Max-force cleaning plan and the products to achieve it
May 26, 2014 6:42 AM   Subscribe

After a tumultuous nearly two years of apartment living following my separation, my kids and I are finally moving into a townhouse. (Yay!) It's a rental, but one I hope we can stay in for quite a while - it seems pretty fantastic! I have a week between when I get the keys and when I have movers scheduled, so I'd like to take the opportunity to get the place cleaner than it's ever been. Hoping to come up with a really solid cleaning plan, and a list of all the products I need to get it done. Suggestions and tips are more than welcome!

A few points:

- It's a 3-level, 3 bedroom townhouse with two full baths and two half baths, a living room, dining room, kitchen, finished basement rec room, and unfinished laundry/storage area. There is a deck as well. Floors are a mix of hardwood, vinyl, tile and carpet.

- I have no concerns about the environmental sustainability of the cleaning products; I only want what's most effective for this one-time deep clean. (I also love the smell of bleach!)

- I have no pets, and my kids won't be in the house for almost 2 weeks after I do this cleaning.

Again, any ideas on what specific tasks I should be doing, the order I should do them in, and the products needed to do them would be so helpful. Thanks!
posted by justonegirl to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I always love Bar Keeper's Friend for deep cleaning bathtubs, sinks, what have you. It removes stains like a dream. Make a paste and let it sit for a while, then scrub and rinse well.

Doing a few empty laundry loads with white vinegar and really hot water will freshen the machine.

I'm sure others have fantastic suggestions -- can't wait to read them.

posted by mamabear at 7:34 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have access to a steamer? So satisfying to use on built-up grime. I learned to put the cleaner stuff on for 10-20 minutes first, then blast it with the steam and voila, cleaned away grime. We bought a low-end steamer but I think you can rent better ones.

Oh and I would totally get a feather duster with the big extending arm so you could dust the hell out of all the ceilings. A ladder is great, but you want someone there with you to spot you. If you have ceiling fans, you can't beat getting up there with damp cloths and wiping them down exactly.

Go to a $2 store or car supply shop to get big bundles of cheap shams to clean with. I prefer plain cotton cloths to microfibre personally.

And always always clean top down. Ceilings, then walls. Don't touch the floors until the end or you are just shifting dirt around. The grime will float downwards. Plan to do that for the entire place, floor by floor. So top floor: ceiling, walls (includes built-in storage), last of all floors. Bathrooms and kitchen can be tackled separately, first or last and need the same top to floor, but you have to also clean inside out cupboards. Then second floor, repeat, then third. Staircase and finally, decking is the very very last.

Are you going to do the windows professionally? That's a job that is so much easier with a steamer and several squeegee sizes.

Oh and have changes of clothes. Like, clean in sweatpants and a tank top and bare feet inside, and have something you can change into to go out and grab lunch. I would clean one bathroom thoroughly first as an easy "win" and to have one nice clean place to retreat to.

Set up a drinks and cooling off corner for this task somewhere pleasant so you can take breaks and grab a hot/cold drink.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:29 AM on May 26, 2014

We have a beach house that we deep clean each spring to get it 'ready for the renters', and just did it last week. Some things we do that seem to make the process easier / more efficient:

Do all the bathrooms at the same time - get your cleaning products and just move from one to the next doing the tubs/toilets/sinks etc. Have dedicated brushes / rags / sponges for each type of fixture. Those rectangular caddies you can get with a little handle at the top are great for toting the stuff you need.

Do all the mirrors in the same fashion. Same for windows. Start on the top floor and work downward.

Now do the walls - clean off any scuff marks and give a once over the entire wall with a vinegar and water solution. You can ignore this if the place has just been repainted, obviously.

Now vacuum, again from top to bottom. Don't forget to go over all the baseboards and trim work, and the very edges of the floor.

Now do the vinyl and hardwood floors.

Now go to the kitchen and wipe out all the cabinets. Run the dishwasher empty so it is nice and fresh.

Clean the fridge. Clean the stovetop. Wipe down all the counters and backsplashes. Clean the sink.

Have a glass of wine and sit out on your new deck and enjoy the sunset!
posted by PlantGoddess at 8:34 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with the top-down approach suggested by viggorlijah. I love cleaning, and I really like a sense of completion, so I tend to do one room at a time (top to bottom) until it is finished. If you were to clean the ceilings and walls in all of the rooms, then countertops and bathtubs and toilets, then the floors, that would probably make it seem like a neverending endeavour. If you were able to finish a room in its entirety after an hour or two, then another room, and another, that might make it seem much more doable and less exhausting.

If it were me, I would do the kitchen last, so that I could keep snacks and drinks available and have a place to throw my keys and lists and cleaning supplies without worrying about clutter. When you are finished all of the rooms, finish off with the kitchen (and maybe do your grocery shopping this day so you can stock the freshly-cleaned fridge before you move in) and you're good to go!

Man, I would love to help...!
posted by gursky at 8:35 AM on May 26, 2014

I'd probably break it down like this:

Day 0 (pre-keys): assemble your supplies listed below plus:
folding or at least portable chair
flashlight and/or headlamp
refillable water bottle
drinks and snacks
a couple of pens and a notebook
roll of toilet paper

Day 1: Walls and Baseboards. First dry with a duster (I like the Swiffer dusters with the long handled-holder), then with a clean mop that squeezes pretty dry, spray cleaner, and hot water. Use a rag and spray cleaner or melamine sponge on doors, doorframes, and light switches* where people leave grubby-hand-spots. The full-wall wet clean isn't going to be feasible for every single wall, and should be skipped anywhere there's fresh paint, but I usually do at least the living room and if there's a dining area connected to the kitchen because those walls get greasy.

*ID any light switches and outlet covers that are lost causes, keep a running tally, and pick up replacements at the next available opportunity.

Day 2: Above-Floor Surfaces. Wipe down shelves and counters with spray cleaner. Use a scrub (Comet, Barkeepers Friend) on bathroom sinks, bathtubs, and shower floors. Skip shower walls and kitchen sink until last day.

Day 3: Carpet. Vacuum thoroughly, and in all the weird places/corners. If necessary wipe dusty corners with a dry Swiffer or paper towel. Rent a Rug Doctor and use Rug Doctor solution. [DUMP DIRTY WATER DOWN TOILET, NOT SINK/BATH DRAINS.] Apply clingy gel toilet cleaner to all toilets and leave until next day.

Day 4: Hard Floors. Sweep, vacuum, then mop with really hot water and two buckets (one in which the water stays cleaner and one to rinse the mop, so you wet in the clean water, mop, rinse in dirty water, wet in clean water, repeat. Change out water frequently.). Wipe the unmoppable spots with rags. Use either an all-surface floor cleaner or just put a little spray cleaner in your clean water. Scrub out the toilets and wipe down with paper towels and spray cleaner. Skip the kitchen floor.

Day 5: Spray shower walls with spray cleaner and let sit. Wipe out fridge (which is hopefully clean to the eye and not a project) with spray cleaner. Wash shelves and drawers in sink. Put drawer liners (BB&B has some washable ones that I use) in the drawers. If your freezer has an ice maker, dump and wash out the bucket. Wipe down the outside with spray cleaner. Wipe out the cabiner/pantry shelves with a damp towel and put down shelf liner if applicable. If there is a dishwasher, run a dose of dishwasher cleaner through it empty. Mop the floor and stay off it 20-30 minutes to dry - go wet the shower walls and scrub down with a large scrub brush or scrub sponge. Final task of the day: fill both sides of the sink with warm water and a quarter cup of bleach. Leave overnight.

Day 6: Drain and rinse the sink, put down rugs in kitchen and bathroom (probably hold off on hard floors where there will be a lot of mover traffic, unless there are rugs that need to go under furniture). Wipe down all the faucets. Label all the rooms to correspond with box labels (I like colored stickers with a color for each room), stick post-its or handwritten signs to the wall (use blue painter's tape) where large furniture and beds go. Vacuum one last time, especially under where furniture goes. If you have a gas or electric coil burner stove, remove all the removable parts and wax the surface with Turtle Wax. (Also consider using foil drip-pan liners, or buy your own set of drip pans so you can put the originals away until you move out. Put in an oven liner if you have a compatible oven.)

Day 7: Load in groceries, toilet paper, other consumables

Shopping list (if you don't already have):
Spray Cleaner (I like Method, maybe you like 409 or Simple Green)
Gel toilet cleaner (the kind that clings, but not that weird gel stamp stuff)
Melamine (magic) sponges
Dish scrub brush (but not for dishes, so get a second one for regular use)
A couple dollar-store toothbrushes
Mop with a good wringer
Comet or Barkeeper's Friend
Clean rags
Paper towels
Trash bags
A couple of buckets OR small trash cans that will fit a mop
post-its/paper/painter's tape

Always work top-down as best you can (that's why walls and surfaces come before floors) and don't waste time cleaning something you'll just have to re-clean, like the kitchen floor after you splash water everywhere cleaning the fridge shelves and drawers.

If I had to prioritize, it would be for things that will never be empty again: fridge, cabinets and shelves, closets, floors. If you're going to be in the house 2 weeks before the kids get there, you'll have ample time and space to deep-clean the bathrooms after you move.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 AM on May 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

If any rooms have ceiling fans, clean the tops of the blades before you do anything else in the room. It's not fun to turn on a fan and have it spew dust bunnies and filth around your freshly-vacuumed room.
posted by belladonna at 9:12 AM on May 26, 2014

Warning: Flat (matte, no sheen) paint usually can't be washed; it's absorbent and tends to look worse if you wipe it with a wet cleaner. Some marks can be removed with a Magic Eraser.

Warning: Top-down cleaning of walls and trim is fine as long as you don't let any water drip down the surface. The streaks made by the drips can make permanent stains. If you start at the bottom, you don't get the drip-stains. If you doubt this fact, please at least try it in a hidden area first. Orsearch on line for "clean walls from the bottom up" (or the reverse) and let experts persuade you.

Use a sponge, a cloth, a sponge mop or microfiber flat mop. If plain dish soap is adequate for the walls, use that. Needing something stronger, I'd go with ammonia in water, with a few drops of dish soap as a wetting agent. If your walls have very stubborn dirt or smoke residue, use TSP or TSP substitute. TSP needs to be rinsed off -- that is, you'd wipe the walls with a cloth wrung out with clear water. With ammonia and real or fake TSP, of course you need gloves.

Glass light globes and covers can go in the dishwasher.

If baking soda doesn't help with odors, pick up some activated charcoal at a pets-supply store.
posted by wryly at 11:00 AM on May 26, 2014

Response by poster: Fantastic, fantastic advice, everyone! Can't thank you enough!
posted by justonegirl at 2:36 PM on May 26, 2014

I live in a two-bedroom townhouse-style apartment in an older building, and thought of a few things to add based on stuff I had to clean and/or fix after moving in:

1.) Go through the townhouse and check that all of the window screens are in good condition. If any of them have small tears, you can pick up patch kits at a hardware store, box store, etc. If they're really grubby, screen frame is bent, etc., ask maintenance to replace them now before you move in.

2.) Pick up supplies for smaller-but-useful items to fix/replace while you're cleaning: new hair traps for the bathtub drains, a replacement sink-stopper thingy for the kitchen sink (if needed), replacement toilet seats (if you are squeamish about that; if not, wipe them down with bleach), extra light bulbs (check that all lights in fixtures and closets work) and appliance bulbs if needed, a toilet plunger and cleaning wand for each bathroom, door stoppers, step-stool, stuff like that. I also grabbed extra outlet security plugs bc the outlets in some of my rooms are old and yellowed, but maintenance had replaced all of the switchplates. I didn't like the look of the grubby outlets, so it was an easy fix to cover them up with the security plugs.

3.) Put together cleaning caddies/stashes for each floor. It took me a few weeks of living in my place before I got tired of lugging supplies up and down. It's easier to keep a stash on each floor. My downstairs is tile & Pergo, so I keep a little non-electric stick vac downstairs for the area rugs, and I keep the heavy vacuum upstairs since that's all carpeted.

4.) My apartment has a closet on the ground floor where the furnace/AC lives. The closet gets kind of musty-smelling at times, so I stash an odor-absorber thing in there and change it every 4-6 months or whenever it starts to smell funky again. (It's a round plastic thing with some kind of scented crystals and maybe activated charcoal in it.)

5.) some other random suggestions that are more maintenance-related than cleaning, but kind of tie in to the general prep-before-move-in theme:
-splurge on a socket tester and test all of the outlets in the rooms
-pick up picture-hanging supplies, cup hooks, 3M hooks, etc. while you're out shopping for your cleaning supplies... any of that fiddly stuff that comes in handy when you least expect it and the store is closed. :)
-a package of shims for furniture might be useful if the floors are not level in spots
-get fresh batteries for the smoke alarms
-pick up a few extra filters for the furnace/AC and stash them with your cleaning supplies, unless your maintenance people change them for you and/or you don't have access to the cabinet.

Enjoy your new home!
posted by cardinality at 10:21 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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