How to clean house like the professionals.
June 15, 2014 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Between bad timing and desperation I hired a professional housekeeper to clean before family arrived for the holidays last year. She left the place looking better than when I first moved in. How can I do this on my own?

I'm not a complete slob and used to keep up a cleaning routine on the weekends. I even did a decent spring cleaning at least once a year where I took everything out, went through it for donations and trash, and cleaned the inside of storage spaces before putting back what I kept.

I have family staying over soon and want a straightforward routine to get this place back in shape again. I need instructions on what to do when and how to use which products. I thought advice was enough like "Dust before vacuuming." and "Use window cleaner in one direction inside and another direction outside to see where the streaks are." But on my own this is nowhere near the results the professional housekeeper accomplished.

I also need help for dealing with grout and stainless steel. I've used everything from the magic eraser to bon ami to bleach on an old toothbrush for grout and it still looks grimy. I've used windex, vinegar, and specially formulated products for stainless steel appliances and no luck there either.
posted by adapt to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 268 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am not the role model for anything else, and will be following this thread for handy tips otherwise, but:

For stainless, you need Barkeeper's Friend. It's a powdered oxalic acid, and is awesome.
posted by straw at 11:31 AM on June 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Deep-clean stainless with Barkeeper's Friend, make sure you get all of it off afterwards, and then wax it.

Yes, with Turtle Wax. You can buy spray waxes for stainless as well, but car wax also works.

You can try the Barkeeper's Friend on the grout as well.

I learned the Flylady system a million years ago, and it's now loosely a habit though I've just moved and might benefit from actually writing out a schedule to refer to for a couple of month.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:43 AM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am not a professional cleaner (and generally a messy person.) But my deep cleaning routine includes scrubbing down cabinets and scuffs on walls. Those tend to get dingy over time and you may not notice. Plus you want to wipe down baseboards and get into the corners of the room. Then you'll want to use the skinny vacuum hose attachment and get into the edge of the carpet where it meets the wall. You may also want to try a floor cleaner like Brite that makes things shiny.

Don't forget bleach for stains on light colored counters if you have them. Things like toilets and tubs you need to scrub all around them and get into corners too. I think it has a lot to do with elbow grease and time.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:51 AM on June 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Get original blue dawn and let it sink into your grout for a few hours (I usually do this first during my cleaning routine - and then when everything else is done come back to it) get a Firm Plastic bristle brush and go through your grout - the dawn is great at getting dirt and grease and grossness out of grout - with a large amount of elbow grease and a sturdy plastic brush. Toothbrushes aren't firm enough to really take the worst of the grim out.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't know why people scrub at bathroom grout when you can just spray Tilex with bleach and within a few hours the entire bathroom is blindingly, eye-searingly white. I wasted many dozens of hours of my life scrubbing grimly without even 1/4 of the results that a good spraying will give.

Make sure to open the bathroom window(s) afterwards to let it air out, though. The smell is noxious.
posted by elizardbits at 11:59 AM on June 15, 2014 [25 favorites]

Best answer: There are videos on YouTube that may interest you. There are tutorials produced by professional cleaning companies for employees. Example is here:

To get that professionally cleaned look it's important not to skip the corners. Get on your hands and knees and scrub the corners and hard to reach areas by hand. I like to cut up several rags from cotton t-shirts. Place in bucket with cleaning solution and hot water.

Don't forget the baseboards, doors, switch plates, walls, cabinet fronts, top of cabinets, top of refrigerator, tops of towel bars and light fixtures, ceiling fans, picture frames and molding. If you have draperies have them cleaned or launder. Switch out your shower curtains if you have them, or wash them.

If you have a lot of appliances on kitchen counters pull them out and clean counters and backsplash well.

To safe time and effort I stick everything I can into the dishwasher if it's safe to do so. (kitchen canisters, vases, soap dishes, bathroom garbage cans)

Sometimes grout is not going to get clean as you would like. I scrub my grout with Comet and a toothbrush. I've had good luck with bleach spray and a toothbrush. I have also used gel toilet cleaner and that works well. If it isn't as great as you would like, cover it with new cotton white bath mats. I like white because they can be bleached and they give that hotel spa look.

For soap scum in showers and tubs: The best solution is baking soda, Dawn dish liquid, and white vinegar. It can be a bit of a mess but worth it. On the shower floor pour Dawn over baking soda, add vinegar. Sometimes I heat the vinegar in the microwave. Let sit for an hour or so. I was very skeptical that this would work but it literally got rid of all soap scum without scrubbing. (It won't get rid of mildew.)

I have heard of people using a bit of baby oil on stainless steel.

If you can find it, I like Spic and Span powder. Add Spic N Span to sink or bucket of hot water and scrub your floors, doors, walls, tile, anything really. If you can't find Spic N Span powder I like ammonia with a tiny squirt of Dawn dish liquid. I also like to clean counters and cabinet fronts with vinegar and Dawn in a spray bottle.
posted by Fairchild at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

I also need help for dealing with grout and stainless steel. I've used everything from the magic eraser to bon ami to bleach on an old toothbrush for grout and it still looks grimy.

Re-grouting is sometimes the only solution.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:03 PM on June 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

You need a system or plan -- and it might not even matter which you choose. The two main ones: 1. Do one task at a time, and go throughout the house doing that one thing; 2. Do one room at a time, top to bottom. I prefer to do a hybrid of those two. Don't worry about what's best or most efficient -- decide according what you think will work best for you.

The Fly Lady website is often mentioned. She's all about spreading the work out so you do a reasonable amount every day, but some of her advice might be helpful. For example, she suggests that you decide ahead of time to work for a certain amount of time, and then take a 15 minute break before continuing. Her plan mostly calls for doing one task at a time.

Don Aslett is another housecleaning guru who's published a bunch of books. Is There Life After Housework most directly explains his basic system. Aslett's website aims to sell you products and appliances, but you don't need those. His original pitch was very practical and used simple, easily-available products.

Stainless steel is weird. People try different products till they find what works for them and their particular surfaces, but it seems everybody prefers a different product. My housekeeper and I both really like the SprayWay stainless steel cleaner. But the key is to actually clean the metal with either soap and water or a household spray, let it dry, and only then apply the product meant for stainless steel. They're called cleaners, but really they just make the metal look even, smooth, and a bit glossy. Whichever one you choose, you'll probably want to wipe the surface and then go over it with a dry cloth. If using a spray, I get better results if I spray it on the cloth instead of the surface.
posted by wryly at 12:14 PM on June 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have family staying over soon and want a straightforward routine to get this place back in shape again.

A skilled professional cleaner has way more practice at it than you do, which makes them at least twice as fast as you'd be for results of comparable quality. Factor that in when you're doing your DIY cost/benefit analysis.
posted by flabdablet at 12:25 PM on June 15, 2014 [26 favorites]

I realise you want to know what you can do. But why do you want to do it? If you can afford to, consider scheduling that professional cleaner say every three or six month? It sounds as if you've got a decent basic cleaning routine going that keeps the place quite habitable in general so this just makes sure all the stuff that needs doing every so often but not every week also gets taken care of. To me that'd be money well spent, considering some of the other things I spend money on. Clearly, that's just me.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:43 PM on June 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House is 896 pages of useful reference material.
posted by aniola at 1:22 PM on June 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

A skilled professional cleaner has way more practice at it than you do, which makes them at least twice as fast as you'd be for results of comparable quality.

Not only that, but at least with our housekeepers, the number of person-hours they put in is higher than what we do when we clean ourselves. They work harder and longer at it than we ever do. It's not surprising they do a better job than we do.
posted by primethyme at 1:26 PM on June 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

A skilled professional cleaner has way more practice at it than you do, which makes them at least twice as fast as you'd be for results of comparable quality. Factor that in when you're doing your DIY cost/benefit analysis.

That cost/benefit is why we have professionals clean our house on a regular schedule. Most simply, they work harder and more systematically, and use more and stronger cleaning product than I do on my own. Replicating that is not about how-to tips, but about hard and careful work and being willing to tolerate some toxic fumes. It's usually two people working for most of an hour, which is far more cleaning effort than I ever do, if I'm being honest.

Watching them work is interesting. A lot of why it looks so good after is that they get the "corners" -- not just the literal room corners, but details like cleaning around the sink drains or dusting fixtures, whereas I tend to clean the major surfaces and call it a day. There are a ton of those details, and when they are all done a room looks amazing.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:59 PM on June 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding the rec for "Home Comforts" and her other book Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens.

I really wish someone had given me copies of both (if they had been available) when I first moved out of college dorms and into my own place.
posted by mrbill at 2:10 PM on June 15, 2014

It seems to me like your question mixes up a bit - in the same way that I sometimes do - 'tidying up' and 'cleaning.'

Professional cleaners are great at cleaning. They are also okay at tidying up, but ideally you do not want to pay them to tidy up, but to clean. Anyway, when they tidy up, they move stuff around, and then you have to find it again.

So my advice is to focus your time and energy on picking up, tidying up, sorting out, triage, throwing out, spring clear out, whatever. Get rid of crap, clear all the surfaces (or make them accessible), and only then schedule the cleaners so that they can attack the surfaces right away. That's your best mileage with cleaners, IMO.
posted by carter at 2:40 PM on June 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Another good resource is Unfuck Your Habitat. It's the younger, hipper, version of Flylady without all the talk of dear husbands and religion. It's where I discovered the drain volcano, which we employ on all our drains whenever they get gunky. It's science but it's also magic!

You'll also find lots of the tips above in this thread, but it's nice to have them all in one place and to have it be part of a mentality of untucking your space.
posted by danabanana at 3:24 PM on June 15, 2014 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the info so far everyone. I'm looking for a list or routine to follow for a deep cleaning now and keep up with maintenance after. After checking out the Flylady site I can see where it could be a useful place to start for a beginner. When this happens again Unfuck Your Habitat will keep me motivated. I took care of the clutter part already so it's not too bad anymore. I think I have a good grasp of what needs to be done but don't know how to do it well or what to use.

Since I first posted the question I went ahead and cleaned the fridge. Emptied everything out and threw away a few leftovers. Scrubbed and wiped down the inside with vinegar and a microfiber cloth but could use something better to cut through the residue. On the outside tried barkeeper's friend, rubbing alcohol, and baby oil following this video. Not bad. It's definitely better than what I've tried before.

I wanted to add that I have used almost everything available in the supermarket for cleaning the bathroom. My way to deal with spray cleaners was to spray down shower tile before going out and leaving the vent on or window open. I've scrubbed bath and kitchen floor tile with a brush and diluted degreaser but that doesn't do anything for the grout. I swear there were magic sparkle noises in the bathroom because of the professional housekeeper. I want to learn how to make that happen on my own.
posted by adapt at 3:44 PM on June 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

my magic sparkle noises come from a dirt cheap tub of store brand oxy bleach. it needs to be mixed up with hot water to make a paste and needs a long time to work but it really, really works on all manner of grime on any hard surface, particularly mildew on tile.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:14 PM on June 15, 2014

since you just cleaned the fridge, I recently read the tip to put Glad Press N' Seal film on the fridge shelves.
posted by bq at 4:45 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I hate cleaning, but I'm amazing at it. When I do clean, I definitely have those "sparkle noises" from the infomercials going on.

Most important:

1. ELBOW GREASE. Spraying windex and running a paper tower over it is not really cleaning. As you've noted, that's really just "tidying up." For a deep clean, I remove everything from a surface and attack that shit with two microfiber cloths--one wet with an appropriate cleaning solution and one dry to wipe up. If I'm not sweating, I'm not cleaning.

2. Appropriate tools. You need microfiber cloths, various sized brushes, newsprint, rough sponges, and empty bottles to make cleaning solutions for certain things. Commercial/household cleaners are great for lots of things, but sometimes nothing beats good old vinegar and water to make things shine. I do all my mirrors and glass surfaces with newsprint and vinegar. No streaks, no lint, nothing remains behind. I attack gunky sink corners, edges of faucets, all those little nooks and crannies with toothbrushes. I go after baseboards with microfiber cloths, hot water, and a cleaning solution (solution depends on whether the boards are plastic or wood). Metals (my toaster, garbage can, etc) are shiny from just very hot water and one wet and one dry stainless steel microfiber cloth.

3. Carry all your crap with you. Get a tote, put your powder cleanser, glass cleaner, degreaser, and wood cleaner in the tote. Put the garbage bags in there, all your brushes, your cloths and rags, your duster, magic erasers, lint roller.. everything in that tote. Bring it with you. (I keep bathroom cleansers right in the bathrooms.)

4. For deep cleaning, move, empty, clean, and replace. That lovely little white bowl filled with shell balls on my coffee table? Shell balls get dusted with a swiffer duster or compressed air and the bowl gets run through the dishwasher or handwashed. The electronic kettle gets a vinegar descale and all the parts get wiped down with hot water and vinegar. The toothbrush holder gets completely emptied and thoroughly washed. The fridge gets completely emptied and disassembled and I wash the large shelves in the bathtub using Dawn dish detergent. Etc.

5. Order matters. Professional cleaners typically go bottom to top and work in sections. Do the entire thing in one go. So, for example, if you're in the bathroom and you've already finished the floors and baseboards, start at the vanity, and do the entire thing. Wipe down the wood, do the sink, shine the faucets, do the mirror, wash all the stuff you use for storage and decoration, and then move on to the toilet. Do the entire toilet, inside and out. Don't rely on a brush--get your hands "dirty" by wearing gloves and getting your hand right in the toilet bowl.
posted by xyzzy at 5:44 PM on June 15, 2014 [22 favorites]

+1 that regrouting might be necessary. Are you talking about a floor, counter, or shower wall? How wide are the grout joints? It might not be too difficult of a DIY project, and then you could use the more stain-proof grout to minimize this problem going forward.
posted by slidell at 5:49 PM on June 15, 2014

Read and follow Speed Cleaning by Jeff Campbell.
posted by moira at 6:48 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also your bathroom cleaning products work better in a warm, slightly humid environment. My cleaning ladies turn the tub and shower on hot before they start cleaning the bathroom.
posted by teleri025 at 7:17 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

For soap scum, Bath Power. It is awesome and has changed my bathroom cleaning life.
Another life changing product is Kilrock for descaling - I live in a hard water area and I swear this is the ONLY thing that has worked, and also with very minimal fuss. I bought the spray and use it as a finishing touch on faucets and toilets after I clean.
posted by like_neon at 1:24 AM on June 16, 2014

Scrubbed and wiped down the inside with vinegar and a microfiber cloth but could use something better to cut through the residue.

Anything even vaguely biological: hot bleach. Oxygen bleaches, in the form of supermarket-type nappy-sanitising soaker powder or reasonably concentrated hydrogen peroxide, are much safer and less unpleasant than chlorine bleaches and, in my experience, equally effective.
posted by flabdablet at 2:32 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Before going as far as re-grouting, try some grout sealant. It's like a very thinned-down coat of white caulk that both covers up stains and seals water out. It goes on with a sponge applicator and then you wipe the dried coating off the tile, leaving bright white grout lines.
posted by mgar at 5:27 AM on June 16, 2014

Some tricks I've found:

1) These brushes for cleaning small spaces and grout. (Currently very overpriced on Amazon; buy them elsewhere).

2) BKF for stainless surfaces. Not kidding about washing it off thoroughly, though. Takes a bit more than a quick rinse, or else it leaves an ugly residue.

3) If your shower/tub is dirty, there's a 90% chance it's soap scum, which most cleaning products are useless against. Use an appropriate product, let it sit for a few minutes, and the yuck should just wipe right off.

4) I love my cordless Dyson. In fact, it's our only vacuum. Great for cleaning in hard-to-reach places, or places where you normally wouldn't want to drag a regular vacuum. Especially great for stairs (and lazy people like me)

5) If the caulk around your tub is gross, just replace it. Requires less than $10 worth of supplies, and about 20 minutes of your time. (Protip: Put masking tape around the area to be caulked, and you'll get a clean edge with almost no additional effort). I've literally done this to every apartment that I've lived in, and the bathroom always looks WAY cleaner after doing this, and stays looking this way, because you've (presumably) closed up the nooks and crannies where the ick collects.

6) White or plastic shower curtain? Bleach that shiz.

7) But don't bleach your toilet or use bleach tablets. You'll void the toilet's warranty and stink up the place.
posted by schmod at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just to add that not all cleaners do what you want. I have a friend who's an "environmentally friendly" cleaner because he's sensitive to various cleaning products and perfumes. He's a good guy and everything, but part of his MO is to do a good job on the very dirty parts and kind of take a few swipes at everything else. Corners are definitely out. Once he said, "You know, the walls in this hallway just get dirty, and there's nothing you can do about it. Why not use lower-wattage bulbs so it won't be so obvious?" Which is why we love having him over to visit but don't hire him to clean for us any more.
posted by sneebler at 10:07 AM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Scrubbed and wiped down the inside with vinegar and a microfiber cloth but could use something better to cut through the residue

Vinegar is such bullshit. Everyone says you can get your house clean using vinegar, but you can't, you just can't. Your professional cleaners probably use cleaning products with all kinds of horrible stuff that you'd be reluctant to use yourself, and that's how they get your house to be so sparkly clean.

I have cleaners come by once in a while. When I hired a woman who used only hippie products the house was cleaner than if she hadn't been there, but not so great. Then I hired a conventional company that uses serious products and when they're gone I need to open all the windows for an hour but dang, the shower stall looks glorious.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I tried bleach again in the bathroom and oxy powder cleaner everywhere else. I bought detail scrub brushes which made it easier to get into corners. Sadly toxic cleaners and elbow grease made the biggest difference. The tile floor grout is still dingy though. I'll look into the grout products recommended. I'll also try to borrow the books listed for next time.
posted by adapt at 11:01 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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