Cleaning spills on Shabbos

Cleaning spills on Shabbos

Introduction:

Cleaning a spill on Shabbos involves two actions which touch upon a number of possible prohibitions. These two actions are: 1) Wetting the cloth with the spill and 2) Moving around the soaked cloth. Wetting a cloth on Shabbos touches upon a possible laundering and dyeing prohibition. Moving a soaked cloth around touches upon a possible squeezing prohibition. The Halachic details of the laundering, squeezing and dyeing prohibitions will be discussed below and a final summary will be given. Please refer to there for the final ruling.

1.Laundering:[1] It is forbidden to wet a cloth with clear liquids due to the laundering prohibition. This however only applies if the cloth is not designated for this purpose. If, however, the cloth is designated for a purpose which involves getting it wet, such as a cloth designated to filter water or a cloth designated to clean spills, then the laundering prohibition of wetting a cloth does not apply.[2] The laundering prohibition never applies in wetting a cloth with colored liquids, and hence it is even initially permitted to dip a cloth in colored liquids [providing it does not involve the dyeing prohibition[3]].[4]

2.Squeezing/Mifareik:[5] It is forbidden to squeeze liquids out from a cloth due to the Mifarek prohibition[6] and at times also due to the laundering/Milaben prohibition[7]. This applies in all cases[8] even if the squeezed liquid will be going to waste[9], and one is doing so unintentionally but inevitably.

3.Dyeing: It is forbidden to dye clothing on Shabbos. It is forbidden to cause clothing to become dyed, even if one does not have intent to dye them, and is simply trying to clean his hands and the like.[10] Not all colored liquids contain the dyeing prohibition, and it depends on the thickness of the color.[11] Clothes that are designated for wiping may be used to clean a spill of any colored liquid.[12] Doing so is not prohibited due to the dyeing prohibition, as the dyeing prohibition only applies when one is intentionally doing so for the purpose of dyeing, or when done to a non-designated cloth which is common to dye.[13]

 

Practically, in what way is it allowed to clean a spill?

May one soak up a spill on Shabbos by placing a cloth napkin/tissue/rag on it?[14] Any cloth [even if dirty] which is designated for cleaning spills [such as a paper napkin, tissue, or rag] may be placed over a spill of any liquid including water, and have it absorb the liquid on its own. However, one may not rub the cloth around the spill in a way that will apply pressure to the cloth and cause it to squeeze out some of its absorbed liquid. It may only be moved around the spill in a gentle manner. A cloth which is not designated for cleaning spills [such as a cloth napkin, or undershirt and the like] may only be used to clean spills of colored liquids [which do not contain a dyeing prohibition]. However, to cover spills of clear or white liquids, such as water, is forbidden.[15] In all the above scenarios one must beware to avoid squeezing liquid from the cloth in the process of cleaning the spill, and certainly may not squeeze it afterwards. As well it is forbidden to clean the spill for a purpose of using the absorbed liquid after Shabbos.

May one move a wet rag or napkin that was used to clean a spill? If there is a dry area left on the cloth it is permitted to be lifted and moved from that area.[16] If, however, the entire cloth is soaking wet, it is forbidden to move it as doing so will inevitably cause liquid to squeeze out.[17] Seemingly, in such a case it is permitted to move the cloth through placing a knife under it and lifting it up as it is not certain that this will cause squeezing. According to some Poskim[18] one may always move a wet tissue or napkin and there is no need to suspect for the squeezing prohibition.

 

Practical Summary of how to clean a spill using a cloth napkin/tissue?[19]

One may place any cloth designated for cleaning spills on any spill. One may not however move it around the spill in a way that will cause squeezing. One may not place a cloth which is not designated for cleaning spills onto clear/white liquids, or onto dense colored liquids that can dye. One may place it on light colored liquids. If there is a dry area left on the cloth it is permitted to be lifted and moved from that area.

Q&A

May one clean a spill using napkins or tissues?[20]

It is permitted to place the tissue or napkin onto the spill.[21] However one may not rub the napkin or tissue around the spill. However some Poskim[22] allow doing so.[23] Practically one is not to be lenient.[24]

 

May one clean a dry table/counter using a wet cloth?[25]

No, one may not rub such a cloth around the counter or surface as one will inevitably cause water to squeeze out. This applies even if the cloth is only slightly wet

 

May one rub dry a wet counter or table [that does not contain an absorbent table cloth] using a dry cloth?[26]

No, one may not rub such a cloth around the counter or surface. Only synthetic material may be used, as using an absorbent material to press against the counter/table will inevitably cause liquid to squeeze out which is forbidden.

May one wipe the liquid off a wet tablecloth using a knife and the like? [27]

One may only do so lightly, without pressing against the cloth so as not to cause liquid to squeeze out of it. Regarding if one may use a cloth to clean such a spill.

 

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[1] 302/20; 319/13; 320/21

[2] 319/13; 320/21; Kuntrus Achron 302/1

The reason: If the cloth is not designated for this purpose of cleaning spills it is forbidden to soak it in clear liquids due to the laundering prohibition. As if one intends to soak it in the liquid in order to whiten the cloth he would be liable for laundering. Likewise if one would proceed to squeeze the liquid out from the cloth he would be liable for laundering. Hence it is forbidden to use such cloths to clean clear liquid spills. However, if the cloth is designated for this purpose then there is no reason to suspect one may place it on the spill for laundering purposes or come to squeeze the liquid out, as this is the entire purpose of the cloth. [319/13; 320/21]

[3] See The laws of Dyeing

[4] Admur 320/21; 319/13; 301/59; M”A 319/11; 510/16; Tosafus Beitza 30a; Smag 65

This is allowed as the laundering/whitening prohibition only applies when using water and white wine and the like. Likewise, it is not forbidden due to a decree that one may come to squeeze it and be liable for “detaching”, as one is only liable if he needs the liquids being squeezed, of which there is no remote suspicion [here] that one may squeeze the cloth for the sake of the liquids that will come out from it being that [these liquids] are not of any significance and it is not at all common to do this.  [320/21]    

[5] 320/24

The Background:

Squeezing white liquids with undesignated cloth: Are forbidden to be squeezed due to the laundering prohibition even if done unintentionally but inevitably.

Squeezing out colored liquids or from a designated cloth:

It is subject to dispute whether squeezing liquids that will be going to waste is forbidden and practically Admur rules to be stringent.

  • First opinion: In 320/23 Admur rules one may not clean with a sponge without a handle even though the squeezed liquid goes to waste and one is doing so unintentionally.
  • Second Opinion: However in 320/24 Admur notes another opinion: “[However] there are opinions who say that so long as the liquid is going to waste then there is only a Rabbinical prohibition involved if one has intention to squeeze it, however so long as he does not intend to [squeeze] it, even if this is an inevitable occurrence, it is permitted. Their reasoning is because the squeezing [of this cloth] gives one no satisfaction being that one has no benefit from it, and it was only made forbidden to insert Mochin into the opening of the bottle even though he has no intent to squeeze it because the liquid that is being squeezed out from the Mochin into the bottle of which one benefits from this squeezing. However the liquids that are squeezed from the cloth that surrounds the pipe goes to waste if there is no vessel under them, and there is thus nothing to benefit from it for him.
  • The Final ruling: “The main Halachic opinion is like the former opinion, as a sponge that does not have a handle may not be used to clean with even though he has no intention to squeeze [liquid out] and the liquid which is squeezed from the sponge goes to waste.”

[6] Even cloths which have been soaked in liquids which do not whiten [i.e. have been soaked in colored liquids], are forbidden to be squeezed. The reason for this restriction is due to the prohibition of “detaching” which is an offshoot of [the] threshing [prohibition] just as squeezing fruits is prohibited because of “detaching”. However, one is only liable on this squeezing if he needs the liquids being squeezed from the cloth, however if one does not need the liquids squeezed out from the cloth and is only doing so in order to clean the cloth, then this is not similar to threshing at all, as by threshing one needs the grains that he is detaching from the stalks, and therefore this squeezing does not contain a Biblical prohibition but rather a Rabbinical. [320/21]

[7] One who squeezes a cloth [which had absorbed clear/white liquids] until its liquids come out is considered as if he has laundered clothing and is thus liable for [the] whitening [prohibition]. [301/56] However, if it had absorbed red wine or beer or other liquids which do not whiten then there contains no laundering prohibition in squeezing out these liquids. [320/21] If the cloth is designated to get wet then if one squeezes white liquids from it with intent to launder it, it is Biblically forbidden due to the laundering prohibition. If one squeezes it out for other reasons it is not forbidden due to laundering. [So is implied from 320/21 and 24]

[8] Meaning even by colored liquids where the Milabein prohibition is inapplicable.

[9] However in such a case if the liquid is a colored liquid doing so is only Rabbinically forbidden. If it is white liquids it is Biblically forbidden. [320/21] If however one is squeezing white liquids from a designated cloth then it is only Rabbinically forbidden if done unintentionally. [320/24] There are opinions which rule that all designated cloths, or even non-designated cloths which have been soaked in colored liquids, may be squeezed even intentionally so long as one does not intend to make use of the liquid as the Mifareik prohibition only applies when one wants to use the liquid. We do not rule like this opinion. [ibid as stated above in background]

[10] 1st opinion and final ruling in Admur 320/27

[11] See regarding wine: Ketzos Hashulchan 146 Badei Hashulchan 16 number 13; Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 page 352 and 384

[12] Kuntrus Achron 302/1; See 319/13; 320/21; M”A 319/11; Ketzos Hashulchan 136 footnote 11; SSH”K 14/19; Piskeiy Teshuvos 320/11 based on Admur Kuntrus Achron 302; Shabbos Kehalacha Vol. 3 20/20 [p. 295]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule it does not suffice to designate a garment for this purpose, and only by an item which people do not care to dye does the allowance apply. [Avnei Nezer 175, brought in Ketzos Hashulchan 136 footnote 11]

[13] The reason: Seemingly, the reason why a designated cloth helps is because it is evident to all that one is not doing an act of dyeing [or laundering] when using it to clean his hands [or strain liquid through] and it is hence not simailr to the Melacha at all. If however the cloth is not desiganated for this purpose, then it appears as if one is soing an act of dyeing, or laundering, and is hence at least Rabiniclaly forbidden. Alternatively, the reason is because once the cloth has been designated for this purpose it is no longer common to dye it at all, and hence there is no need to decree against dyeing if one has no intent to do so. If however one intends to dye it or launder it, then certainly it is forbidden to do on Shabbos even if one designated the cloth for this purpose. It is only that when it is done Derech Lichluch, and no intent to dye, and is not common to dye that we permit it. The practical ramification would be regarding a urine test sticks, and baby diapers that change color, as explained in Q&A at end of chapter!

[14] 319/13; 320/21; SSH”K 12/38

[15] Admur 302/20; 319/13; 320/21

The reason: If the cloth is not designated for this purpose of cleaning spills it is forbidden to soak it in clear liquids due to the laundering prohibition. As if one intends to soak it in the liquid in order to whiten the cloth he would be liable for laundering. Likewise if one would proceed to squeeze the liquid out from the cloth he would be liable for laundering. Hence it is forbidden to use such cloths to clean clear liquid spills. However, if the cloth is designated for this purpose then there is no reason to suspect one may place it on the spill for laundering purposes or come to squeeze the liquid out, as this is the entire purpose of the cloth. [319/13; 320/21]

[16] As if there is an area that is not wet it is similar to a sponge with a handle which is allowed to be used being that no water will squeeze out from the area he is holding on to. [320/23] So is also proven from Admur 301/59 [Rama 301/46; M”B 301/172] that it is permitted to lift wet clothing if there is no suspicion one will come to squeeze it. In our case there is no suspicion one will come to squeeze the rag or tissue being they are designated for this purpose of cleaning. [see 301/59]

[17] This is similar to a sponge that does not have a handle which is forbidden to even lift due to inevitably causing squeezing. [320/22] One must thus establish the case in Admur 301/59 to be discussing even if there is a dry area of the cloth. However if the entire cloth is soaked without any area, then it is forbidden to be lifted with one’s fingers due to the squeezing prohibition.

[18] Igros Moshe 2/70

[19] Based on Admur 320/21. SSH”K 12/38

[20] Piskeiy Teshuvos 302/10

[21] As they are designated for this purpose

[22] Igros Moshe 2/70

[23] As he claims there is no concept of Sechita [squeezing] by tissue and paper, as it is not truly an absorbent material.

[24] See Az Nidbaru 7/9 which argues on many points of the leniency of the Igros Moshe.

[25] SSH”K 12/40

[26] SSH”K 12/40

[27] SSH”K 12/37

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