yes, BTDT, I just go to taking action.

        Of course, situations vary and I can adjust my response up or down accordingly, but these are my rules of thumb that I have used.

        Reply
  34. Pwyll

    I used to have a roommate who would clean our common areas with undiluted bleach. I’d come home to see her elbow-deep in a bucket filled with multiple bottles worth of the stuff. I honestly have no idea how she didn’t get chemical burns.

    Reply
    1. AF

      I think these situations are pointing to a larger issue – if someone is so worried about having a clean space that they use the MOST concentrated cleaner they could find (and possibly on a regular basis), they likely have legitimate OCD and may need help.

      Reply
      1. Pwyll

        My roommate was actually in treatment for OCD. Sadly, she also had a severe allergy such that I kept my foods in a separate area and wrapped almost everything in ZipLoc bags so that I wouldn’t cross-contaminate her. So it was kinda sorta understandable. Kinda. Sorta.

        Reply
      2. Leatherwings

        No. Nope. There are a dozen other explanations in addition to someone having OCD – like they’re careless, or uninformed. Armchair diagnoses are not useful and typically offensive.

        Even if Felicia has legit OCD, the advice Alison and the other commenters gave doesn’t change.

        Reply
        1. Gandalf the Nude

          Yes, thank you. Cleanliness and germophobia can be symptom of a particular expression of OCD. That does not mean that all OCD manifests in hyper-cleanliness or that all germophobes have OCD.

          Reply
      1. Liane

        Be careful and check the labels! Some laundry/household bleach (including, I believe, some of the Clorox line) is now higher than 6%. The White Cloud bottle under my sink, labelled “Concentrated!,” is 8.25%. I have also seen over 11-12%, the same as the liquid chlorinator sold for swimming pools.

        Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        At least bleach will eventually break down into salt and water. I don’t think that happens with Drano.

        (and no, I wouldn’t want my whole house wiped with it, but it’s still less harmful)

        Reply
  35. Ultraviolet

    Oh wow, this is really scary! OP, you should talk to your office manager and tell her you saw Felicia using Drano with the sponge that people use to wash dishes, and that you know for sure that one or more times people actually did wash their dishes in the Drano-soaked sponge before it was even rinsed with water. Tell them that you want to make sure that never happens again, and that the whole office should be warned that any dishes washed in the kitchen have been exposed to poison. If the office manager is not obviously horrified, then go tell someone else (maybe your boss?) and tell them the same thing, and also that you told the office manager but weren’t sure they were taking it seriously enough. I realize that in general it would be disrespectful to escalate to your manager before giving the office manager a chance to deal with it, but this is really serious. It’s also very time-sensitive, since acting sooner could prevent more people from using poisonous sponges, or make them safely clean dishes that they washed with the sponge a few days ago but have just been rinsing with water since then.

    Reply
  36. Former Retail Manager

    I believe there was mention that Felicia was smart???? I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. WHO on Earth doesn’t know the toxicity of Drano? Seriously, I mean seriously…..I just can’t even….

    Follow Alison’s advice. She, and everyone in your office, are extremely lucky that no one became ill from her stupidity. Not oversight, not inadvertent error, blatant stupidity. Warnings are all over the bottle and she admittedly uses the product at home and yet she thought it would be good to put it on a sponge that people use to clean their drinkware????? What is wrong with this person!!!!!!!!!! Please speak up before someone gets seriously ill.

    Reply
    1. Belinda

      To be honest, I didn’t know Drano was so toxic. I’ve had someone else clean my home for years.. however would I not think to use it to clean a sink..

      Reply
    2. OlympiasEpiriot

      There’s also the instructions that are on the can, even if one doesn’t already know what to do with it. I can tell you that any time I buy (and even when I use something I’ve had kicking around for a while but only need once a year or so) any new chemical product, including laundry soaps, I read the instructions. It only takes a sec, it tells me how much to use, and all is good.

      People who can’t be bothered to read and follow instructions or questions them if they seem odd really, really weird me out.

      Reply
      1. Julia

        That’s interesting, because to this non-native speaker, smart means having the power to comprehend, but intelligence has nothing to do with knowledge.

        Reply
  37. Nethwen

    This reminds me of a Judge Judy episode between two work friends. Finally, Judge Judy had enough of their lack of logic and, after confirming their relationship with a series of questions, explained to them that just because people are friendly at work, that does not mean they are friends.

    I wonder if people might be more willing to confront workplace issues of they thought of others as “a person with whom I am friendly (an acquaintance with whom one is on good terms)” rather than as “a person without whom my life would be poorer (a friend).”

    Reply
    1. Florida

      I think a lot of people have work friend who are not people you would hang out with outside of work and not someone you would call in a crisis, but it’s someone who you eat lunch with or joke around with at work. These are not people without whom your life would be poorer. But they are people without whom your work life would be less enjoyable.

      There are certain people who find it very uncomfortable to confront anyone about anything because they don’t want to upset anyone or cause anyone else to be uncomfortable. I don’t know whether or not OP is like this. I’m just saying that there are someone people where your distinction definitely wouldn’t matter.

      Reply
  38. Gene

    Note above, I said this is a bad idea, but there is some serious unnecessary fear in this thread.

    There’s an old saying in chemistry, “The poison is in the dose.” The biggest danger here is to Felicia. The small amount of residue left in the sink would almost definitely been harmless to anyone who used the sink later (sink materials are non-porous) and the sponge will be just fine after a good rinse. If you clean your sink with something like Comet or Soft Scrub, you are using about the same level of bleach as in liquid Drano and a very high pH. Many pot and pan spray cleaners, are essentially sodium hydroxide solutions on par with Drano (pH 12-13.5 – that’s why they say to wear gloves and not use them on plain aluminum pans). Most tub cleaners have a pH in the 12-13 range, you don’t throw away the tub cleaning sponge, do you?

    So let’s back off a bit from the POISON CHEMICALZ!!! Drano is a chemical that needs to be respected, but it’s more dangerous to Felicia as she’s using it than to anyone else in the office as it was used.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Look, if there’s even a 1% chance that someones’ coffee mug has drano at the bottom then OP needs to speak up, and speak up loudly. Particularly because you never know what medical conditions people in the office might have. This stuff is poison and cannot safely be used in the manner Felicia is using it.

      I don’t throw away my tub sponge, but I don’t use it to clean dishes either. Soft Scrub and Comet are significantly less caustic than Drano. AND as you said, there is a danger to Felicia. So OP should speak up for her friends’ safety.

      It’s incredible, no matter how serious the subject someone will always show up here to claim it’s no big deal.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think that’s a misreading of Gene’s comment. He’s pointing out, from some pretty reasonable knowledge, I believe, that Felicia is unlikely to be killing people. He’s not saying that this is fine or that the OP should let it all go; he’s posted above saying that it’s a problem.

        We just tend to be very binary when we talk about science and medicine around here, but it’s not that simple. I think it’s okay to point that out sometimes.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          True. But the reaction is reasonable. Keep in mind that it is not just that Felicia is is using this stuff in a way that puts her at risk, but that she is clearly not cognizant of the risk, and it alarmingly careless with a cleaner that is not meant to be in a kitchen.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I agree, the reaction here is reasonable. Although the Drano maybe in small amounts, I say small amounts on top of what else? I hit chemical overload twenty years ago. A small amount of Drano is a huge deal for me.

            We don’t get to decide for other people what amount of a toxic chemical is okay for them. Just because it says some where that X is okay in Y amount, it presumes that we are talking about healthy people. I don’t know too many healthy people, everyone has something. It also neglects to factor in any of one bizillion other chemicals that may be present at the same time, that could exponentially increase the hazard level.

            If Felicia wants to clean her sink at home with Drano, no problem. That is her risk to bear alone. But when you are with a group you have to think about the risk you are exposing the group to. You no longer have just yourself to consider.

            Reply
      2. LCL

        Many, many, many people are taught and use as their underlying working principle to be calm and analyze problems first. They (well me and many others) know that the best decisions are usually made from a place of calm analysis. So our first reaction to anything that is presented as a serious problem is-‘Are things really that bad? Let’s analyze the problem then decide.’ Sometimes the problems aren’t that bad. Sometimes they are much worse than the presenter realizes. But we will always try to respond to any problem, no matter how serious, with analysis and clarification first. Even in emergencies-if someone in our building yelled fire, I would first try to figure out where the fire was so I could decide which stairway to take.
        It is better for society in general for people to think about things before they escalate them. Like, if someone is that familiar with Drano my first thought goes to dog fighting, which is illegal. But I wouldn’t start by telling Felicia I was going to kick her dog fighting a@@.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          If someone in your building yelled ‘fire’, would you stop to explain to them that not all fires are dangerous?

          Reply
          1. fposte

            But nobody’s on fire. We’re having a conversation about the eventuality of fire. And somebody saying “The sprinklers can also go off when a pipe leaks” isn’t downgrading the seriousness of fire. It’s just a factual note.

            Reply
      3. Lauren

        If Felicia wants to poison herself at home she is free to do so. She poisoned at least one person at the office that we know of. Frankly, I’d report it to the office manager immediately (and maybe HR), and if she wasn’t fired I’d stay as far away from her as I could.

        She. Poisoned. People. Deliberately.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          That’s the thing she absolutely didn’t do, because she doesn’t think it’s poison. “Deliberately” requires awareness and forethought.

          Reply
    2. Aurion

      A chemistry graduate student I used to know once said (flippantly, wryly, in jest) “the solution to pollution is dilution!” which kind of applies here.,

      I do agree that the highest level of danger is to Felicia and that Drano will rinse away, but if she’s using Drano as a general cleaning agent there is a chance where she accidentally drips Drano somewhere and she misses rinsing/wiping it. (Or she may be improperly rinsing the sponge, and the next person that touches it may get marginally diluted Drano on their hands). If she accidentally drips it onto a nearby mug without noticing, someone can get a caustic burn. The chance of that is very small, of course; Felicia is the one most likely to get chemical burns. But I’m not inclined to trust her handling of the chemical in this case.

      Reply
    3. LabTech

      Yea, as far as the co-worker’s coffee cup goes, I’d be less concerned about the lye because of how many times it would have been diluted (going from the sponge, to adding soap to the sponge, to washing the cup, rinsing the cup, and adding coffee), and more concerned about peripheral chemicals in Draino – commenters upthread mentioned bleach (hypochlorite) – and any other additives used in the formula.

      One of my lab safety officials mentioned lye can also have an anesthetic effect, which means Felicia’s burns may not be noticeable at first. The other danger would be to anyone who touched the sink between when Felicia “washed” it and when she rinsed it off.

      Reply
    4. Observer

      Do you know anyone who uses the tub sponge on their dishes?

      The reality is that it takes more than a good rinse to properly clean a sponge of Drano (especially if it’s a reasonably good one.) And Felicia left the thing unrinsed, after using a fairly significant amount.

      Whether a sink is porous or not depends on the material. Unglazed porcelain is actually porous. But unless Felicia did a thorough job of washing out the sink, even with a non-porous surface, such as stainless steel, there’s going to be a fair bit left on the surface. And counter tops – where people are likely to put food, are even worse because counters are hard to really, really wash off to get all residue off.

      Reply
      1. March

        +1

        The first thing I was always reminded of by a supervisor/instructor when I entered the lab is that you shouldn’t assume the counters are clean, because there have undoubtedly been a number of spills on them over the years. The undergrad chemistry labs had enough spills on them that they were actually permanently sticky – there’s a straight line on my old lab coat of dirt and gunge and old chemical spills from where I leaned against the counter. Even if you can’t see it, there’s stuff there.

        That was over a number of years, but there’s still going to be residue on the counter surface. Knowing that people probably put food where there’s Drano residue, I’d definitely want the counters to have a few good scrubs with something safe for use in a kitchen, just to get it as dilute as possible.

        Reply
    5. Ultraviolet

      I appreciate the information in your second paragraph, but that “POISON CHEMICALZ!!!” line comes off really condescending and insulting to me! The level of fear on this thread is not so outrageously high that it warrants such a belittling response, or that it could only be justified by the looming specter of death. It’s consistent with a fear of minor illness that could have easily been prevented.

      Bear in mind that most people here probably aren’t worrying about this happening once or twice. They’re imagining suddenly finding out that they’ve been using Drano sponges for years and no one said anything. And remember that Felicia DOESN’T consistently rinse the sponge.

      Reply
      1. Mookie

        I appreciate the information in your second paragraph, but that “POISON CHEMICALZ!!!” line comes off really condescending and insulting to me!

        Right. The reaction in this case is entirely warranted, and “concern” for other people’s emotions is unnecessary and unhelpful. Yes, all matter is chemicals, chemicals are natural, and not all chemicals in all concentrations, solutions, or mixtures are bad or life-threatening. We know. In this instance, we’re discussing someone who has been witnessed applying a product unsafe for human consumption in an off-label manner on utensils used for eating and in an environment in which food is prepared/removed from packets/eaten. This is dangerous and it’s not hyperbolic to say so and doesn’t require mock-exclamation points in response.

        As for the pH being the source of people’s fear: no. Sodium hydroxide is specifically used to treat potable water in order to raise the pH, thereby reducing its corrosive potential and keeping drinking water safe from toxic metals. It’s the formula of Drano specifically and the cavalier manner with which it is being used that people are objecting to.

        Reply
    6. neverjaunty

      Yes, the dose makes the poison. Some poisons need a very small dose to be harmful.

      Drano is not dangerous simply because of its pH.

      Reply
    7. BananaPants

      I agree that she’s not likely to kill anyone with the Drano-soaked sponge, but I still wouldn’t be OK with unknowingly using a Drano-soaked sponge to wash out my coffee cup. If I’d have to call poison control if one of my kids ingested it, I don’t want it being used to wash dishes.

      I handle much stronger chemicals than sodium hydroxide at work all the time, and the “POISON CHEMICALZ” bit was unnecessary. Just because the risk of killing or seriously hurting someone is low doesn’t mean that what Felicia did was OK or that it should be allowed to keep happening.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Fortunately, nobody said that what she did was okay or that it should keep happening. That’s a very different thing than making a point about where the chemical likely fits on the dangerous range.

        Reply
  39. Emily

    I agree that chemical products like that—really, anything not intended for very basic dishwashing—should not be stored in an area that implies they’re for communal use/maintenance of building facilities. I’m pretty crunchy when it comes to cleaning products, but even I use bleach on certain surfaces a few times a year. Still, I wouldn’t touch something that carries as many warnings as Drano does on its packaging, and I’d be alarmed to see it freely and anonymously available in a shared kitchen.

    It’s also perfectly reasonable to still consider Felicia an intelligent person who’s good at her job. Every time I do use bleach, it crosses my mind that generations younger than mine might not be learning the importance of reading warning labels. If I hadn’t been taught in second grade never to mix bleach and ammonia, would I have any idea?

    That said, if/when you do speak to someone about this, you might consider leaving out the OCD “jokes” part of the background. She may, indeed, be joking, and she may not be. Either way, I think that detail distracts from the issue at hand and puts a different twist on the situation. It’s totally possible that your coworker has OCD and needs help; it’s totally possible that she’s making light of a hazardous abuse of household chemicals. Either way, it’s not up to you, or your office manager, or HR to address it.

    Reply
    1. KR

      I didn’t know about the bleach/ammonia thing until I was training to work in a grocery store – in the bagging training videos they caution you to always bag the two completely separately. I’m kind of amazed my dad never told me this growing up, but I guess he had other things on his mind.

      Signed, a 21 year old who is still learning new things every day

      Reply
      1. Joseph

        Agreed. If you’re not familiar with it or have never been told, it’s hard to realize just how dangerous some “common” things can be. The mere fact that you can get Drano or bleach in any grocery store makes them seem much less dangerous than they actually are.

        It’s also worth noting that the bleach/ammonia thing is fairly well known, yet plenty of people who know that still don’t think twice about combining *other* cleaners.

        Reply
      2. Turtle Candle

        I didn’t know until late into my teenage years–my mom had warned me never to mix cleaning products, but hadn’t gotten into the why specifically. So I didn’t know that it wasn’t something like “it’s a waste of product when one will do just fine” or “it might irritate your hands” but was instead “DEADLY GAS.” (I mean, I never did it, because I trusted her judgment–but I didn’t know the why for years.)

        I didn’t know how dangerous Drano could be until far later, simply because we never used it in our house at all.

        Reply
        1. Dangerfield

          I learned about it as a very small child – but not from anything useful, because I used to sneak my dad’s true crime books to read when he wasn’t looking and one of them had a murder committed that way!

          Reply
      3. Elizabeth West

        I knew it, but once when cleaning the men’s room at a restaurant where I used to work, I automatically dumped some bleach into the dirty urinal without rinsing it first and at the resulting hiss, I was like, OMG what did I just do!? IMMEDIATELY hit the vent fan, shut the door, and told everyone the bathroom was out of order.

        It’s easy to make a mistake if you’re not paying attention!

        Reply
    2. Meg Murry

      Along the same lines, you shouldn’t mix Drano and ammonia. Hopefully, the amount Felicia was using was in a very small quantity, and rinsed with a lot of water to dilute it – but another reason this is unsafe is that if no one knows she put Drano in the sink, and someone else puts ammonia in the sink (or a product containing ammonia, like Windex) – there could be an chemical reaction that would be very dangerous. It could damage the pipes, and also cause a gas to form with fumes that can cause serious damage to their eyes and throat.

      Chances are Felicia wasn’t using the Drano in a large enough quantity for this to be a likely problem – but it is a real concern, and the reason you shouldn’t use products like drain openers lightly without reading the package, and why you should never mix different types of cleaners.

      Reply
  40. Cruciatus

    All the other dangers have been mentioned, but another consideration is that the Drano will probably ruin the finish of the faucets, sink, and counter top over time. Had an incident at home with someone using toilet bowl cleaner for the sinks because it did such a good job cleaning off the hard water spots. Well, too good. Over time the faucets started flaking and all had to be replaced. We eventually figured out what was happening but it was too late. Obviously this is less concerning than the toxicity of the stuff being ingested, but eventually someone might wonder why the sink or faucets are all funky or the counter top all faded or whatever.

    Reply
  41. Anne

    As a pregnant person who regularly washes her dishes in our office sink I would be absolutely horrified to learn that someone had used Drano or another toxic cleaning agent incorrectly. Definitely say something OP, Alison has given some great wording that you can use. It can be difficult to speak up but your coworkers need to know about this.

    Reply
  42. I'm Not Phyllis

    Getting rid of the Drano may not be enough (since it’s possible that it wasn’t just lying around the office, but that she may have gone out to buy it for this purpose). She really needs to understand why this isn’t ok.

    OP I understand that it can be difficult speaking up with a friend. And especially one who may or may not have a mental health issue. But you really need to speak up here, and if you’re not comfortable speaking to your friend directly for whatever reason, please do speak to the office manager. Drano is essentially poison, and she could make people really sick. And she most definitely will make herself VERY sick if she continues to use it the way she is!

    Reply
  43. Michele

    I would throw out any used sponges (especially if it’s possible than this Drano incident has happened before) and put in new ones as a precaution too.

    Reply
  44. Darcy

    This type of thing is precisely why I wash my dishes at work with paper towels, I just don’t know where the sponge sitting on the sink has been.

    Reply
  45. nicolefromqueens

    And some of my coworkers think *I’m* nuts for bringing and using my own sponge and dish soap.

    OP, I think that when you (or your OM) talk to your coworkers about this, you should suggest to them that they bring their own sponges in case Felicia does use Draino again.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Repeated from above:
      Just to clarify, I did not realize that someone was cleaning mug with the potentially Drano-y sponge UNTIL I saw Felicia run over the to the sink to start rinsing out the sponge and start wiping down the surfaces. I put together the pieces myself post-mortem. Had I known Felicia had still not cleaned out the Drano, I would have intervened.

      And yes, I threw away the sponge myself and got rid of the Drano. I did not mention in this in the letter for space constraints, and my main concern was figuring out how to best follow up/escalate from my initial “disciplinary” conversation with Felicia.

      Reply
  46. MissGirl

    OP, please don’t beat yourself up after reading these comments. It’s common to not know what to say or how to act when put in such a surprising position. It’s also common to rationalize the behavior or question what you saw when it’s someone you like or respect.

    When I was new in the working world, my company had a problem with cash disappearing from the till. I actually caught a senior employee with his hand in the till, cash in hand. Like you I questioned immediately and was given an excuse. He wasn’t stealing, he was counting. To my shame, I believed his obvious lie. A few months later someone else, who didn’t have my biases, caught him and he was fired.

    I made a promise to myself to always speak up, even when it’s difficult and awkward. You owe a greater loyalty to those who may be harmed than those you protect. You’ve already done more than I did in asking for advice. The next step is to follow it.

    Reply
    1. Competent Commenter

      Thank you for sharing, MissGirl. I can be extremely difficult for many of us to rock the boat by speaking up. It’s a generalization to say this, but it’s especially hard for women, since we’re socialized all our lives to be pleasant and get along and not upset anyone. Also, I think that women’s concerns can be downplayed, so there’s that fear that you’ll report something and be told to mind your own business, it’s not a problem, you’re not a reliable witness, etc.

      I hope other people can share some similar realizations to MissGirls’ to help the OP know that she’s not alone in struggling with this, and to give her encouragement to stand up when she sees something wrong in the future–and of course, to stand up now about this particular situation.

      Reply
    2. Meg Murry

      Yes, OP, don’t beat yourself up – but you do need to go say something to Felicia, and to management as well. Drano is NOT a cleaning product, and employees shouldn’t have access to it – and Felicia may be bringing it in herself.

      I understand the feeling of being new and junior and not knowing how to handle this – you don’t want to get Felicia in trouble, and you aren’t her boss – but you don’t know what to do or say. I’m sure a lot of people here who are outspoken now (like me!) also experienced this tongue-tied, uh, what do I? moment at least once with regards to a co-worker or a person in authority. Heck, since I work in labs, I’ve also been the person who has done something stupidly unsafe and then had to figure out how to turn myself in to the manager so we could fix the situation before someone else did the same thing I did.

      However, Alison has another good post you should read (I’ll link to it, but it will get caught, so search for “should I worry about tattling”) about how reporting valid concerns to managers is not tattling, especially since you are not trying to get Felicia in trouble, you just want to make sure the situation is addressed appropriately and will stop. So please, go tell someone, and then ask if they will address it with Felicia or if you should. But please don’t feel guilty about addressing a genuine safety concern with management – especially since in this case Felicia appears to be acting this way because she is uninformed, not because she is being malicious. Along the same lines (although not as crucial for safety, obviously) you would also want to speak up if you saw a co-worker mis-filing TPS reports, balancing delicate equipment precariously, mis-charging customer A for customer B’s order, or any other situation that is likely to cause a work-related problem in the future. Obviously, when you don’t have authority over someone you have to approach it more deferentially – but as long as you assume a mistake instead of ill intent, and you are acting on a valid concern, it is completely appropriate to do so.

      Reply
      1. Meg Murry

        Here’s the link:

        In it, Alison points out that you should ask: http://www.askamanager.org/2015/03/should-i-worry-about-tattling-at-work.html

        How does this impact our work, and by how much? When something isn’t just mildly annoying but has a real impact, a good boss wants to know about it. When something is mildly annoying but doesn’t really impact anyone’s work, a good boss wants you to either work it out with the other person directly or let it drop.

        In this case, it doesn’t impact the work directly, but it does impact workplace safety – and therefore falls into the “not tattling” bucket. Also, this could indirectly impact your company – if a co-worker or Felicia require medical attention as a result of the Drano, that could have an effect on the workman’s comp insurance rate, or involve an OSHA investigation. In addition, in an office of only 20, having a couple of people out sick can make a big impact on the work for everyone else. So please, handle this nicely, but don’t ignore it, because I’m pretty sure Felicia is going to keep cleaning with Drano if you don’t say something (and part of me fears that even if you do say something, she might still keep trying to do it stealthily, or switch to another harsh cleaner, which is why you need to get a manager involved).

        Reply
    3. I'm a Little Teapot

      I think a lot of people question their own judgment when they see or hear about someone doing something bad or dangerous if the bad/dangerous thing is bizarre, like washing a sink with Drano and leaving the Drano-soaked sponge for dishwashing. You think “Did I really just see that?” I once knew someone who got away with truly outrageous behavior on her job until retirement because the things she did were so weird that people who reported them wouldn’t be believed – or would say to themselves “She couldn’t really have just done that. Could she? That’s nuts, it can’t be real.” I wonder if this was a deliberate strategy on her part.

      Reply
  47. fishy

    LW, one thing I’m not sure of is why you think Felicia won’t do this again. It seems that she’s under the impression that cleaning with Drano is perfectly normal. If someone is in the habit of doing something a certain way and thinks there’s nothing wrong with the way they’re doing it, they’re pretty likely to continue doing it that way.

    Reply
  48. jm

    OP, please find the courage to speak up to Felicia. Maybe find a cleaning product you enjoy using, or one that smells especially good, and introduce that to her as a gentle way of taking away the Drano?

    If someone does get sick, and leadership realizes you were aware that Felicia was letting Drano come in contact with dishes and food prep tools, they may hold you responsible along with Felicia.

    Reply
  49. OP

    In reading all the advice and insight here, I feel a little ashamed of my initial reaction, but also feel more conviction about my initial gut reaction. My office is very laid-back, and I tend to be more of a “rule-follower.” (Worth mentioning that I was always the “goody-two-shoes” as a kid?) I always feel like the one who’s too strict about precautions. At the time, I was afraid my personal knowledge of Drano and its chemical profile was inaccurate, and I was wary of throwing around misinformation just to make a point.

    However, I think it is VERY important that all of my colleagues know they can trust our office kitchen. Sadly, Felicia is currently out for bereavement, so I have decided to try to do what I can for now without involving her or her manager. Today I spoke with our office manager about “selectively reorganizing” our closet of cleaning materials, and focusing on having “green” and “kitchen-friendly” chemicals only. This was well-received, and we are drafting a protocol for what chemicals to use and on what appliances.

    To my knowledge, no one has gotten sick from the incident. I will do what I can to make sure we’re never in this situation again.

    Reply
    1. Mustache Cat

      Well done, OP! And I really congratulate you on reading through these comments, which I know must be a little hard to get through. That isn’t a verdict on you, though; it’s just a consequence of the possible severity of the situation and Alison’s huge readership/active commentariat :) You should be proud of yourself for writing in!

      If it helps, I’m the same way vis a vis misinformation: if I’m only 99% sure of something, and not 100%, I won’t say anything, even though 99% of the time I’m correct. Meanwhile, the people who are 100% certain of themselves, but only 1% correct, are freely skipping about spreading misinformation. Try and speak up anyway, OP! Train yourself to trust yourself.

      Reply
    2. Mustache Cat

      Oh! But! That said, please do try and speak, or get someone else to speak, to Felicia directly about not using Drano. As some other commenters have speculated, it’s totally possible that she may be bringing in her own Drano.

      Reply
    3. Michele

      You have to look out for your staff, not just one person. Maybe do a blanket email saying that for health and safety reasons that eco-friendly chemicals are permitted only. And get new sponges.

      Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      I was hoping you would feel support because of people saying, “yes, this is cause for concern”.

      If anything ever happens like this again, don’t forget you can do something to buy some time and keep the discussion on-going.

      Using the Drano as an example:
      You: Gee, that is a pretty strong cleaner to be using randomly like that.
      Her: OH, never mind, it’s nothing, see?
      You: I think we should look at the MSDS book/google/whatever just to double check. I am going to do that and let you know. [Hold the door open, so you can re-enter the conversation in a little bit.]

      I had my hands in a chemical most of the day. As the weeks went by my hands started tingling. Boss said, NO PROBLEM. I said, “Oh, let’s look at the MSDS book.” We looked up the chemical. “Known carcinogen.” Peach. I said, “I am done with this.”

      In another instance we had Very Unsafe Situation going on. It’s too identifying so let’s call the situation X. I went to my boss four times about X. “This is dangerous, blah, blah, blah.” Nothing happened. On the fifth time I lost my cool. I cited well known examples of numerous deaths. I was livid that our entire group was STILL being exposed to X.
      This is an example where I KNEW for a fact this was BAD and I could not get my points across. I had to keep saying it. After I lost my cool, change happened.

      It’s fairly normal to question our own judgement from time to time AND even if we know something is not right we can still face barriers trying to report the problem. Regroup with facts you have collected and go at it again.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        “After I lost my cool, change happened.”

        Yeah, it’s totally OK to lose your cool sometimes. And sometimes it is what is necessary.

        Reply
    5. TL -

      I would actually mention it to her manager, if her manager is a kind person with good judgment.

      If Felicia stress cleans, she may come back more stressed than normal and stress clean. Having a discreet conversation with her manager can prep her manager for having a conversation with her if this comes up again. If you trust her manager to be tactful, this will probably be handled in a very firm but kind way. i.e., manager can pull Felicia aside in a few days and say, “hey, I know you clean the kitchen and we’ve made some changes to our cleaning policies. I just want to go over them with you because one of our employees has developed a sensitivity to stronger cleaners and we want to make sure they’re not getting frequent headaches.”

      If her manager is a butthead, though, I can understand not wanting to do that.

      Reply
    6. YaH

      It really bothers me that you’re still refusing to notify higher-ups about Felicia’s behavior. Protocol or not, there is no guarantee that she won’t come back from her leave and do something equally dangerous or even more so.

      Frankly, if I were harmed by Felicia’s actions, and then I found out you knew as well and didn’t report it to management, I’d report you to the police as well as Felicia, and even if criminal charges weren’t pressed, I’d still be meeting with a lawyer to find out how to sue you both.

      If you want to “do what [you] can to make sure we’re never in this situation again”, then you REPORT HER BEHAVIOR IMMEDIATELY. Your colleagues cannot “trust your office kitchen”.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        I tink any lawyer would laugh you out of the room, unless you were willing to pay out of pocket. Then a competent and ethical lawyer would STILL show you the door, politely.

        Reply
    7. Observer

      Good for you! You’ve made a good start.

      When Felicia comes back, I think you need to have a chat with her. If she brought the drano herself, or if there is any chance that she will do so once she sees there isn’t any in the kitchen, and you cannot get a firm commitment from her to use ONLY the stuff that’s in the kitchen, you need to have a conversation with the office manager or her manager. If she laughs you off or says something like “yeah, yeah, Ok, whatever” then you know she’s not taking you seriously.

      Sure, she’s not trying to hurt anyone. But, she’s shown that she has terribly poor judgement about this and is also quite careless. So you can’t just assume that all will be well.

      Reply
  50. Grumpy Cat

    It sounds like someone in HR should revisit the company’s EAP policy with Felicia. Perhaps she could benefit from a few free sessions about her OCD.

    Reply
  51. No longer new commenter

    It seems likely to me that Felicia really does have untreated or insufficiently treated OCD that is fueling her behavior and that she is bringing in the Drano herself. I also agree that she probably did not forget to rinse the sink and the sponge; in her mind, they may have needed to soak in Drano for a specified period of time to be rid of contaminants or dirt or whatever she is afraid of. I know from sad experience with family that the person who posted up thread is correct about how similar OCD-sufferers can be to addicts in their determination to take whatever actions they deem necessary to carry out their compulsions. I would assume Felicia will carry on with Drano cleaning until it is made impossible for her to do so.

    Reply
  52. Ellen N.

    First, I want to add my voice to the other posters in saying that you really need to talk to your manager. I know how tough it is to make a friend uncomfortable, but stopping her from poisoning coworkers is the priority.

    I say this from experience. I worked in an office with an open floor plan. In one corridor of cubicles everyone simultaneously got insect bites on their legs. They decided that it was fleas. Our office manager bought flea powder that was not designed to be used in areas with no ventilation. I asked him to get an exterminator, but he wanted to save the money. I and several coworkers got sick. It turned out that the biting insects were not fleas; they were beetles that were in a package of food someone was storing in their desk.

    Next, I think you may need to have a talk with your manager about your friend’s OCD. Untreated, OCD can escalate. If it’s already driving her to clean with Drano, she needs to seek help.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      No, the OP should most definitely NOT have a chat with the manager about friends possible OCD. Even if OCD is really at play there, the ONLY person who the OP might legitimately have a chat with is “Felicia.” The manager has zip to do with this.

      Reply
  53. Turtle Candle

    OP, if you’ve read this far, I hope you don’t feel too ganged-up-on. Everyone upthread makes great points, but reading a bunch of people going “OMG why did you do that, you should have done X in the moment” can be really difficult even when you know they’re right.

    So I’m going to dig into another part of it, which is: why it is often so hard to say things in the moment. (Which it is! It’s far easier to Monday-morning-quarterback what someone else did than to be the person in the moment going oh crap what do I do should I say something should I take it away from her crap crap crap.)

    Here’s where I admit to a story that I’m not proud of. Years ago, when I was in college, I let a friend drive home who really, really shouldn’t have. He wasn’t drunk, but he was exhausted to the point of poor reflexes and poor decision-making, after a long day/night of board games. He should have crashed on the couch or called a cab, and I suggested both of those things, and offered our couch and offered to bring him his car the next morning if he took a cab… but when he said he was okay, I didn’t push it. Even though I knew that exhaustion can be as dangerous as intoxication behind the wheel. Even though I knew that he was in no fit state to drive.

    I can’t pretend it was ignorance, because, I will be honest, during the roughly half-hour I knew it would take him to get home, I was refreshing SigAlert like a madwoman, desperately praying that I wouldn’t find out from the traffic stats that I had contributed to a five-car pileup by not taking away his keys.

    Nothing happened. No five-car pileup, nor even a fender bender; he was fine, nothing happened.

    I would like to say that I didn’t realize before I let him out the door how worried I was going to be, that it was some kind of wakeup call. But I did. I can’t pretend that I thought it would be okay; I knew from the first minute he got up and reached for his keys that he shouldn’t be driving. The thing is, though, that in many cases the human mind is optimized for avoiding the pain right in front of us, as opposed to potential future pain. The human mind is risk-averse, but also fairly short-sighted. The risk of him (and potentially innocent others!) dying because he went driving when he shouldn’t have was way worse than the risk of me offending him by telling him “no, dude, I’m taking your keys, we can call you a cab or you can sleep here but you’re not driving.” But while it was a more severe pain, it was a less imminent and less sure pain. My brain prioritized the greater but less sure and less imminent pain of a giant fiery crash to the very much imminent and sure, but very much less dramatic, pain (awkwardness) of telling him no and maybe hurting his pride or his feelings.

    I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. And I think it’s not just true for me but for a lot of people. “I’ll hurt their feelings now” is easier, I think, for the conscious mind to interpret (and want to avoid) than “maybe someone will be hurt/get sick in the future, or maybe not.”

    I’d like to say that I have some brilliant solution to this conundrum, but I don’t. Honestly, the only way that I prevent myself from repeating the mistake is not some triumph of rationality over emotion–it’s consciously summoning up the memory of sitting there at two thirty AM refreshing SigAlert for half an hour and praying that I wouldn’t find out that my friend had caused a massive accident. I can’t rationalize myself around the “immediate small pain is harder to accept than potential-but-not-sure large future pain” part of my brain. All I can do is remind that part of my brain what it felt like to sit there silently panicking that I’d contributed to a massive wreck. I can’t logic my way out of it; I can only harness the emotions. And that makes me capable of being brave enough to say, “You know what, no, gimme the keys. I’ll pay for the Uber if that’s the problem,” and dealing with the hurt feelings as they come.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ugh, I have stories like this from my past, around college age too. It’s just horrifying to me looking back on it, and I love how you’ve harnessed it to serve a good function in your life now. Thank you for this!

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Aw, thank you!

        I think college age and shortly after is the perfect storm for this kind of thing! We’re on our own for (for many of us) the first time, there’s a lot of unsureness as to where to draw boundaries (especially if we’ve had other people making those kinds of assessments for us), and there’s a strong social pressure to find your people and Fit In, which makes it feel even more ‘dangerous’ to push back. And most of all… we don’t have any practice in it. A lot of it is just practice.

        Reply
  54. Yuck

    This reminds me of the time my husband handwashed the cat litter box with my kitchen sponge, in the sink, then put the sponge back to be used on dishes.
    He didnt understand why I flipped out and banned him from washing litter boxes and his dirty work crap in my kitchen.

    I keep old sponges under the sink and he knows it. He just didn’t get WHY it was a big deal since he had used soap and rinsed the sponge out “really really good”. I said I’d start washing his dishes with the cat crap sponge if it wasn’t a big deal and it FINALLY clicked.

    OP-maybe try explaining that drano is only for clogs. Some people dont understand that different cleaners and chemicals are for different jobs. If that fails, hide the drano. There is no real reason for it to be right there since clogs are pretty infrequent.

    Reply
    1. Yuck

      And just an fyi- I tossed the kitchen sponge, got a new one, bleached the holy hell out of my sink and surrounding areas and then tossed THAT sponge too.

      He thought I was over reacting. I won’t repeat what I said in response. Let’s just say it has never been spoken of or done again.

      Reply
      1. azvlr

        In my family, the person who got banned from cleaning the cat litter would be declared the winner of that chore battle. Just sayin’. lol

        Reply
        1. Yuck

          He was banned from cleaning it in the kitchen. He uses the hose out back now.

          But yeah, I grew up cleaning them every other day (5 cats) and it sucked.

          Reply

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