What's the best investment to cut down on chores and keep the house cleaner?
February 14, 2010 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Help me invest $1,000 for a cleaner house. Small child plus two full-time jobs + what seems like an awful lot of time spent cleaning = still distressingly filthy house. Thinking of getting a dishwasher, but given that pots and pans couldn't go in, not sure how much marginal gain there would really be. $1000 could buy a lot of other small things, like better toy and clothing storage, better system for dealing with muddy boots, that kind of thing. What's the most bang for the buck?
posted by Ausamor to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Pay someone to clean your house.
posted by cheapskatebay at 9:25 AM on February 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Pots and pans can't go in a dishwasher? Bullshit! My wife and I were so happy to get an apt with a dishwasher. It makes us more apt to cook as you can use lots of kitchen tools and just throw em all in the washer racks and be done with it, rather then know in the back of our minds that those things eventually need elbow grease. Don't underestimate a dishwasher!
posted by Mach5 at 9:25 AM on February 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Does your house have forced air heat/AC? If so, have you ever had your ductwork cleaned? Getting your ducts professionally cleaned (vacuumed out with a huge hose, basically) can significantly cut down on the dust and dirt in your home (in the air you breathe, dust landing on surfaces, etc.). The cost will depend on the size of your home, we paid a couple hundred dollars for the service a few years back and our home subsequently looked and felt noticeably fresher (and needed less frequent dusting).

And seconding hire a cleaner.
posted by applemeat at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2010

I am under the impression that if you get a really good dishwasher, it will clean pots and pans adequately. Supposedly dishwashers have come a long way (although I can testify that the low-end hook-up-to-the-sink kind have not.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:35 AM on February 14, 2010

We put pots and pans in the dishwasher regularly. (Three preschoolers in the home.)
It does help to get organized, though. A number of lady's magazines regularly have articles that address the topic. Toy boxes, simple baskets placed on shelves that hold various items really help eliminate clutter.
A good Web site that may help is flylady.net
posted by srbrunson at 9:35 AM on February 14, 2010

Dishwasher is still a good idea, as many pots and pans will go in. Next suggestion is Fly Lady which is free and will give you the tools you need to manage. You may or may not like all the stuff that comes along with Fly Lady, but the processes work, and so take what you can. We work on routines and include a 10-minute tidy at the end of the day. Set a timer (put on some fun tunes?) and everybody blasts for 10 mins. to get everything away. Your young one might get into it if you make it positive (and even if not, the toys are away anyway).

My next suggestion is actually to pare down what you have to a minimum, so that you have less to deal with. One question you should evaluate is what drives you most crazy, dirt or clutter? Focus your energy on that and eliminate cleaning processes that aren't a priority. For example, we do not fold kids clothes (and don't own any that are not minimally presentable if not folded). Also, vacuuming takes about the same time if you do it once a week as if you do it twice. Do it once.

For toy storage, we use cheap ikea shelves and bins. Make sure you have enough storage for your stuff. If you don't, either get more storage or get rid of stuff. Period. Buy storage for the areas which tend to spread their mess. If you need help working through this, Fly Lady has suggestions to help (this is the case for just about everything).

Working regular cleaning processes which are maximally effective is really the only way out, so spend the money on what drives you most crazy and/or stuff that are the weakest link for keeping things going. Seems to me that $1000 would get a dishwasher, coat/boot and toy storage, and these would be our weakest links in our house.
posted by kch at 9:38 AM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

A Roomba. Yeah, it'll take a big chunk of your budget, but our house is so much cleaner now that we have one. The dirt by the front door, the crumbs in the kitchen... gone! (We also have a Scooba, but I'm not as excited about it.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:42 AM on February 14, 2010

My wife and I got some dishwasher safe pots and pans for our wedding. They don't usually go in there (I'd gotten used to her cast iron ones that can't and they just take up a lot of room), but every once in a while I just be lazy and throw them in.

Even if you don't put the pots and pans in, it's great not having to wash everything by hand. I had to do that through 4 years of college. I always just put stuff in the sink at home before I went to college. Now stuff goes into the dishwasher pretty religiously.

How small is your small child? Maybe big enough to help with the cleaning? You'd be surprised how well little kids can keep a room clean.

Is this a problem that you think will continually pop up? Or is your wanted level of clean something that you can maintain if you have some help getting it there in the first place? If it's something that you can keep up then have some people over to help clean the place and use the money for food while they're there.
posted by theichibun at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2010

My dishwasher cleans pots and pans very well (at least the ones that are ok to run through the dishwasher, that is). And it cost a lot less than $1000 -- I think I paid about $350 for an Energy-Star certified model that has performed quite adequately.

So I think you should put in a dishwasher, and then use the rest of the money to hire someone to come once every week or so. That will give you a good baseline of cleaning, and take some of the burden off of yourself.
posted by Forktine at 9:52 AM on February 14, 2010

I wash most of my pots and pans in the dishwasher. And even if I didn't, it would still be an incredible help; the effort to wash pots and pans by hand is dwarfed by that necessary for all the other stuff.
posted by grouse at 10:02 AM on February 14, 2010

A few hours of hiring a home organizer can help you see a bit more objectively what is using up your time, messing up your house, making it harder to keep clean.
posted by Vaike at 10:07 AM on February 14, 2010

You could get a cleaning lady for 2 hours every two weeks with $1000 (rate of $16/hr is pretty standard on Craigslist in my city). She could take care of floors and dusting and bathrooms and kitchen for you.

A few microfibre cloths. Keep them in the bathroom. Every time you do a load of laundry, quickly wet a microfibre cloth (no cleansers needed) and use it to wipe down the bathroom sink, taps, counter, and mirror. Then give the cloth a quick rinse and throw it in with the laundry. If you're doing a few loads a week, it's an easy way to keep the bathroom sparkling.

Extra hampers. If you have 2-3 hampers side by side in any area where you tend to generate laundry, you can sort as you use things- separate lights, darks, and towels. Makes laundry much faster.

Identify the thing that makes you have to do laundry- do you run out of underwear? socks? towels? Onesies for the baby? Invest in lots more of whatever that thing is (15 more pairs of undies!), and suddenly you can do laundry a lot less often.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:09 AM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

GET A DISH WASHER!!! In the last 6 years we have lived in two apartments (1 with a dishwasher 1 without) and two houses (1 with a dishwasher 1 without). We are in currently in the house with a dishwasher. Last year we had our first child (while living in the house without a dishwasher), and our 2nd is due this may. We both work full time jobs.

The amount of time saved and stress reduced by having the dishwasher available to wash all the silverware, plates, bowls, cups, glasses, etc, etc, etc is incredibly noticeable. We still hand wash all pots and pans, but this is usually only a pot or two a night (if that). We usually hand wash whatever needs hand washing twice a week - some time on the weekend and sometime in the middle of the week as necessary. Not sure how small your child is - but in the first year the amount of dishes we need to wash has doubled just because of our kid. ESPECIALLY if you are bottle-feeding. Washing bottles by hand was horrible - because you couldn't not do it. You have to wash them every day cause the kid goes through so many. And then after that its the same thing with sippy cups!

Also a carpet cleaner ($100-$200) is one of the best investments we have made. We bought one 4 or 5 months ago and have used 3 times so far. Every time our carpet looks brand spanking new. Its not a quick/easy solution (1-2 hours to move furniture & clean) but it makes it look so nice that we're often motivated to clean other parts of the house. Plus, our kid *loves* vacuum cleaners and the like, so he goes wild whenever we get the vacuum or carpet cleaner out, which makes it seem like less of a chore and more of a game. Also - we have two cats and a dog, which makes the floors one of the dirtiest places in our house; so any extra help we can get on them is much appreciated.

We don't have one, but have been considering it - but maybe a Roomba. Turn it on and there you go. We've been researching it, and if we had a grand (tax return?) to invest in house cleaning it would probably go partially to one of these things.

Regarding toy organization - what we use is a couple of plastic laundry baskets. One in the corner of the living room, one in his bedroom. Almost all the toys go into one of these baskets - the only ones that don't are too big and sit next to the baskets when they're put away. It saves any organization, cause all you have to do is pick the toy up and throw it into the basket. The child won't care (and tipping the basket over to get to the toy on the bottom will be one of the funnest parts of his day).

And finally, let me suggest (without knowing what you're doing now) that a cleaning routine is very helpful. As I said, we both work full time and have a small kid (soon to be two kids). We've fallen into the routine of starting laundry asap on Saturday morning, vacuuming Sunday afternoon, hand washing twice a week, picking toys up every couple of evenings, etc. Do the same chore at the same time and pretty soon you won't be thinking about how much time you're spending (or wish you could spend) on the chores, because you'll be doing them automatically.

Good luck!
posted by ish__ at 10:14 AM on February 14, 2010

Dammit, 3 previews and I still missed it:

"hand washing twice a week" -> "washing dishes that need to be hand washed twice a week"

we definitely wash our human hands more than twice a week :)
posted by ish__ at 10:15 AM on February 14, 2010

Definitely dishwasher. Cleaning person every two weeks for floors and bathroom. Tidying -- which can take about ten minutes -- I call it "fake cleaning" -- is incredibly helpful to make a less-than-pristine space seem clean.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:43 AM on February 14, 2010

I am in love with my dishwasher. Like, it is the absolute most important and beloved physical object in my home (after a few particularly nostalgic books).

Also, I agree that spot neatening does a lot for the mental health.
posted by serazin at 10:52 AM on February 14, 2010

You can buy all of the organizing/cleaning gadgets available but unless you actually have the time to USE them, your home won't get any cleaner. Either hire a housekeeper or divy up the jobs between you and your SO and do them religiously every day.
posted by MsKim at 11:00 AM on February 14, 2010

FWIW to several people in this thread, a dishwasher can damage, scratch and scour away a pan's nonstick coating. So, yeah, they can go in there, but generally it shortens their life. It's also a good idea to avoid putting carving knives in there for the same reason. That being said, I'll nth the dishwasher idea. You lose a little under-the-counter space but you gain at least that much space by not having to have an unsightly dish drainer.
posted by carlh at 11:21 AM on February 14, 2010

Nthing the cleaning lady. (Or dude.) I have a cleaning lady every two weeks, for four hours. I pay her $15/hr so a total of $60. She does the kitchen, the two bathrooms, and the floors, and then whatever other little tidying there's time for. It's WONDERFUL.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:36 AM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing the dishwasher. Besides the obvious cleaning benefits, dirty dishes can hide in it until they're ready to be cleaned, instead of in the sink. Having a huge pile of dirty dishes laying around is bad for your mental health.
posted by cgg at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are awesome. Dishwasher it is. The cost is high because we've got to actually knock out some cabinets to fit it in, but I'm sold.
posted by Ausamor at 12:02 PM on February 14, 2010

Yet another vote for a dishwasher. Assuming you get something more substantial than the miniature countertop variety (and assuming most of your pots and pans are dishwasher-safe -- i.e., not copper or any other super-fancy variety, or certain types of non-stick coating), just about any model should be able to handle most cookware as well as dishes. Even if you still have to do a few items by hand, I bet you'll still cut down on a good 80-90% of time and labor.

Hiring a cleaner once a week or every other week helps enormously, too, esp. woth The Big Chores that, personally, I'll find myself doing just about anything to avoid (mopping floors, scrubbing the shower, etc.).

The caveat with hiring someone to clean for you is that it won't really solve underlying organizational issues -- he or she will probably stack everything very neatly when they clean, so things will look organized at first, but if you don't have some sort of organizational structure in place, the clutter will probably start to drift back within a few days. However, once you've got a dishwasher and a cleaner, you may find that you don't actually need a lot of organizational tools or "systems" at all; you may just need a few strategic, inexpensive items (such as some double-hang closet rods and a few shoe bags to get your closets in shape, a storage bench or two to wrangle boots, toys, etc., or a few extra shelves in your office or laundry room).
posted by scody at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2010

+1 Dishwasher. My pots+pans are fine in it.
posted by sninctown at 12:07 PM on February 14, 2010

I'd like to put in a vote for the dishwasher, and also for ... baby gates. Even if your child is old enough not to need them for safety reasons, they really, really help to keep toy- and food-related messes confined to a couple of rooms. We have an eat-in kitchen with a playroom attached, and those are the only two rooms we have to tidy and clean every day. The rest of the house really doesn't get that dirty, because the kids (3 and 1, so believe me, they can really muck up a house) don't spend a lot of time there.

You could get a cleaning lady for 2 hours every two weeks with $1000 (rate of $16/hr is pretty standard on Craigslist in my city).

You need more like 4 person-hours to do vacuuming, floors, bathrooms, kitchen, and dusting in your typical 1500-to-2000-sq-ft or so space (OP said house, so I assume it's about that size). I live in a very low cost-of-living city, and I don't know anyone who pays a cleaning lady $32.

If you can afford it, though, I agree that it's a great idea; I just think you would need to budget more for it.

posted by palliser at 12:18 PM on February 14, 2010

Also, invest in some clear bins for toy storage. Each type of toy has its own bin. You can even label them so the kids can learn to put stuff away. Here's a great solution with a corner 'hide-away' office and small kids storage unit. It was mostly done with repurposed Ikea furniture and some paint. It could be scaled up for a bigger bookshelf with bigger tubs, but if they're small like that, kids can easily take them out on their own.
posted by barnone at 12:19 PM on February 14, 2010

Well, good that you've settled on the dishwasher.

I think you need to decide whether your problem is that things are cluttered, or that they're dirty. You can have a cluttered house that's reasonably clean, but doesn't seem it because there's stuff lying everywhere, and conversely you can have a house that's well-organized but is still dirty, with dustbunnies blowing around like tumbleweeds, etc.

Of course, you can also have both — disorganization often makes it harder to clean. But if you can identify the core problem that will lend itself to different solutions. If it's organization that's the issue, then you'd want to invest on more storage, or on just getting rid of the excess crap. But if you're relatively organized and things are still dirty, then I'd probably hire a cleaner.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:22 PM on February 14, 2010

Dishwasher. I have lived with good ones, with mediocre ones, and without them. Relegating the vast majority of dishwashing to even a merely adequate machine is the largest improvement in my quality of life since I stopped having to use laundromats. A good machine will do perfectly well on pots and pans, barring teflon gear and non-enameled cast iron.
posted by majick at 12:23 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My answer to a previous thread about time saving hints for a cleaner house. Lots of good suggestions there.
posted by JujuB at 12:49 PM on February 14, 2010

Dishwasher and roomba.

Then get really good welcome mats. and make people wipe there feet. consider having a no shoes in the house policy.

let each child have 3 toys out a one time. keep all other toys in a box in the attic or where no one can see them. kids are allowed to exchange their three once a week. and only if they keep their three picked up all week.

the fewer things you have the fewer things you have to clean.

consider the "one fork" policy - everyone gets one fork, one cup, one plate. can't eat again until your one dish is washed. this is an extreme measure but it works.
posted by cda at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2010

I'm glad you decided on a dishwasher -- even if you hand-wash some pots & pans, it still saves so much time and hassle with everything else. Though, I throw all my pots & pans in there with no problems.

If you have $200 to spare, I do also recommend a Roomba. We love ours, and by running it almost daily, our floors are almost always pretty clean.
posted by tastybrains at 1:40 PM on February 14, 2010

100X to the enth...dishwasher! Look into the Fischer-Paykel single drawer unit. Pots and pans are no problem. I use it for everything. If I had a baby, I would run it through on the rinse cycle. I also totally agree with the twice a month house cleaning service. Floors, walls, bathroom. Nothing else. You will, for sure, do a lot of cleaning yourself before they come so as not to be embarrassed. You will, for sure, do a lot of cleaning after they leave, because it will be icing on the clean cake.
posted by Pennyblack at 2:32 PM on February 14, 2010

Now that you've decided to buy a dishwasher, a few tips:

Have a dishwasher routine, emptying it at about the same time every day. If you wait until after dinner, you're not going to want to do that and clean up the rest of the kitchen. So put clean dishes away in the morning, or before you start getting supper together, or some other time that makes sense to you.

My pans can go in the dishwasher, but are usually too dirty to get completely clean. I use a dish brush and hot water to loosen stuck-on food or grease, and then put the pots in the machine. Of course, once the stubborn stuff has been removed, you can finish washing and rinsing the pot in about 30 seconds.

Also run the dishwasher on a set schedule. Once in a while it won't be full at the time you normally run it. Turn it on anyway; don't mess up your routine.

Your "clean enough" kitchen might still have crumbs on the counter and residue in the sink. That's fine -- you're the one that needs to be satisfied, not some imaginary judge.
posted by wryly at 3:00 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also concur with the dishwasher. I actually bought ours off Ebay - it was white and of course, someone was ripping out a perfectly good dishwasher so they could put stainless steel appliances in. I paid $65 for a Bosch which works fabulously, including getting lasagna dishes clean. I rarely pre-rinse any of the dishes by hand.

If you are getting a dishwasher, do not scrimp on getting a good one! People tell me of their dishwashers where they practically have to handwash everything before putting it in. Bosch is very good (this is my second, first was in another house), Miele is good but expensive, Blanco too. I would buy a Bosch again.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:23 PM on February 14, 2010

Since you seem to have decided on a dishwasher (which is a great time saver!), let me go on a bit about what to look for in a dishwasher:

One of the most important things to consider with any dishwasher is the temperature of your water. If you aren't getting hot water to the machine, it will work slowly and not as well.

You want to make sure the temperature of the water coming out of the faucet in your kitchen is at least 120F. If your water heater is a long way from the kitchen, that may not be the case.

If you have a marginal temperature situation, you probably shouldn't buy a Bosch, as they don't have electric heating elements so they can't maintain temperature as well if your water temperature is low to begin with. Otherwise, they are top-of-the-line dishwashers and a much better value for money than a drawer, although I very nearly bought a double drawer dishwasher just for the convenience.

I suggest a model with a stainless steel tub and adjustable racks. Hidden controls deter small hands.

Go to the store and play with the racks and the adjustments on them and see how easy they are to work. There are big differences. Think about the sorts of dishes you'll want to put in it how they will all fit. Some dishwashers have better designed racks than others.

Don't just go buy one because it looks nice or because it's easiest, if you can avoid it. A little time thinking about what will best meet your needs will likely leave you more satisfied. A dishwasher that's a hassle to use is still better than hand washing on your time, but increases the frustration factor.
posted by wierdo at 4:22 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

The dishwasher will save you so much time -- you'll be able to do other stuff.
posted by jb at 9:50 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're still looking at dishwasher models, we love love love our Whirlpool Gold. The controls are on the top of the door, so our 2.25-year-old son doesn't go pushing buttons willy-nilly. There's a washer arm under the (adjustable) top rack, so everything up there gets totally clean. (Hated our old one that didn't have this feature; most of the time the glasses in the top rack were left with specks and spots.) We pan-seared steaks last night, and I left the totally blackened, burned-on crust on the bottom of the pan and just threw it in. Almost all of it came off in the dishwasher; I had to scrub it a tiny bit with a sponge, but it was a lot better than spending 10 minutes on it with a scouring pad.

Also, we have only ever used white vinegar as a rinse aid, and it works like a charm.
posted by DakotaPaul at 5:32 PM on February 15, 2010

I disagree (strongly) on the Roomba. Use the money for a Dyson instead. I've gone through 2 Roombas and one Scooba in less than 3 years and they are all unusable - no kids, just two cats, nothing crazy going on for usage and I maintained the robots as they suggest. Various problems over and over until the unit is out of warranty. I am out about $750 and not pleased.

(I think irobot is one of those companies that got a cult following then started cheapening out on the products - like we have experienced with our Toyota (long before the current recalls)).
posted by getawaysticks at 5:45 AM on February 16, 2010

For what it's worth, I think my Roomba is fantastic and haven't had any problems. It's second only to my dishwasher as a novel time-saving invention.
posted by grouse at 6:29 AM on February 16, 2010

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