Over the years I’ve owned many coconut floor/welcome mats, and I have finally come to the conclusion that they are both worthless and evil. First and foremost, they violate their own design purpose – they are supposed to help reduce the amount of crap that you track into your house, but when you buy them they *immediately* begin shedding little bits of coconut husk fibers, so that the area inside the “protected” door starts to look like the floor of the Shredded Wheat factory.
Secondly, the mats themselves are impossible to keep clean. The fibers are so densely packed that any dirt or mud that gets into them is virtually impossible to get out through any means that doesn’t also start causing pattern baldness. If you spray it with the hose, that seems to simply compact the dirt further down into the fibers. If you use a pressure washer it will simply blast the fibers loose from the backing, which will eliminate the trapped dirt, but at what cost?
And a word of dire, dire warning – do not, under any circumstances, attempt to run a coconut mat through your washing machine. Not even for a quick wash and rinse. Trust me. Really. Trust me.
The reason I know this is that, like all men of progress, I was willing to take risks on behalf of my fellow men (and women) and learn hard lessons by not being too embarrassed to end up in a catastrophic failure of epic proportions. Heed the following tale of warning.
Let me begin by saying that those of you who are smirking at the stupidity of attempting to clean a coconut welcome mat in the washing machine, and who confidently presume that such an activity could only end in tears, are suffering from a lack of imagination that is all-too-common, and which is a primary contributing cause of humanity’s failure to solve some of our most challenging problems, such as curing cancer or eliminating the designated hitter, because of our timidity in trying solutions that might seem idiotic at first, but whose true efficacy can only be measured by practical experimentation and the willingness of the experimentor to risk great failure while striving for great success.
In other words, I really fucked up. We had family coming to visit for the weekend, and I was doing some early, proactive house cleaning to try to get ahead of the curve. If you exit the back of our house, you will first step out into the laundry room and from there step out into the back yard. We have three big, rambunctious dogs who have free access to the fenced backyard by virtue of a dog door through the back door. And our dogs show no hesitation in tracking in anything and everything they step in, which is particularly irksome when it’s raining.
In order to try to control the influx of dirt and crap, we implemented a three-phase system. Outside the dog door there are rubber mats, that are in a lattice-like pattern, meaning they are not solid rubber, but have regular openings that go all the way through. These mats provide a wonderful first-stage cleaning station for our inbound dogs, because they have to traverse the mats to get to the dog door. We have two of the mats stacked up and held together with zip ties in order to increase the capacity of the gaps to trap and hold dirt. This step works really well and removes 60%-70% of the inbound crud.
Step two is (or was) a coconut mat on the floor of the laundry room, and step three is (or was) a coconut mat in the kitchen just inside the door from the laundry room. This three-stage setup worked great, for a couple of weeks. But then we noticed that, while the coconut mats were good at absorbing wet dog prints, they were also prone to releasing loose fibers. Constantly. So many fibers that if we vacuumed the mats they would clog the vacuum. I began taking them outside and spraying them down to clean them, but that seemed to only more deeply imbed the dirt into the fibers, while also conveniently loosening more fibers to fall out later.
So, our three phase process was broken – dirt coming in from outside was being controlled, but the cost was coconut fiber husks everywhere.
What I didn’t know at the time was whether or not the shedding of coconut husks was an ongoing issue for these mats, or if it was some kind of shake-out that had to occur, and which would stop once all the loose fibers had been removed. I figured I’d decide one way or the other by running one of the mats through the washing machine. I planned the event carefully, and even accounted for the fact that it might fail miserable, and I was standing by to yank the mat out of the washer at the first sign of trouble.
So, I took one of the mats, put it in the washer, set it on a gentle cycle, and let it rip. The basket filled with water, the agitation started, and stood there watching with the lid open. The water got dirty very quickly, but there didn’t seem to be a huge number of fibers coming loose. I watched it for about five minutes, and things seemed to be working, so I decided to wander away and do some more housecleaning and check on it every few minutes.
What I didn’t realize was that at some point between the five and ten minute marks would be when hundreds of thousands of little coconut fibers would all release at the same time.
When I came back, the washer basket was filled with free-floating little coconut fiber husks. I immediately stopped the washer, flung the dripping, foamy rug out onto the back driveway, and scooped out as many of the fibers manually that I could. I then ran the washer through a cycle to flush the pipes…or so I thought.
What actually happened is that the coconut fibers had clogged the drain line for the washer, so when the washer would drain, the water would simply back up the drain pipe and flood out onto the floor of the laundry room. Our washer drain line is prone to clogging anyway, so I have a plumbing snake there, but couldn’t seem to punch through the clog.
I finally determined that the clog wasn’t at the nearest elbow, but somewhere further down the line. The line wasn’t fully clogged, just running really slowly. I poured four large bottles of drain cleaning gel down the line and let it set overnight. In the morning, voila, it was draining cleanly! Happy ending, yes?
I then went to the kitchen sink to wash dishes, and as I washed I noticed that the water was draining slowly – so slowly it started filling the sink. If I stopped the water at the faucet, the sink would eventually drain, but it was s—-l—-o—-w. Apparently, the coconut husks had managed to backwash up into the drainline for the nearby kitchen sink. I resolutely applied the same solution to the kitchen sink as I had applied to the washer – four bottles of drain cleaning gel, and let them set overnight.
And in the morning, voila, no difference. What? How could four bottles of drain cleaner have failed? I don’t know, but they had. At this point, our visitors were set to arrive later that day, and plumbing problems plus houseguests is never a good combination. I was at the point that all handymen dread – I was considering calling a plumber.
A point of order here – even I find it ironic that I would refer to myself as a “handyman” when I had just done something as stupid as washing a coconut door mat. However, in my defense, I fully expected that the experiment could go awry. I just underestimated the degree.
So, there I was, main drainline clogged with coconut husks. An overnight session of drain cleaner had done nothing. Incoming houseguests already launched and approaching target. Expensive plumbers just a phone call away, but timeliness could be an issue. I wracked my brain for one last attempt at fixing it myself. My brain was racing – the clog was too far back for the snake to reach. The husks were too tough for drain cleaner to eat them. Time was too short for me to start disassembling plumbing. What to do?
And I then had a wild thought – what if I try to boil it out? Specifically, what if I boil two huge pots of water, then pour them down the slow sink? I mean, even coconut husks would have to soften under the onslaught of boiling water, right? Right??
Right!!! It worked beautifually. I boiled water in two of our largest pots. While the water was boiling I let the sinks drain, so that there was not a lot of standing water to contend with. When the first pot was boiling I poured it right down and waited. Nothing. However, I could sense (or maybe it was just hope) that this first pot of boiling water was softening up the coconut, making it looser and more amenable to being flushed away. Once the first pot of water had mostly drained, and the second pot was boiling, I poured the second pot of boiling water down the drain.
And waited. Fifteen seconds – nothing…twenty seconds – nothing…thirty seconds – audible burbling…forty-five seconds – visible burbling in the water…sixty seconds – blurp/whoosh, there it went! Woo hoo! It worked.
Yes, it worked. But it was a close one. In retrospect, trying to wash a coconut floor mat was one of my least bright ideas. However, I feel I offset that stupidity with the boiling-water trick, and so this turned into a zero-sum event from the perspective of my handy-ness.
And to all you who are considering coconut floor mats – think again. They don’t work. They can’t be cleaned. They can’t be bargained with, they can’t be reasoned with, they don’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and they absolutely will not stop shedding husks, ever, until you throw them out and/or douse their progeny with gigantic pots of boiling water.
You’ve been warned.