Need to improve my house cleaning skills
February 12, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I want to improve my house cleaning skills... improve my speed, efficiency, thoroughness, etc. And use the best cleaning products for the task.

In the past, we used a cleaning service. Now I have more time than money. It's my job to keep our house clean. I dislike these chores. It occurs to me I would like house cleaning better if I were good at it.

All I know about cleaning is what I learned on TV. "Buy Windex!" "Buy Swiffer" etc. There are many cleaning expert books and web sites. But most of them are selling a cleaning product.

Dear AskMeFi Hive,
Can you recommend resources that for good sensible advice and techniques. What are the best non-harsh cleaning products? I have a closet full of expensive products and tools that don't seem to work right.

Martha Stewart's cleaning advice makes me uncomfortable. Her instructions are so extensive and exacting. She acts as if you have all day to make a bed. (I do like Martha's recipes.)
posted by valannc to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 15 Minute Clean-ups plus Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House have done it for me. I print out the 15 minute clean-up for each room and leave a physical copy somewhere discreet (under a couch cushion, in a drawer), so I have a cheat sheet nearby. Home Comforts is great for the big picture. Kind of Martha-ish, but very practical and not dogmatic.

I believe HC also has recommendations for DIY products, but basically water, vinegar, and baking soda are your friends. Add essential oils to give them a nice smell. I happen to like some of the Method and Mrs. Meyers products. Micro-fiber cloths for dusting and surface cleaning.

You may get answers recommending the Fly Lady, and if her approach works for you, by all means use it. Her site is so disorganized that I can't believe her advice on cleaning would be effective.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2009 [5 favorites] is good, if a bit cultish. Disclaimer: IDNHACH (I Do Not Have A Clean House.)
posted by artychoke at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2009

I use "multi-surface cleaner" (e.g. Windex) on just about everything - counters, stovetop, toilet, sink, what have you. Works better than a lot of the expensive junk my roommate buys. The one exception is that shower stuff that you spray in after each use; I actually like it, if I can remember to use it.

The process that works best for me is to use a clean-as-you-go mentality. It splits things up into really tiny segments that won't frustrate you. So, if I'm cooking for example I'll wash the dishes as the pot is simmering and then wipe down the countertops. Sweep the floors once every few days, depending on how much road cruft has been dragged in. Basically, don't do it all in one go; just do a little bit each day and things should stay moderately clean.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:22 PM on February 12, 2009

Flylady has some good tips for cleaning and household work/organization. It's maybe a good starting point, but don't feel like you have to do EVERYTHING she suggests - it's just a good way to get some ideas rolling around.

My approach is this: Do what you can when you can.

1. When my kids are taking a bath and I'm in there keeping an eye on them, I'm also taking a few minutes to clean the sinks and the toilet and empty the trash can in there.

2. Don't go to bed until the kitchen is clean. Have all the dishes washed, dried and put away. It's so nice to wake up in the morning to a clean kitchen.

3. De-clutter. Seriously. We recently moved and I made sure to de-clutter the house before putting it on the market. I can not stress enough how much easier it was to keep the house clean when it was de-cluttered.

4. Vacuum the high traffic areas once a day. Not a big deal - but it forces you to pick your stuff off the floor. Seeing those vacuum lines will make you smile, too!

5. Keep cleaners VERY handy. If you have more than one bathroom - make sure you have cleaners in each bathroom so that not having cleaners on hand can't be your excuse. Same with the kitchen. Have your kitchen cleaners in the kitchen. The right tools can make a difference. That doesn't mean you need fancy stuff, but if you have windows and mirrors in the house, make sure you have window cleaner and paper towels handy.

As for non-harsh cleaners - vinegar or good old soapy water. I hate swiffers. I think they suck. You may love them. My cleaning supplies consist of a Libman microfiber mop, some Windex for windows, mirrors and my laminate floors. I also use lemon pinesol stuff for toilets, bathroom countertops and tubs/showers. I have a small sponge for the countertops and bathtub and a scrubby brush for the toilets. That's it.

Perhaps making a schedule would help you. Mondays = laundry - where you only focus on doing the laundry. Tuesdays = scrubbing the bathrooms, etc.

Best of luck!
posted by Sassyfras at 5:28 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

One tip that I learned how to deal with all the random *stuff* that the kids (and DH) drag throughout the house: I wear a gardening apron with 4 pockets or so (I got mine at Hobby Lobby), and if I find a hairbow, loose change, etc that needs to go to another area of the house, I put it in a certain pocket and then empty when I get to that room. Saves so much time from running back and forth.
posted by texas_blissful at 5:33 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

decluttering: Use a box or basket, and toss everything that dosen't belong in this room into it. Take it with you from room to room, and deposit/withdraw things as you go. The time saved in not shuttling back and forth is pretty big.

Which is a subset of the larger problem: A place for everything, where it's convenient.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:40 PM on February 12, 2009

Personally I feel that the best cleaning products are a rag, elbow grease and baking soda. That way I don't have to deal with getting rid of household chemicals and their containers, not to mention handling them when cleaning, and storing them, and cleaning off the bottles when they leak. Unless your house gets exceptionally dirty you don't really need any chemicals.

I keep my house pretty clean and I spend less than an hour a day on it. There's 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 kitchen and 1 open plan living/dining room. Granted, we're only 2 people + 2 housemates who share the kitchen.

I find that taking care of messes immediately saves a lot of time later. E.g. washing a dirty plate right away so you can rinse it and swipe it quickly with a sponge instead of having to scrub it, putting away dishes as soon as they dry, minimising the amount of cooking utensils used (and reusing utensils when you cook), doing laundry regularly, picking up crumbs and wiping up spills immediately, wiping off counters and walls regularly (before the stains/fingerprints/spills set), wiping off windows, surfaces etc regularly.

I keep a dishrag on a counter on the kitchen and use it to wipe up anything that needs to be wiped up. We used to go through a roll of paper towels a week, and now we hardly use them.

The key is to create minimal dirt, and clean it up right away, so you never have to spend hours scrubbing every dust-encrusted surface in the house. :P I vacuum every couple of days or so (mostly for hair and dust) and that's the only "chore" that I really notice. Any other mess is cleaned up as it is made.

Here's a site I found on AskMefi earlier today.
Personally I feel she goes a little overboard, but there are some good tips in there.

Things should get easier once you devise a routine that will work for your house. :) Good luck!
posted by Xianny at 5:43 PM on February 12, 2009

My favourite cleaning products are for most of the house: a sponge (or equivalent) and water (dust, dirt, muck in general); a sponge and dish detergent (harder to shift stuff); a sponge and disinfectant (bodily fluids).

I have wood floors and eschew rugs, carpets and knickknacks to cut down on cleaning. Once a week, I go through the house and put back anything necessary (newspapers, books, games, etc). Then I wipe down surfaces to get rid of dust (damp sponge). Then I vacuum, floor, couches, walls & ceilings (if the spiders are getting out of hand), and follow through with a hot mopping with a floor cleaner designed to work with polished wood floors and not requiring any pretreatment with ammonia, nor rinsing. Ta da!

* Kitchen gets cleaned after dishes, with sponge and dish detergent. Fridge gets emptied say quarterly, wiped down with dish detergent and water on a sponge, and occassionally a splash of vanilla essence for some nice smell.
* Bathroom gets some heavy duty cleaner and I haven't found one that's better than another, and I use a nylon scrubber for the tiles. (In Australia, bathroom & toilet are separate rooms)
*Toilet mostly gets disinfectant, and sponge (disposed of later), and within the bowl, toilet cleaner and a scrub.
*I make my bed daily by pulling up the quilt/comforter/whatever you want to call it, and change my sheets weekly, the bottom one being fitted so as to stay on through the week.

Total cleaning products
Supply of sponges - I like chux but a rag would do.
Floor cleaner - whatever
Disinfectant - generic
Toilet cleaner - generic
Bathroom cleaner - generic.

People in my family rarely get sick, so it looks like I'm keeping just enough germs to keep their immune system up and not enough poison to poison them. The system is simple enough that my kids have been able to do it since they were ten or so. Unfortunately, just because they can, doesn't mean they do.
posted by b33j at 6:12 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Skip flylady and go to (OH)

If you want message boards, people from the dissolved OH message boards are now at this site.

An excellent basic book is Clean Like a Man -- for men or women. Also check out the book by OH's Cynthia Townley Ewer: Houseworks.

I flove, flove, flove Home Comforts, but it's not for beginners IMO. Definitely look at it, and get a copy.

Flylady email DIGESTS, repeat, digests, are good for the testimonials, nothing else.

Flylady in the last few years is all about the selling. She can't write or edit for shit, either.

posted by jgirl at 6:16 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a neat freak. I'm not cultish or ridiculous about cleaners being organic yada yada. As far as off the shelf cleaners I like the following. 409 'the clear purple one only' as a multi- surface all-purpose cleaner. Rocks. 'Invisible Glass' brand spray is ten times better than Windex for glass and mirrors. Bon Ami powder for stainless and porcelain. Never scratches and will keep your stainless pots and pans new looking (whereas Ajax or Comet would scratch.) Bleach for the inside of toilets. Just pour it in let set...brush and flush wipe down with pure lavender oil or mint essential oil for exterior and edges of toilet. I just re-discovered paper towel after being a rag user for years. God, I love paper towel! 'Shout' works ...'Spray and Wash' doesn't. Dawn dishwashing liquid is a superior surfacent. I worked at a wildlife rehabillitation center and Dawn is what they use to remove oil from ducks, etc. that have been caught in oil spills. I also have a 'Shark' brand steam cleaner and a 'mini' Shop Vac (very useful-very powerful-very small) in my cleaning arsenal.
posted by Muirwylde at 6:19 PM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

For cleaning products, I love Simple Green. It's non-toxic, has a fairly pleasant but mild smell, and a big jug of the concentrate lasts approximately forever. You can use it to clean pretty much everything; I use a spray bottle of it diluted for general household cleaning, but at full strength, it's strong enough to degrease car engines.

The less stuff you have, the easier it will be to keep everything clean. I used to be a sentimental packrat, and I could never keep a handle on my clutter. I've learned in recent years to be ruthless when I go through cupboards and drawers, throwing out everything I don't need or at least use regularly. Cleaning is much faster and easier now, and I haven't yet regretted getting rid of any of that old junk.

In the same vein, getting rid of furniture can help a lot. We realized a while ago that our coffee table was just another place for clutter to accumulate, and we really only used it to set drinks on, so we got rid of it. Now cleaning the living room only takes a few minutes, and even when it's messy, it looks cleaner than it used to.
posted by tomatofruit at 6:20 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a terrible housekeeper but cannot recommend more highly a product I first learned about here on AskMe: the Magic Eraser thingies. They are truly amazing. Just a little water and a light scrub and stains you thought would never ever go away vanish. You can clean walls and wipe away fingerprints on lightswitches and scrub pots and clean tubs with them. Amazing.

Also I adore my swiffer wet jet but I have a lot of wood floors.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have bare floors--painted wood and tile. I gave up on normal mops and am now happy with a small push broom (actually a mason's broom), those microfiber dust cloths, and some sturdy cotton bar rags that are sort of nubby.

Broom + dry dust cloth = picks up dust and such when the vacuum would be too much hassle.
Broom + wet cloth + bucket of rosemary water = easy scrubbing & mopping. Wring the cloth out by hand; toss it in the wash periodically.

No more stinky sponge mops that leave little sponge bits everywhere!
posted by PatoPata at 7:35 PM on February 12, 2009

Even though it's trendy, I think the Swiffer is great. I have the mop-sweeper-thingy and I find it picks up what even our Roomba leaves behind. I also use the wet pads to mop the kitchen because I freaking hate mopping. The dry pads are great to just dust by hand, especially when dust has built up on windowsills, fans, etc.

I do also love my Roomba. It's not what you're looking for in terms of saving money, but it's awesome.
posted by radioamy at 8:39 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in a coop with 57 other people and our kitchen gets disgusting. I am in charge of assigning chores and training people to do them. This is how we clean our kitchen.

You need the following things:
1. Sponges. Cheaper to buy in bulk.
2. Spray bottles.
3. Concentrated cleanser, eg Simple Green described above, or choose your favourite.
4. Bleach.

The process is as follows:
1. Fill one spray bottle with cleanser, diluted according to instructions.
2. Fill one spray bottle with diluted bleach. You need very little, approximately one teaspoon of bleach per bottle, then fill with water. If it smells like a pool, you have way too much bleach in the bottle.
3. Spray the counter/sink/microwave/whatever thing you need to clean with the cleanser, then wipe it down with the sponge. This removes particles of food and dirt.
4. Spray with bleach and allow it to evaporate. This disinfects the surface by killing bacteria. It won't hurt you, and you don't need to wipe it off, it will evaporate on its own.

This is very cheap and effective, especially if you buy large quantities of the cleansers. For more instructions on cleaning other things, see our house wiki.
posted by number9dream at 9:17 PM on February 12, 2009

I've found Household Management For Men extremely useful. Past the obnoxious subtitle ('A small step for men, a giant leap for womankind' bleh), it's a very well structured, logical and approachable book. It approaches keeping a house clean and tidy in much the same way a car manual would tell you how to maintain your car. Best of all, it doesn't assume any foreknowledge or condescend, so you don't get made to feel a failure in life for not knowing what kind of cleaner should be used to disinfect a toilet bowl.

Top stuff that appeals to the logical, list-driven side of me. My ex-flatmates got it for me after I failed to pull my weight in keeping the place tidy, just before I moved in with my wife. I've only recently started using the knowledge contained therein, but it's working a treat.

My other trick, which is barely a week old, but also already bearing fruit, is to use Remember The Milk to plan and manage keeping the house tidy. I know some people can look at an untidy or dirty house and say 'well, I'll do this, then that, then I need to turn the mattress because it's been a month since I last did it'. I can't remember these things, and largely because I didn't really know where to start, I avoided doing housework.

Now, I have a number of lists set up on RTM, and an auto-generated 'do today' list. So, there's one list for 'Every Day', another for 'Every Two Days', then 'Every Week', 'Every Two Weeks' up to once a month and a catch-all list for the odd things that have to be done at strange intervals (cleaning the oven, worming the cat). I have a list of recurring tasks in each one. The upshot is that I can pull my phone out of my pocket, open the RTM mobile site and instantly see what tasks round the house need to be done. Checking them off gives me a sense of achievement, the house looks nice, we don't have to have a 'Chores Rota' on the fridge and my wife is about a zillion times happier, both with the general state of the house and me pulling my weight.

Being a nerd can be very useful, at times.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:47 AM on February 13, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Step one: every place has a thing, every thing has a place. If you have things that don't have homes, cleaning will be a nightmare. Go room to room, and make sure everything has a place it should be at when it's not in use.

Step two: make sure the homes you give to your things meet your needs, are intuitive, and easy to follow. Nobody is going to put things where they go if their homes aren't near where they are used. And, how can you easily clean the bathroom if all your stuff can't fit in the medicine cabinet?

Step three: (Maybe this is just me) Label stuff. Especially in my office area, I need to put labels on the boxes and drawers or I forget where things go.

Step four: Divide labor. As Happy Dave rightly suggests, certain tasks only need to be done rarely. You have to wipe up the stove and the counter and rinse out the sink every time you cook. But you don't need to scrub the sink but once a month. What works for me is to have a weekly checklist. Every day, I do whichever weekly task is in most need of being done.

Step five: When actually cleaning something, follow the same routine. First, put everything where it goes. Then, determine if a major cleaning task needs to be done. Maybe the sink needs that good scrubbing. Do that. THEN do the routine cleaning. Reason for that is that more often than not, the heavy cleaning thing makes its own mess. No point in wiping down the counter if you are just going to mess it up scrubbing the sink and then have to wipe it down again.

Step 5 and a half: Follow a procedure when doing the cleaning. Generally, this should be starting at the top (walls, cabinets), and work from one side to another. Then start over again at the middle (countertops), then the bottom (floors). That way, each step cleans up residue from the previous one.

Step 6: use the least messy cleaning products possible. For the bathroom, for example, a routine cleaning can be done with a spray bottle full of bleach water and a rag. This will disinfect and clean all the dirt and dust just fine. And it leaves no residue. In the kitchen, a spray bottle of ammonia water will cut the grease well. If that's obnoxious to you, use something like Fantastic or an orange cleaner.

Step 7: Use the *right* cleaning products for the job. Different surfaces and different kinds of dirt require different methods and products. If you have a tile surface, you have to use a brush, or you won't get the dirt out of the grout lines. If there's a piece of stuff stuck on the counter, you'll spend all day trying to get it off with a sponge or rag. Use a plastic knife to scrape it off, and then it will wipe down cleanly. Greasy dirt needs something that's a degreaser (ammonia, soap, Simple Green, etc). Shower residue usually needs some kind of scouring powder. But if you use a powder-type cleaner on tile, you'll spend all day trying to rinse it off.

Step 8: This is a bit broad, but is helpful nonetheless- choose surfaces and things that are easily cleaned.

Step 8: Never use a green scotch brite for anything. It's like using sandpaper.
posted by gjc at 8:33 AM on February 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

A few things I've found that work for me...
Keeping cleaning stuff handy is half the battle - I have a Costco membership and buy stuff in multi-pack bulk whenever possible and stow it all over the condo.

One item I've found particularly handy are plastic jugs of disinfectant wipes. I've found Costco's Kirkland brand better than Clorox's. They're scented, anti-bacterial, and fiberous so they're good at picking up crud, be it hair around the toilet, or pasta sauce spatters on the stove. These are chemical-laden, but I've found them to be particularly harsh - certainly no worse than 409 or other spray cleaners.

Another awesome cleaning tool are these sponges called "magic erasers". I've no clue what they're made of, but they are awesome for rubbing out the oily buildup in bathtubs. No bizarre chemicals or anything like that, just rub the sponge around and it 'balls up' the residue which then washes right down th drain.

I've also had good luck with Arm & Hammer's daily shower spray. I give a few squirts on the surfaces in the shower daily after I'm done and it cuts down on the mold and sediment stains on chrome. I can get away with "deep cleaning" a lot less frequently using the spray. Not sure what's in it, but it's spray-and-forget, so you're not getting it all over your hands.
posted by StickyC at 11:49 PM on February 13, 2009

Flylady is over the top, commercial and way too cutesie-but I like her Monday email with a summary of a daily 15 minute task you do in a specific room "clean the top of the fridge", "wipe down your windowsills".

I like 409 and Method cleaners.

I am not a swifter fan...they don't seem to get much up.
posted by purenitrous at 1:03 PM on February 14, 2009

Sit down and consider the cut-off that you consider "clean".

You could spend the next nine days cleaning one single room, if you wanted to then use the room as a biology lab.

You could clean a room every time you spilled something, and run a vacuum cleaner once a season otherwise.

Or just buy a Roomba, and clean other things when you notice they're dirty. If you do maintenance - like wiping off the stove right after it gets dirty - there's very little that seems to need be done often.
posted by talldean at 12:06 PM on February 15, 2009

How do you do other things you don't like to do? Checklists? Rewards? I'd try to a model a process you already use for this new task.

Like folks have said, don't make messes. Try to keep other people from making messes.

Simple Green is good stuff. That, Murphy's Oil Soap, bleach, and baking soda are high on my list. I also like borax and grapefruit-seed extract based cleaners.

You might look into microfiber cloths for dusting and any hard floors.

Also, if there is a TV show your really like, or movies you want to catch up on, play them loud throughout the house while you're working. DVD commentaries can be a good companion while you clean.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:55 PM on February 15, 2009

I used to hate cleaning. But now, having a family, it's a necessity not to have them living in squalor.
The biggest thing to sort out is storage. Lack of it can make a saint swear. Once everything has a place cleaning up is a million times easier. try and also
We built in cupboards too and I can't tell you the difference it's made to my sanity. Sounds ridiculous... but true.
As for actual cleaning: my favourite products are Method They smell amazing and really work.
posted by musgrove at 3:46 PM on February 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all... so much great advice and tips.

I really like the suggestion to add my own essential oils to DIY cleaning products. One thing I dislike about cleaning is the scent of the products.

The "15 Minute Clean-ups" checklists look good.

I've tried Fly-lady. It's not really my thing. Though I might want to order one of her "rubba-scrubba" brushes -- supposedly good on dog hair.

I got copies of "Clean Like a Man" and "Home Comforts". My public library had both books :-)
My husband saw the copy of "Clean Like a Man" and thought I was going to make him do the house cleaning. Alas, not until I get a full-time job can I foist some cleaning tasks on the spouse.

I don't think a Roomba will work. We have three levels, lots of stairs and a sunken living room.

I read some of "Clean Like a Man". I appreciate the author's uncomplicated, humorous approach. I was inspired and spent a couple hours cleaning the kitchen.
posted by valannc at 9:53 PM on February 16, 2009

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