House cleaning boot camp!
June 28, 2017 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I will soon be without my beloved and much revered and appreciated cleaning lady (finances are changing as I'm moving to a house). I need to start cleaning my own house and I haven't done it in like 20 years, so could use some advice on some things. (Yes, I had the same cleaning lady for 20 years - she is amazing and available if you live in LA!)

I am a single person, with 3 cats. My house is smallish, one floor, and wood floors, with a few area rugs. I will have a dishwasher and a good washer/dryer set, and I already have a good canister vacuum cleaner and ordered a vacuuming robot. I have basic cleaning supplies, but they probably aren't the best ones.

I don't cook much so the kitchen doesn't get that dirty regularly luckily.

Give me your tips and tricks, routines, techniques, resources, advice on which swiffer/brush/bucket/rags/cleaners/broom/mop/squeegee/doohickey etc to get? I'd rather just buy the right one the first time then struggle.

What items can I get (or habits form) that will cut down on the cleaning hassle? How often do you have to do the various things? What tasks work better/go faster/require less frequency when you do them a certain way?

Let's stick to the house itself for now, I'm sure we'll get into gardening/yard/home maintenance stuff later.

Thanks in advance!
posted by bluesky78987 to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Read a few of Jolie Kerr's "Ask A Clean Person" columns and, if you like her style, get the book.
posted by caek at 3:43 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

Unfuck Your Habitat is a good repository of resources.
posted by typify at 4:07 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]

Podcasts and audiobooks are the best for me, so it seems like a nice activity and not a hated one.
posted by mercredi at 4:19 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]

The Sweethome has recommendations for all sorts of things including supplies, appliances, and tools for cleaning.

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House is a great reference for what you'd do if you had unlimited time and motivation for housekeeping.
posted by magicbus at 5:24 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]

One thing that definitely helps me is keeping a separate set of cleaning supplies in the rooms that need attention more frequently. (Like bathrooms and the kitchen.) This might be as simple as a basket of disinfectant spray, brush/sponge, and paper towels. And honestly, nothing is better than doing a quick wipe at the end of the day, every day. Stove/countertops if you've been cooking that day, bathroom sink/vanity before bed, etc.

We also have a set of cushions in the dining room that attract tons of cat hair, so I keep the special furniture-brush-vacuum-attachment within easy reach there too. It's all about making these tasks easier by not having to hunt down tools in the middle of your task.

Keep small trashcans in each room if you don't already - one by the bed and one by the couch helps us cut down on miscellaneous clutter. Also keep some spare trashbags inside/near the containers so replacing them is less of a hassle.

Maybe also consider a laundry hamper with a separate partition for dish/cleaning towels, so they don't end up in a wet pile somewhere until there's enough of them to throw into the wash. This'll depend on how often you'll go through them as your cleaning habits get established, but we just did this and it increased our frequency of tidying up.

Tool-wise, I've found Toilet Wands to be really simple and hassle-free. Bar Keeper's Friend is a godsend for a lot of surfaces, and Magic Erasers are definitely magic for any marks on walls. Chainmail scrubbers are great even if you don't use cast iron cookware - they'll get burnt crap off of anything with much less elbow grease. Something like Pledge Furniture Polish for wooden pieces as well as getting rid of fingerprints on stainless steel, in combination with microfiber cleaning cloths. And Swiffer Dusters for a quick wipe of surfaces when the amount dust becomes too obvious.

No suggestions for wooden floors, as we live with carpet and would kill to get rid of it.

But for a motivation boost, nothing works better for me than watching an episode of Hoarders. Something in me nopes out hard enough to put in a few hours of nonstop cleaning.

Best of luck with the new place!
posted by erratic meatsack at 5:24 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]

Pick a Mrs. Meyers scent you like and use it for everything. Then you have a cohesive scent throughout the house that will make you look forward to cleaning. Some scent lines have more products than others. Lavender and lemon verbena, not surprisingly seem to have the most. I like geranium because it reminds me of when I was a kid growing up in the country. The concentrated all-purpose cleaner will last a long time, although I wish the dish washing liquid were more economical. It's really easy to peel the label off of the dish washing liquid and hand soap bottles so that you have containers with no visual noise.
posted by jgirl at 5:37 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]

I've broken down tasks into daily, weekly, quarterly, semi-annual. They're on a spreadsheet I've been using for 16 years. Before doing that I was a hopeless housekeeper (and my mother and grandmother were great ones). Checking off the cells and hiding the rows for a group of checked-off cells gamifies it all.

I have black kitchen appliances in my rental. The only way I can keep them looking good is with a microfiber cloth.

With your stuff, aim for ease in putting away and retrieving.

And remember that "right away is the easy way!"

I'll send you a MeMail.
posted by jgirl at 5:47 PM on June 28

These are the most amazing dusting cloths. Ever since I discovered these cloths, I keep a hefty supply available and have utterly stopped resenting our biweekly cleaning sessions. And we have lots of art objects in our home that collect dust, grime, and grease.
posted by DrGail at 5:53 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

First, see if you can pay your current cleaning lady to give you a lesson (or two) in cleaning. Your new place will have some differences, of course, but the basic concepts will be the same. I asked my cleaning lady a bunch of questions when we were moving out of town - she gave me plenty of pointers. If you can follow her around one day - pay her extra! - you'll learn SO MUCH.

One of the biggest thing my cleaning lady told me was to always dust before you wash. Take a dry microfiber cloth and wipe down the counter or whatever, then go over it again with the actual cleaning solution. SO much easier/better.

(Related, microfiber cloths are THE BEST cleaning tool that I've ever purchased. I have zillions of them. I use them, then toss them into a special laundry basket in my basement - and wash them all at once when I start to get low on stock. Way better than paper towels. I never worry that I'm using too many - I just grab another one when the first one looks a bit gross or dusty or whatever.)

Always work from the top of the room/space down to the bottom. As you clean the mirror, gunk may fall onto the counter. As you clean the counter, some might go down to the floor. Always vacuum/wash the floor last.

Get (back) into the habit of cleaning up as you go along. Wipe down your counters as you're cooking. Wash the toothpaste down the drain as soon as you finish brushing your teeth. Clean up spilled water droplets from the bathroom floor after you finish showering. Those few seconds that it takes save you a lot of time - it's far easier to clean things when the mess is 'fresh'.

And this one might just be me - but spend a bit extra to buy products that smell nice to you, or that are more fun to use. If you have to clean, you might as well get some sort of enjoyment out of it..
posted by VioletU at 7:12 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]

I have a cat and also hardwood floors. I can pinpoint the day that I knew sweeping with an angle broom once a week was no longer cutting it: the cat and I were in the kitchen. He was up on his little shelf, eating lunch, and I think I may have been getting something out of the fridge. The kitchen window was open, and suddenly a breeze blew through the room, sending a cyclone of cat hair up into the air. It was so large and voluminous that the cat and I both stopped what we were doing to watch it spin around.

I went out the next day and bought a Swiffer. My usual method is to deploy it in sections, shaking the loose dust off into the garbage before moving on to the next room/area.
posted by janepanic at 7:42 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]

Also, since you are moving (moved?) into a new place, you are in a prime position to do what this previous answer discusses.

Between that exercise, Konmari, and my spreadsheets, I have experienced significant change.
posted by jgirl at 8:29 PM on June 28

I love my Spray Mop for cleaning wooden floors - it has an inbuilt bottle that you put your cleaning solution in, and then you spray it and clean with the microfibre pad (that you then wash in the washing machine). I'm always worried about putting too much water on the wooden floor, and this is great because it's only a small spray. I always vacuum before I do a big mop, but I always leave some cleaning stuff in it for cleaning up small spills too.

Edit: Oh my, I didn't realise you could get a dusting pad that you can change out for the mop pad too, I'm a sucker for multi-job tools. Well, at least I haven't seen them in Australia. Thanks Amazon...ordering now.
posted by cholly at 10:03 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

Always sweep (or vacuum) the floor before you mop it. Otherwise you just push the dirt around.
posted by colfax at 2:18 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

I recently got the robot vacuum recommended by The Sweethome, and it makes me enormously happy, and keeps my place much cleaner. It also encourages me to keep things off the floors!
posted by ocherdraco at 2:50 AM on June 29

The easiest thing to do that helps with cleaning, I find, is not to let things get that messy to begin with. Do as much daily cleaning as you can stand or can get yourself into a habit with: wipe your counters and sinks down quickly with wipes, do the take something with you when you leave a room thing and put it where it belongs. You'll still have to do the "big" cleaning, sure, but it will take you a lot less time if you're not spending time beforehand putting things away and really have to scrub counters, etc.
posted by not that mimi at 5:29 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

I learned to clean from a company called The Clean Team. They have a book that trains how to clean based on best principles of energy economy, cleaning top to bottom, carrying your tools in a apron you wear. I still have the gear I bought from them 20 years ago. Learning to clean efficiently has saved me thousands of hours of effort. I used to do unit turnover as a resident manager so knowing how to work efficiently was invaluable.
posted by diode at 6:03 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]

A broom with a dustpan that allows you to collect the dirt without bending over (called a standing or upright broom and dustpan set) is a nice to have.

Agreed on spray bottles where you need them. I use a soap and water solution for surface cleaning (counters, spills, toilets), and a vinegar and water solution for mirrors and glass.
posted by lafemma at 6:25 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Wow, great answers so far, thank you!

Any and all minutia welcomed, no matter how small!

The robot ocherdance linked is the exact one I just ordered! :) So for the floors, it sounds like I need that to keep the cat hair tumbleweeds under control on a daily basis, plus a way to sweep or dust, plus a way to mop? Does a swiffer do the same job as a broom? Would the swiffer with duster and mop attachments do everything I need here?

Do I just get something called "Bathroom cleaner" for the bathroom, and "Kitchen cleaner" for the kitchen, "Glass cleaner" for the glass, or is there more of a science to it than that? At the grocery store/Target?

I move in a couple weeks, so the evaluation in the thread jgirl linked ("What do I need in this room?" instead of "what can I get rid of in this room") will be very useful! I've already Konmarie'd the heck out of my stuff (most fun I've had in years!)
posted by bluesky78987 at 7:37 AM on June 29

I second the Clean Team recommendation - their tips on bathroom cleaning alone are worth the cost of the book. I've never bought any of their products, but the tips on having great smelling cleaning supplies stored in every room are spot on. I can seriously clean my entire bathroom/kitchen in about 10-15 minutes with their techniques, and that includes decluttering.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:58 AM on June 29

100% follow whatever Jolie Kerr says. Her book and columns are great. You can literally search "Jolie Kerr ___" and find instructions on everything from cleaning the bathroom to doing laundry to cleaning up pet messes.

In terms of products to use, those 3 all make sense. The exact product comes down to preference, price, perceived value of "harsh chemicals" vs "natural." I like Method because it smells nice, and then I also have some heavier-duty stuff.
- Method glass cleaner
- Method all-purpose cleaner
- Method bathroom cleaner (not convinced this is different from all-purpose)
- 409 or some other strong all-purpose cleaner for really icky stuff
- Clorox toilet wand

Swiffers are kinda awful, you're better off actually sweeping/vacuuming.

I also agree that having extra cleaning supplies in places like the bathroom will make you much more likely to clean in there! It's easy to just quickly wipe down the sink when you notice some toothpaste on it if you have cleaner and paper towels under the sink.
posted by radioamy at 1:53 PM on June 29

Furniture polish such as Pledge is not recommended for dusting wood furniture because it adds wax and over time the wax builds up and is very difficult to remove. Buy microfiber dusting cloths and use those on your wood furniture. They're washable, but don't use dryer sheets when drying them because the sheets will remove the magical tackiness of the cloths that pick up dust so well.
posted by Aha moment at 8:39 AM on July 1

Read the back of any product you're considering buying - it will tell you what surfaces it can NOT be used on (e.g., "do not use on wood surfaces"). Honestly, for many, many years I cleaned almost everything with good old Windex.

I love the Method products that radioamy mentioned - I tend to use their all-purpose spray for 90% of my cleaning needs because the scents are fine for all the rooms in my house. They're my new version of Windex, I guess. It's nice to choose a 'theme' for your cleaning products - whether it's lemon or fruit or unscented - so you don't have conflicting smells all over the place.

Buy your products wherever it's easiest - even if you spend a tiny bit more to do so. It's far easier to buy a new bottle of (product) while you're getting groceries each week than it is to make a special trip to some store you only visit once every few months.

Generally you don't need a lot of different specialized cleaners. I have a few more intense products for difficult tasks (which can often be eliminated by cleaning more often or doing spot-cleaning instead of waiting for things to get overly gross) but all of them were purchased as-needed and then stored for future use. For example, I dye my hair vibrant pinks and purples, so I needed a bleach-based cleaner to get the colour out of my shower.

If you can, keep your surfaces as tidy as possible. It's far easier to wipe down the bathroom counter if it's not covered in endless bottles and tubes and jars (each of which needs to be moved, wiped down, etc.). Keep things in cupboards whenever possible (keeps things dust-free, clean, and out of the way). Pick up some baskets to group items together - lift one basket full of hair products off of the counter instead of 20 individual items.

I did not know that I had this many opinions about cleaning. Huh.
posted by VioletU at 10:36 AM on July 1

Does a swiffer do the same job as a broom? Would the swiffer with duster and mop attachments do everything I need here?

If you want to keep your floor really clean, so you don't have to fight back the gunk every few months, a Swiffer alone won't do it. The dry Swiffer will really excel at corralling the ambient fur, but it doesn't get into corners the way a broom does. Plus it's not very maneuverable.

My routine is to sweep the corners and other hard-to-reach places with a broom, then use a dry Swiffer over the entire floor. It picks up a lot of grime and icky stuff. At least on my floors, there's always enough detritus that I end up with little piles that need a hand vac. Then, and only then, I go back over the entire floor with wet Swiffer cloths. I usually end up using 4-5 wet Swiffer cloths to cover my moderate-sized floor. I just have the basic handle, no fancy sprayer for tough spots. I'm not sure it's worth it, at least for our floors.
posted by DrGail at 2:23 PM on July 1

I put clorox wipes on my swiffer for lazy mopping purposes. Note: they don't exactly fit but it's a lot cheaper than replacement swiffer stuff.

- All purpose bathroom/kitchen spray (I tend to buy whatever is on sale but lysol/clorox .. natural cleaners don't do it for me mold-wise)
- Windex (windex is needed for clean mirrors etc)
- Clorox wipes (love these although they are lazy/wasteful)
- Dyson vacuum
- Dawn soap (a very good soap for many applications)

My general cleaning habits are as follows:
- Try not to make a mess
- Vacuum every day or every other day (surface vacuum)
- Dishes as needed - a small dishwasher helps me do this regularly
- Every week clean toilet, shower, sink
- Every other week or so, sanitize all surfaces and mop (full mop)

I don't move everything, vacuum, and wipe down every item and surface more than every 2-3 months. I tend to do this in chunks, so once a month i'll completely clean the bedroom and half the living room, or similar.

FWIW I spend more time and energy cleaning than most(/any?) people I know (as I would imagine most people excited to answer this question would be) so don't worry about it if you aren't as diligent or find you don't need to deep clean as much. I also have a very small space which makes it grime up faster and easier to clean.
posted by love2potato at 5:29 PM on July 1

I learned in a stained glass class to use rubbing alcohol to clean glass, it never leaves a residue.

We don't have cats but we do have kids, so we got a handheld cordless vac for quick clean up jobs ( I personally find this to be less labor intensive than sweeping, ymmv). If I don't have time for a full floor cleaning, I do a run around the baseboards of the kitchen and it gets the most obvious dust, particles and hair.
posted by vignettist at 9:05 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]

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