How to clean like the pros
June 18, 2016 11:51 PM   Subscribe

I hired a housekeeper for the first time to help me with a move-out clean. She did an amazing job in a fraction of the time it takes for me to clean. How can I learn to clean this quickly and effectively?

I get it, she's a pro. But still. She showed me a trick of cleaning blinds with a toothbrush, which I never would have thought of, and a Swiffer hand-duster thing and I swear what has taken me hours in the past (hours!) took fifteen minutes. And they were CLEAN! I can't help but wonder how else I'm wasting my time with regard to house cleaning. I saw this thread but I'm not looking for quick tips, I'm looking for a system that teaches you what to do, in what order, and how to do it. Preferably a video. I looked on YouTube but haven't had luck yet. Everyone says "make your own system" but I don't know where to start and Flylady is too much for me (too much religion, too much to wrap my brain around).

Also, I don't want to hire anyone long term - it's outside of our budget and I really don't mind cleaning. . . . as long as it doesn't take me days, that is.
posted by onecircleaday to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 151 users marked this as a favorite
You might be able to hire her to train you in her ways -- for X times her normal rate, or a large flat sum -- with the promise that you would just use what she taught you for yourself. Seems like she has all the info you desire.
posted by blueberry at 12:44 AM on June 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Home Comforts is a doorstopper book but written to be read start to finish rather than as a reference, so you will learn all possible ways to clean a house. She goes into the why of cleaning techniques so you know which method to choose. It's a solid basic course.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:17 AM on June 19, 2016 [20 favorites]

Best answer: I worked as a house cleaner for a bit. We were trained with, I think, these videos. If you scroll down, there are even "routes" to follow that are based on the number of cleaners you have, and there is one for one cleaner.

Before I read your extended explanation, I was going to say, it's all in the tools. We used microfiber cloths, which are really great, but also wore aprons with razor blades for stuck on messes, a pet hair removal brush, a toothbrush, and a couple other things I think, for easy access. We also had a caddy with all the tools and materials that we kept near, to prevent loss and going back and forth, For cleaning bathtubs, we used basic dish soap and scouring powder if we needed, and cleaned with a sponge with a 16oz container for rinsing. You already know a good duster can drastically change the game (do you have a long and short, or an extendable? Many people overlook dusting their ceiling fans, but dust accumulates at an alarming rate up there, and in a kitchen, it can be really gross as dust gets caked on with grease from the air.) Identify other tasks that may be taking longer than you'd like and research tools that might help.

If you have a lot of wood flooring, try a washable dust mop head instead of sweeping or vacuuming. These mops are not just more sanitary, but, in my opinion a lot easier to use. You'd spray the liquid as you go, as well, so I find it easier on the back, with no wringing, etc. Washable / reusable products are a lot more available nowadays and they're cheaper in the long run. We'd use pumice sticks to remove mineral rings from toilets.

Order of operations is important, too. Dust first, so you can sweep it up later. We'd clean surfaces last, but I think it was a time-saving method. Common sense says to move from top to bottom, which is what I usually do if cleaning on my own(as long as the dust has settled first). But the best way to make cleaning easy is to tidy a bit every day and clean up spills as they happen. Wearing a mask if your house is dusty and comfortable clothing (I wear workout/yoga gear) might also make cleaning less unpleasant, as well as using natural/chemical-free products. Music helps, too!
posted by serenity_now at 5:35 AM on June 19, 2016 [44 favorites]

Try some of the books by Jeff Campbell, especially Speed Cleaning.

He was a professional cleaner, and wrote a series of books on cleaning like the pros do.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:56 AM on June 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

The main thing for me is to keep a very clear line between cleaning and organizing. When I'm cleaning my house I always get hung up on "oh this doesn't belong in this room" or "that shelf looks sloppy, better rearrange everything" and then I spend the next 45 minutes doing that. A cleaner can just dust or wash the floors and stay on task.
posted by betsybetsy at 6:32 AM on June 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Nthing Speed Cleaning.
posted by Lexica at 11:32 AM on June 19, 2016

Best answer: I've watched how the lady who cleans our house works, and what I've learned matches a lot with what serenity_now says. Here is what I see our housekeeper do:

Start with the longest thing first - when she comes over, Miss Betty (our housekeeper) starts by taking the sheets off the bed and the towels from the bathroom and putting those in the washer. She checks on that periodically, but it doesn't occupy a lot of her attention.

Have everything you need with you - we keep a cleaning caddy in the garage with all the cleaning supplies in it: Pledge, Windex, duster, brushes, etc. Whatever she needs is always to hand. Before she even starts cleaning, she gets everything else she needs from the garage, like the mop and broom and vacuum, staged in the kitchen and ready to use.

Start high and work your way downwards - the first thing (after putting stuff in the washer) she does is to start by dusting from the ceiling down. Tops of mirrors, tops of furniture, and on down until she's at floor level. Then she can sweep and/or vacuum.

Start in the back, and move to the front - she works room by room, going from the back of the house to the front of the house. Once a room is done she never goes back to it again. The last thing she cleans is the kitchen, since that is right by the door to the garage. From there she can put away all her tools, grab her money, and head out the door.

And as betsybetsy says, you can clean, or you can organize, but you can't do both. Miss Betty has been cleaning for my wife for far longer than we've been married, and probably knows where everything in this house goes better than I do. But organizing is not her job. If there is something we've left out on the counter, she picks it up, cleans/dusts under it, and puts it back down. The organization is our problem, not hers.

We have your standard three bedroom / two bath ranch with a living room / dining room / den / kitchen, and it usually takes Miss Betty about three hours, give or take, to clean. She's in no hurry, though, because she's mostly retired and only cleans a few houses now. But when she was still working full-time cleaning houses she could do our house in around two hours so she could get to her next client.

From watching her over the years (I work from home so I'm always here when she comes every two weeks) I could probably clean our house in about the same amount of time using her methods. But without knowing her workflow it would probably take me all day to get the same result.
posted by ralan at 8:49 AM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Once a room is done she never goes back to it again.

I don't know if my method is better, or worse, or just a matter of preference, but last time I did a post-moveout cleaning I did the whole house by task rather than completing each room then moving on.

In other words, I went through the entire house and swept all walls from the ceiling down to get rid of cobwebs. Then I went back and dusted/cleaned all light fixtures/fans, windowsills, top of the medicine cabinet, built-in shelves, and countertops. After that I swept around all the baseboards then vacuumed rugs and mopped floors.

I did leave the kitchen for last, since (because I am, shall we say, a spirited cook) it's the grungiest and needs its own special approach. I should also say that I began defrosting the fridge before I started in on the rest of the house, so it was ready for cleanup along with the rest of the kitchen.

Granted this was after moving out, so there was no furniture/books/knicknacks/small appliances/etc. to slow me down, but that method can still be adapted to normal housekeeping. And it has the advantage (at least, I assume it does) of allowing dust to settle a bit in each room before coming back for the next step.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:46 AM on June 20, 2016

Best answer: Oh, and tangentially related to the topic of your question:

I sat down at one point and looked around the Internet for lists of every possible housekeeping task and schedules for doing them, and kept the items that were applicable to my own situation (ex. no need to do yardwork or clear gutters when living in an apartment). After creating one list of daily/weekly cleaning tasks, I compiled a separate "calendar" by distributing the list of larger and monthly/seasonal/occasional tasks across individual months of a year, so that no one month had more chores than another.

I posted the lists somewhere handy and developed the habit of checking on them whenever I had a free evening or weekend day to do some chores. Or you could set phone reminders, or mark up a paper calendar, or whatever.

It's nice to have a handy list to look at so I don't forget any tasks, but for me the main advantage was planning the workload ahead of time so I didn't end up with an intimidating mountain of chores that needed doing all at once.

Having the discipline to follow through on that lovely schedule, of course, is another issue... :)
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:11 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've worked as a housekeeper in fancy vacation rentals and enthusiastically nth everything serenity_now said.

I'll add my own order of operations in case any of it is helpful for you. We often had very, very few hours in which to clean giant vacation rentals top to bottom so this method has efficiency in mind. It's very useful to think of cleaning your house in a big-picture sense instead of a smaller, detail-oriented sense. Don't pick a room and start cleaning it and getting all caught up in a task, quickly go around your house doing the same one thing in every room. Like, go to all the rooms and pick up trash, then go to all the rooms and dust them, then go back and clean all the windows, etc. etc.


1) Strip all beds and gather all dirty linens and towels, and put a load of towels in immediately. They take the longest to dry.

2) Weather permitting, open all windows/doors that have screens and run any ceiling fans. Let in some sun and fresh air. Take all smaller rugs outside and drape them over a porch railing.

3) Spray oven cleaner in the oven, let it sit for two hours.

4) Go into each room with a trash bag, check under the beds, open all drawers, closets and cabinets and check for trash or anything that doesn't belong. Replace all trash bags with a fresh one, or if it's your own house, dump the smaller cans' contents into one trash bag.

5) Grab a terry cloth rag and some glass cleaner, along with a microfiber cloth and some Pledge, and some all-purpose cleaner, then go to every room in the house and clean any glass (windows or otherwise) then dust/clean any horizontal surface. Don't forget window sills, wall decor, the insides of drawers, bed frames, etc. If you're feeling frisky, this is also the time to grab a webster for corners, ceiling fans, light fixtures, tops of high-up cabinets, etc.

6) Start cleaning the bathrooms and the kitchen. Spray the shower/tub with soap scum remover and let it sit. Scrub. An abrasive like barkeeper's friend works great on tubs. You can just use a Scotch Brite. After you're done, rinse everything off and then (this is key!) use a clean dry rag and dry it off. Never leave anything wet. For the rinsing part, have a tub or bucket to fill with water and then splash on the surface. Use glass cleaner on sink faucets and glass shower doors to make them shine. Basically: scrub the thing, rinse the thing, dry the thing, polish the thing. Magic erasers and the pumice stones serenity_now linked work great on toilets, Brillo soap pads are amazing on kitchen sinks and anything gunky or gross on the floor. We'd use a generic disinfectant on toilets/light switches/doorknobs etc as a last step, but that might not be as important for your own home. Also, it's seriously fine to just knock any dirt, hair, or debris to the floor, you can get it when you do the floors. Throw out anything expired from the fridge and any old leftovers, putting the tupperware in the sink or dish washer. Wipe the fridge inside and out, wipe the microwave inside and out, polish appliances, the front of the dishwasher if there is one. Run the dishwasher or do the dishes. If the two hours is up on your oven cleaner, you should be able to just wipe the gunk out of the oven and then use some all-purpose cleaner to finish.

7) Quickly sweep all non-carpet floors. I don't know if this is too obvious, but don't go around making little piles and sweeping them up. Quickly sweep all the crap on the floor to one side of the room and then go in and make one big pile. Don't forget to move stuff so you can get the whole floor. It's tempting not to but just do it.

8) Break out the vacuum. Take the couch and chair cushions out and vacuum in there, then do the cushions themselves, then any pillows. Vacuum all carpeted areas. Shake rugs out outside and vacuum them. Vacuum up anything on the hard floors that you may have missed. Clean out the vacuum carriage/bag and check the filter.

9) If you're going to do your baseboards, do them now. You can use a soapy damp rag or a damp magic eraser.

10) If the laundry is done, make the beds: fitted sheet, then pillows with an envelope tuck, then flat sheet and a fleece blanket over the pillows, fold them over 5" at the top so the sheet is over the blanket, tuck that fold under the mattress on both sides, then do hospital corners and tuck everything else. Then add your comforter or quilt on top of everything and "stage" it along with your shams and throw pillows. Go from big to small! For towels and blankets, we'd do the "tri-fold" method that I still do to this day because it looks really nice. Basically you fold it in thirds lengthwise, fold that in half, then fold that into thirds. Wish I could find a diagram of this.

11) The absolute last thing you want to do is mop your hard floors. I would absolutely wait until all of your laundry is done and folded. The only thing you should be doing after your floors is leaving the house or sitting on your couch and watching Netflix :) You never want to have to mop twice because of footprints or dust/dirt settling! Get a ring-out mop like this one, a bucket or tub of soapy water, dunk the mop in and ring it out like crazy. You just want a damp mop. Use wood floor cleaner on your hardwood floors instead. Just spray it on the floor and use a cheapie microfiber mop to polish it in.

My best advice is to think of the bigger-picture and clean in large quick swathes instead of focusing on little tiny tasks and taking forever on them. Clean from top to bottom, and seriously, do your floors last!
posted by moons in june at 5:35 PM on June 20, 2016 [26 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your responses! moons in june and serenity now (is that a Seinfeld reference? : D) had exactly what I was looking for - a specific plan of action. I didn't realize it but the reason why it takes me so long is because I get obsessed with the small things that take forever rather than attacking those things first, when in most cases I could let those things soak for the few hours that I'm cleaning everything else. Great points were made about focusing on the big picture and not letting clutter build up (and if it does, focus on the cleaning first and not re-organizing clutter).
posted by onecircleaday at 7:11 PM on June 20, 2016

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