A Smarter Way to Clean Your Home

Every home — big, small, apartment or vacation home — gets dirty. And while there’s not just one way to clean your living space, there is a smarter way to get the job done. Take this guided tour of your home — from the kitchen and bathroom to the bedroom and living areas — to learn the basic rules of cleaning as well as some tips and short cuts that will help you clean thoroughly and efficiently, starting now.

Wirecutter, a New York Times company, has spent hours testing cleaning products and you’ll see I reference them when they’ve reviewed products I recommend.

How to Clean the Kitchen

In the kitchen, wiping surfaces, keeping tabs on the fridge and washing dishes every day will prevent big time-consuming messes down the line.

KEEP DISHES CLEAN

If you’re a person who tends to let dishes pile up in the sink to avoid washing them, try this simple trick to put the effort involved into perspective: For a few days, as you think of it, set a timer before you begin washing the dishes, and make note of how long it took to clean up. If you know the task will take just minutes to complete, it will be less difficult to convince yourself to take care of those dishes now.


How to Clean a Burned Pot: To clean a badly scorched pot without scrubbing, cover the burned area with a liberal amount of baking soda and pour in enough boiling water to fill the pot a third to halfway up. When the water is cool enough to touch, head in with your sponge and use the baking soda solution to scrub away the scorch. Dump the solution and wash the pot with hot, soapy water.

The Dishwasher Debate: While there isn’t an absolutely correct way to load a dishwasher (and what would couples bicker over if such a directive were carved in stone?), there is one universal rule: It is much easier to load from back to front.

CLEAN YOUR SINK

The sink, especially the faucet, can be wiped free of bacteria and food particles with an all-purpose cleaner. And we all should probably clean the faucet more often, considering it’s something we touch with raw-chicken-covered hands.

Sponges should be cleaned frequently, too, either by running them through the dishwasher or microwave. If you use a microwave, first make sure the sponge does not contain any metal, then get the sponge very wet and nuke it for two minutes; be careful when you remove it, as it will be quite hot.

Has your sponge holder developed mold or bacterial buildup? Use a toothbrush dipped in bleach or white vinegar — but never both, as the combination creates a dangerous chemical reaction — to scrub away mold. Follow by washing the sponge caddy with hot, soapy water or run it through the dishwasher.

KEEP SURFACES CLEAN

Wipe your counter and stovetops with an all-purpose cleaner after use. Stovetops in particular benefit from this type of regular, quick cleaning, as splatters, drips and grease become baked on when left too long.

How to clean a stovetop: Something tough will be required to scour away baked-on splatters and greasy film. A Dobie Pad, which is a nonscratch scrubbing sponge, combined with a gentle powder cleanser will make short work of stubborn messes. When cleaning stainless steel, scrub with the grain, rather than in a circular motion, to avoid scratching, and use a gentle touch, allowing the product, rather than force, to do the bulk of the cleaning work.

How to clean small appliances: The exterior of small appliances like toasters, coffeemakers and blenders that sit out on countertops should be wiped frequently using all-purpose cleaners to prevent the buildup of splatters and greasy film from cooking. For deeper cleaning, take off all removable parts and wash it by hand or in the dishwasher. Give the exterior a once-over with all-purpose cleaner using tools like cotton swabs or an old toothbrush to get into tight corners and other hard-to-reach spots.

TACKLE THE REFRIGERATOR

An easy way to keep tabs on a refrigerator is to add one simple task to your trash day routine: 

When bagging up the garbage, open the fridge and eye its contents. Are there leftovers that have gone bad? Toss them. Has any produce liquefied in the crisper drawer? Dump it. Are the last few eggs in the carton about to go off? Make a note to have omelets for dinner, and congratulate yourself for being mindful of not wasting food.

How to Clean Spills in the Refrigerator: When sticky spills happen in the fridge or pantry, make short work of cleaning them by making a compress of sorts. Soak a sponge or rag in very hot water (mind your hands) and wring it so that it’s not dripping. Then, press it onto the sticky spot until the compress begins to lose its heat. If the sticky spill has loosened sufficiently, wipe it away; if it’s still clinging stubbornly, repeat as needed until the substance loosens up, and then wipe clean.

TAKE OUT THE TRASH IN A TIMELY FASHION

Here is a hard truth: Time will not make your trash situation better. Take care of it now.

MORE ON KEEPING YOUR KITCHEN CLEAN

Maintaining Pots and Pans

Treat your pans nicely or they might take revenge on your food.

Putting Your Kitchen on a Diet

How decluttering your kitchen can improve your health.

Would the City Shut Down Your Kitchen?

Even the most fastidious home cook in New York City may not make the grade under the health department’s restaurant inspection system.

How to Clean the Bathroom

If ever there was a place where regular cleaning — once a week, once every other week, depending on use — makes your life better, it’s in the bathroom. Wait longer, and it turns into a disgusting job.

SCRUB THE SHOWER AND/OR TUB, SINK AND TOILET

Many products designed for cleaning the shower and/or tub, sink and toilet do much of the work for you, provided you let them. The instructions will tell you how best to apply a product, and for how long to let it work before wiping or scrubbing away. It’s always a good idea to test a new product on an inconspicuous spot to ensure that it doesn’t cause discoloration.

How to clean tile and grout: Let the product do the work for you. Apply a mold- and mildew-eliminating product and let it penetrate the grout before hitting the surface with a stiff-bristled scrub brush. This will make much shorter work of what can be a tedious and exhausting chore.

How to remove soap scum: Water spots and soap scum that build up on glass shower doors can drive you crazy, but try this strange tip: Wet a dryer sheet and scrub the glass in a circular motion. A milky white film will form, which can be wiped away using water and a squeegee, paper towels or a microfiber cloth. The dryer sheet doesn’t need to be new; you can press a dryer sheet that’s been used for laundry into double duty for this task.

HAIR MANAGEMENT

Hair is a particular issue in bathrooms. In general, hair pickup should be a dry proposition. Start by vacuuming, sweeping or dry mopping; if you introduce, say, a wet mop to a hairy floor, you’ll end up with wet strands stuck to the floor. In the sink and around the toilet bowl, use paper towels or rags to pick up hairs before you introduce liquid cleansers.

How to keep bathroom floors clean: Store a small handheld vacuum in the bathroom to make staying on top of loose hairs a cinch.

MORE ON HOW TO KEEP THE BATHROOM CLEAN

What Should I Do About My Moldy Bathroom?

In the bathroom, a room the British call the water closet for good reason, eliminating water isn’t viable. Cutting off food, though, is.

How to Be Mindful While Cleaning the Bathroom

Can you be mindful while scrubbing the toilet?

How to Clean Your Bedroom

A little effort makes a big difference in the bedroom. Simply making the bed and moving mugs and glasses to the kitchen every the morning will do wonders for creating the appearance of a tidy bedroom.

MAKE YOUR BED

At the risk of unleashing your latent sullen teenager, it must be said that making the bed every day is a good habit. Would you like some reasons?

  • It makes the bedroom look pulled together, and that’s nice to come home to.
  • If you have pets, making the bed helps to keep hair, dander and drool off your sheets.
  • Turning down the bed at night is a ritual that can signal to the brain that it’s time for sleep.
  • Getting into a made bed just feels so good!

It’s also worth saying this: Many people think that making the bed is a waste of time, and that’s O.K. We’re not all moved by the same things, and what a tidy-looking bed does for one person may not do a single thing for another.

If you prefer to let the bedlinens air out during the day, make the bed with the sheets exposed by folding the blanket and top sheet halfway down toward the foot of the bed.

How to make a hospital corner: Do you love a tightly tucked bed? Hospital corners are easy to master, once you know the steps to take:

  1. Spread the flat sheet over the bed, with overhang on the sides and foot of the bed.
  2. Starting at the foot of the bed, tuck the sheet tightly under the mattress.
  3. Take the sheet on one side of the bed and lift it up, creating a 45 degree fold up the side of the mattress. Then, tuck the excess fabric under the mattress.
  4. Bring the lifted portion down, square the lines with the corner of the mattress and tuck it tightly.
  5. Repeat on the other side of the bed.

HOW OFTEN YOU SHOULD WASH YOUR SHEETS

Ideally, the bed should be made with a clean set of sheets once a week or once every other week. The timing depends on a whole bunch of factors, such as:

  • Do you sleep in the nude?
  • Are there multiple people sleeping in your bed?
  • Are you frequently having sex in the bed?
  • Are you a person who sweats at the night?
  • Are children co-sleeping with you?

If you answer yes to a few of these, you should consider changing your sheets more often. The choice also depends on how much time you have for the chore, and on how much you care about having clean sheets on the bed.

To make the job of stripping the sheets and remaking the bed seem less terrible, consider the reward: Later that night, you’ll get to slip into fresh sheets. Fresh Sheet Day is worth the work.

PUT CLOTHES AWAY

Make putting away your freshly laundered clothes part of laundry day. You wouldn’t bring bags of groceries into the house, set them down in front of the refrigerator and call it a day. Same with clean clothes: Part of laundry duty is putting them away.

KEEP SURFACES CLEAN

A feather duster may seem like a relic of the past, but in a bedroom — where we often use dresser tops and bedside tables to store books, eyeglasses, remote controls, etc. — that duster will make quick work of eliminating dust from knickknack-laden surfaces. The nature of gravity being what it is, dust first, vacuum second.

If you enjoy a cup of tea in the evening, or leave a glass of water by the bed in case you get thirsty in the night, make a habit of moving it to the kitchen in the morning to prevent dirty dishes from littering your bedroom by the end of the week.

Invest in a bedside table that has a drawer. It will allow you to stash small items like hand cream and lip balm so that they’re not cluttering up surfaces.

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How to Clean the Living Room

The name of the game in the living room is tidying and straightening.

REMOVE THAT WHICH DOES NOT BELONG

The nature of the living room being what it is, items that do not necessarily belong in the living room often make their way in there. Items such as dirty socks, wine glasses and even Krazy Glue eventually should be put in their rightful places (the hamper, dishwasher and tool box, respectively).

STRAIGHTEN AND SQUARE

Don’t underestimate the impact that taking a minute or two to fluff cushions, fold throw blankets and straighten decorative pillows can have on the look of your living room. Similarly, squaring up stacks of magazines and books is a fast and easy way to create the appearance of a tidy space. A quick pass of the feather duster over bookshelves and coffee tables will help get rid of dust with little fuss; microfiber cloths will eliminate fingerprints and smudges in a flash.

HOW TO CLEAN A COUCH

Your couch has a secret. Upholstered furniture comes with a code that should be used to determine what products should be used to clean it. The code can be found on the care tag, which is usually on the underside of the piece of furniture. It will read either W, S, SW or X. That code can be interpreted as follows:

  • W = Wet/water cleaning only. You can clean these with a number of methods: diluted dish soap and a rag, upholstery cleaner or upholstery cleaning machines.
  • S = Dry solvent cleaning only. Use a specialized upholstery cleaner for these fabrics, as water-based cleaners can cause damage.
  • SW = Dry solvent and/or wet cleaning. You can use either wet or dry solvent methods.
  • X = Professional cleaning or vacuuming only. These couches should only be vacuumed, and you’ll have to find a professional to tackle stain removal. If you have children, pets, and/or an active social life, please avoid purchasing an X-code couch.

Black & Decker FSMH1321 7IN1 steam-mop

The 7IN1 part of the name tells you that the Black & Decker FSMH1321 7IN1 steam-mop is a versatile product: it can handle everything from mopping floors to hand-held detail work. With plenty of tools in the box, it’s a great product for the price.

The main unit has a large attachable pole and floor cleaner, but you get a wide selection of nozzles including brushes, a window squeegee and a microfibre cloth for cleaning upholstery. Floor performance was excellent, with the pad picking up lots of grime from tiles and laminate flooring. The short cable proved slightly annoying in handheld mode for cleaning windows, although the results were good bar the water runoff at the bottom. Upholstery performance was very good, too.

The short cable is a little annoying, as is the leaky filler cap. And, the floor mop tends to pick up dirt in concentrated areas, meaning you have to swap out the cloth regularly. Still, all of these issues can be forgiven for the price, and the Black & Decker FSMH1321 7IN1 steam-mop is a great budget choice.

Here’s How to Clean Your House More Efficiently

few years ago, I found out that I’ve been cleaning my home all wrong. I was in a hotel room, when a maid came in and sprayed a solution on every surface…and then left. Right when I thought she’d forgotten, she returned. She wiped for less than two minutes with a thin dry cloth, and the whole place sparkled. It had, frankly, never occurred to me to let one solution do all the work, so I asked her what she’d used. It was something called Butcher’s Bath Mate—an industry standby.

Pro cleaners have brilliant tricks to get the job done. We asked three pros to school us on how to clean every room of the house much more efficiently. Plus, get their can’t-live-without-it cleaning supplies and top dos and don’ts.

The Best Way to Clean Your House

The biggest mistake people make is cleaning room by room (this is called “zone cleaning”). It’s much too slow! “You can either clean your kitchen in four hours, or clean your entire house top to bottom in four hours,” says Lisa Romero, owner of Just Like New Cleaning in Fort Collins, Colorado. “A lot of people get caught focusing on one area—say, doing a super job cleaning the counters—and never get to the stove, let alone the next room. In reality, just wiping things down and moving on is quick and efficient.” GETTY IMAGES

Most pros are in favor of “task cleaning”: completing one chore, such as dusting, throughout the entire house, before starting the next. “You’ll do a little more walking, so it’s a good workout,” says Ronald Payne, owner of RZJ Janitorial Services in Plano, Texas, “and I find that it’s faster because you’re in a mindset to keep moving.” Follow these seven steps and your whole house will sparkle in four hours if you’re a beginner, two and a half once you become a pro. Need an even quicker method? Check out our tips for cleaning your house in only an hour, or our speed-cleaning guide for just 30 minutes.

Our Ultimate Cleaning Guide

The recommended plan of attack? Top-to-bottom, left-to-right. “I always start [in the upstairs bathroom],” says Romero. “It’s a good place to leave supplies.”

For each task, start at the highest point in the room (if dusting, this might mean high shelves), and move from left to right across the room. This way, you don’t miss anything, and you won’t accidentally knock dust onto already-cleaned lower shelves. GETTY IMAGES

Step 1: Dust Your House

Dust each room, including the topsides of all the furniture, undersides of shelves, and all handrails, as well as picture frames, TV screens and knickknacks. “When it’s possible to dry-dust, I do—getting something wet makes it harder,” says Romero. To get rid of fingerprints, dampen a microfiber cloth with warm water.

Pro cleaning tip: Look up top. “People don’t dust up on the very top of furniture, and that’s where all the dust collects and then falls off,” says Romero.

Step 2: Clean Furniture Fabric

Go through the house and strip and remake beds; neaten any pillows or furniture blankets. Brush furniture surfaces with a vacuum extension as needed.

Step 3: Clean Mirrors and Glass

Wipe down mirrors and windows throughout the house.

Pro cleaning tip: Using one wet and one dry microfiber cloth won’t leave streaks. GETTY IMAGES

Step 4: Clean Surfaces

Wipe down all surfaces and counters throughout the house, disinfecting as necessary.

Pro cleaning tip: Be sure to wipe down all places that fingers touch, like door handles, light switches, TV remotes and phones. “Those are the places that people forget, and they really hold germs,” says Payne.

Step 5: Clean the Kitchen and Bathroom

Walk through and spray cleaner on tubs, sinks and toilets. Return and scrub. Then, in the kitchen, wipe down the inside of the microwave, and cabinet and appliance doors. GETTY IMAGES

Step 6: Clean Floors

Sweep, then mop or scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors, and any other floor that needs it.

Pro cleaning tip: “I always do bathroom floors on my hands and knees with a microfiber cloth and cleanser,” says Romero. “That’s how I know that I got every corner, even behind toilets, and that they’re 100% disinfected.”

Step 7: Vacuum the House

“I vacuum my way out the bedrooms, down the stairs, through the living room and out of the house,” says Romero.

Pro cleaning tip: It’s not crucial to vacuum every single inch. Just keep moving. You’ll get the spots you missed next week.

5 Cleaning Supplies the Pros Can’t Live Without

  1   2   3   4   5

PACK OF MICROFIBER TOWELS

$13 for 24-pack

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“I’ve saved thousands of dollars on paper towels and window cleaner since I started using microfiber,” says Lisa Romero, owner of Just Like New Cleaning in Fort Collins, Colorado. Make sure to buy good-quality cloths, usually around $1 per cloth from a janitorial supply store, and never wash with dryer sheets or fabric softener. 

Pro tip: Before using a cleaning product for dusting, try just warm water and the microfiber. “It usually works,” says Romero.

AMAZON

Karcher SC5 easyFix Premium Steam Cleaner

Yes, it’s expensive, but there’s a good reason for that: the Karcher SC5 easyFix Premium Steam Cleaner is the best cleaner that we’ve tested. With its near 2-litre capacity, 2kW+ heater and powerful VapoHydro mode, this is a steam cleaner that can handle everything.

Variable steam control power lets you control the SC5’s output, so you can tackle more delicate jobs. It’s the VapoHydro that really grabs attention: this mode mixes water with steam, giving a kind of pressure-washer action.

Karcher provides accessories for almost every job. There’s an Easyfix floor mopping head complete with washable microfibre cloths and a carpet glider. A large square brush gives you power for tough cleaning. And, a detail nozzle which takes a small round brush, small detail brush and power nozzle. In fact, the only thing missing is a window cleaning tool.

On all surfaces from hard floors and carpets, to tiles and window sills, the SC5 proved itself to be a powerful performer, shifting stubborn dirt. And, it can do it at speed; in fact, we’ve never seen a steam cleaner that can clean a hard floor so quickly.

For all-round cleaning ability, the Karcher SC5 easyFix Premium Steam Cleaner is the ultimate choice.