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Linda's Corner

Cleaning maven Linda Jones shares her tips, tricks and insights with a monthly column for Sandy Wipes.

Renew Your Home: Spring Cleaning Done Right

Part 1 of 2. By Linda Jones, 4 March 2013

    It's my favorite time of the year. The birds are buzzing around merrily, the soil is pushing its plants into the world, it's almost as if there's an electric charge in the air, giving you the energy and motivation you need to accomplish everything you want to.

    This surge of energy can be great for getting started with spring cleaning, but a lot of folks run out of juice after they realize how much work there is to do. Excess clutter has been building up in your home for months now, and many of us skip the routine dusting, sweeping, and vaccuuming during the winter months. It can get overwhelming very quickly, and we wind up rushing through it, doing a mediocre job, just so we can cross it off our checklist.

    Does any of this sound familiar to you? I'd like to share with you some techniques and tricks that can reduce your workload, make it more enjoyable, and improve the end result.

What follows is our Spring Cleaning Extravaganza! I'm writing up a thorough spring cleaning guide, so long it has to be split into 2 parts! It's a big read, but feel free to grab the pieces from it that are most helpful for you and your home.

Step 1: Decluttering

    Getting rid of excess clutter can be therapeutic if you go in with the right attitude and the right method. I have been a long-standing believer that less is more - owning fewer possessions increases happiness, and getting too bogged down with tons of stuff decreases it. This notion is being confirmed in scientific studies and publications alike. In fact, most people that do a thorough decluttering of their homes feel liberated afterwards, like a weight has been lifted that they didn't even realize had been there.

    The hardest part of this task is deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Instinctually, we want to hang on to everything - it goes back to our survivalist roots when valuable possessions were few and far between. We need to fight this instinct, because even though it might not feel like it at the beginning, we almost without exception feel much better afterwards.

    For non-sentimental utilitarian things like kitchen utensils, everyday clothing and late-night infomercial purchases, the rule is as follows: If you haven't used it in the past 6 months, you don't need it. There are exceptions, such as seasonal items like christmas lights, but don't fall into the trap of saying "well, I could find a use for this someday..." For sentimental items, try and figure out if it's really something meaningful to you. Your wedding dress is definitely an important keepsake, but a closet full of favorite clothes from your high school days probably aren't worth hanging onto.

The Triple Pile Technique. To effectively declutter, you'll need to create 3 piles: one for stuff you'll be throwing out, one for stuff you'll be donating, and one for stuff you'll be selling. Find or create a large open space for you to gather things into these 3 piles.

Donation Pile. A lot of people don't realize how easy it is to donate items, especially clothing. Websites like Planet Aid let you plug in your ZIP code to find clothing donation boxes near you. Simply pop all your old clothes into garbage bags and drop them into the box, 24/7. Can't find a box near you? The Salvation Army will come to you, for free, to pick up unwanted clothing, furniture, appliances and toys. Electronics like old cell phones, TVs and computers can be donated to a myriad of organizations. Personally, I love Dell and Goodwill's joint effort, Reconnect. They will accept a myriad of electronics, and it's as simple as dropping them off at your local Goodwill. Another great organization is Cell Phones For Soldiers; The knowledge that your cell phone is letting an American soldier overseas talk to his/her family is well worth the trip to the post office. This is just a short list - a google search will find dozens of local organizations near you.

Selling Pile. Selling items can be very worthwhile, especially in the context of raising a few dollars to fund your spring cleaning and reorganization. Sell that old Playstation that the kids don't use anymore to buy a great new vacuum to speed up your spring cleaning, for example! There are many ways for you to sell your used stuff. The classic way is to throw a yard sale. You can also try selling to a pawn shop, or you can list your stuff online, through marketplaces like Craigslist or eBay. This is an exhaustive subject in and of itself, but Survival Insight has great guides on setting up a yard sale and selling online through Craigslist.

    The trick for selling used goods is to realize that not everything is worth selling. Your 'selling' pile ought to be the smallest of your 3 piles, for most households. Money isn't the only valuable currency here; is it worth your time or your energy to sell this stuff? Trying to be too ambitious with your sales pile can take away the time and energy you need for spring cleaning. You may think it's best to try to sell everything in a yard sale, but this is a mistake. It's better to have a relatively small yard sale with high-quality, desirable items, rather than a huge one with mostly junk. Someone may be willing to buy your handheld blender, but if it's obscured in a pile of worn-down trinkets and rusty knives, they'll have left long before they have a chance to see it. For selling online, you should be listing no more than 5-10 items, and nothing for less than $20-40. It takes considerable time and effort to take pictures of each it em, write the Craigslist or Ebay post, negotiate with the buyers and go through the sale itself, either in person or through the mail.

Junk Pile. For most households, the junk pile will be the largest. Excess junk, that won't be picked up on the street, needs to be brought to a facility - you can hire a company like 1-800-Got-Junk for this, or you can haul it manually yourself to save some money.

Too much work? The Triple Pile Technique works very well and can be executed with much less effort than it may seem, but it might be too big a jump for some. If this sounds much too daunting a task, just focus on throwing out old unused items. Selling and donations can be done towards the end instead of at the beginning - as long as the bulk of the clutter is gone, we can focus on cleaning and reorganization for now. Once you start to see how fresh, clean and 'light' your home seems afterwards, a second wind will hit and you'll wanna get your home even lighter!

Step 2: Pre-Clean Reorganization

    A big part of a satisfactory spring cleaning comes from reorganization. The fresh citrus scent and sparkly sink fixtures are temporary, but reorganization can permanently improve how you feel at home! Studies have continually shown that having a clear, open workspace can increase both productivity and happiness, whether it's a home office or a kitchen. Reorganization is a subject I talk about frequently in my columns, because it can make such a huge difference. Some reorganization makes sense to do before cleaning, and some makes more sense to do afterwards. For this reason, I've split the category.

The Bin And Out Game. The first step is making sure everything is in the right room. It sounds basic, but you can save a lot of time by starting with everything in proximity to where it belongs, rather than having to constantly interrupt progress to go looking for that evasive TV remote. The best way to do this is to play what I've coined the Bin and Out Game.

Grab a large laundry bin or other large container. Start at one end of your home, in say the bedroom. Go through this room, grabbing anything that doesn't belong in this room and tossing it into the bin. Once you've gotten everything that shouldn't be in this room in the bin, move to the next room. First, remove any items in the bin that belong here, and then go through this room, adding anything that doesn't belong in this room to the bin, and so forth. The game ends when you wind up back in the room you started in, to empty your bin into it. And voila! Everything is in the right place, and further reorganization will be snappy and quick.

     Now that everything is in the right room, it's time to work on reducing surface clutter. For now, remove everything from nightstands, countertops, desks, tables, etc, with the exception of very heavy and permanent objects like computer screens on desks. The primary purpose here is to get the surface ready to be thoroughly dusted and wiped down, but there's a secondary benefit here - You'll see just how nice it feels to have a wide, empty surface. I recommend going from room to room clearing surfaces, so that when you finish the last room, you'll have a fresher perspective as you walk back into the first room.

     How much you do before or after cleaning, beyond this, is pretty much up to you. It depends on what you feel like doing! If you're sick of organization and just want to get your hands dirty and wipe down those windows, go for it! If you're enjoying reorganization and want to get started sorting out what's under the sink, skip down to Step 4 and get started! Just use common sense, and don't start organizing items on a surface you haven't cleaned yet!

Step 3: Cleaning

    A lot of people dislike cleaning because it's boring, tedious or tiring. Some people try to watch TV while they clean to aleviate the boredom, but either they wind up just watching TV and not cleaning, or they wind up ignoring the TV because they're busy cleaning! My personal favorite fix for this is music: It's just the right level of engagement, where you can listen to it and enjoy it, without it becoming distracting from the task at hand. Audiobooks are another great tool - Your favorite books are typically narrated and available to purchase on CD or digital download, so you can clean while a professional narrator reads a great book to you off your iPod. Many online stores have promotional offers that let you try a book for free to see if it's something you'd like!

    The distraction of entertainment can make housework feel less tiring, however I feel like a more compelling way around this problem is a simple change in perspective. Cleaning your home can be a workout, just like going to the gym. Rather than think of it as a tiring chore, think of it as a way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone - It's an opportunity to get exercise! Studies have continually shown that doing exercise is associated with a wide array of positive benefits, both physical and mental, including reduced stress, increased happiness, and an overall sense of welbeing.

    Finally, I hope the strategies and tactics in this article and throughout my column for Sandy Wipes will help make cleaning less tedious. Whenever possible, I make a game of cleaning, so that rather than just doing repetitive tasks, I'm challenging myself to find innovative ways to save time. I'm sharing many of these methods with you, but don't limit yourself to what I say! Try coming up with ways to work smart rather than work hard.

    It's time to start cleaning! If you followed steps 1 and 2, this step will fly by, because we've already done a sizeable chunk of the work! I've categorized the tasks by room, but feel free to do these in any order you wish*!

*Note: Start every room by cleaning ceiling fixtures, like lights, fans and chandeliers, and any corner cobwebs. Unscrew light bulbs and wipe them down, they get surprisingly dusty. This is done so that you get all the dust onto other surfaces before cleaning them. On the other hand, floors should only be cleaned at the end, after all other aspects of all other rooms have been done. Dust travels from room to room, don't clean your floors until all other work is done.

The Kitchen.

I like to start with the kitchen, because there are a ton of quick, easy tricks that make life more pleasant, especially for cooking. No other room in the house gives you as much 'bang for your buck' when it comes to time spent cleaning.

Kitchen Germs: It's important to remember that one of the big reasons you should clean is to kill harmful germs and bacteria, and the kitchen can be a paradise for common germs. NSF International, a public health non-profit, recently conducted a study on the 'germiest' kitchen spots, and I feel like we should start by going through them. For the full list, visit NSF International's website.

Meat and Vegetable Fridge Compartments: Both of these compartments should be removed regularly and cleaned with a disinfectant wipe or spray. NSF also recommends separating washed and packaged produce from raw unwashed produce, as well as making sure all meat, poultry and seafood isn't stored above other produce to make sure no raw juices drip down.

Fridge water/ice dispenser: If your fridge dispenses water or ice, NSF recommends cleaning the supply thoroughly. For water dispensers, pour 3-4 cups of distilled white vinegar into the supply, wait 10 minutes, and turn the dispenser on to let the vinegar run through the track and come out the dispenser. Once the vinegar is dispensed, replace with water and run until there are no traces of vinegar. Repeat this process once or twice a year, and also clean the spout with a brush dipped in vinegar weekly. For ice dispensers, empty the bin and wash with a mild dish soap and warm water. Be sure to throw away the first batch of ice made after the vinegar rinse.

Multiple Component Appliances: Small appliances like blenders and can openers often have multiple pieces and, thus, lots of small crevices and cracks for germs to hide in. Disassemble these devices and thoroughly wipe down all areas with a disinfecting wipe or spray. For two-piece spatulas and other handheld tools, it makes sense to separate them before putting into the dishwasher or hand washing.

Knife Block: Knife blocks are a perfect breeding ground for germs. Remove all knives, turn the block upside down, and shake lightly or blow with compressed air. Use a small brush to clean out the knife slots. Hand wash in soapy water, and rinse thoroughly. For better sanitation, let soak in a gallon of warm tap water with an added tablespoon of 5.25% bleach for 1 minute. Rinse thoroughly, and let dry upside down.

Sponges: This one isn't from the NSF, but it fits this list. Germs and Bacteria love to hang out in wet sponges, and often, cleaning with a sponge will do more harm than good. The best way to deal with this is to boil them in water for 3 minutes - or microwave them on high for 2 minutes - between uses. You can also help your sponges dry out more by standing them upright with a binder clip (click for picture). You can also use Sandy Wipes instead of a sponge for kitchen surfaces.

Microwave: Ater a year (or more) of use without serious cleaning, the microwave can get a pretty gross layer of stuck-on grime all-around. Fortunately, there's a terrific shortcut to take the work out of this job. Place a handful of dripping-wet paper towels inside and run it on high for 3 minutes. The heat will cause the water to evaporate, and that steam will soften the grime all over the microwave. Wipe the surfaces down with a dry paper towel and that stuck-on mess wipes right up!

Drain: Even if your drain isn't clogged, it may be draining much more slowly than it used to - A small amount of drain cleaner regularly can ensure that the drain continues to clear quickly, and can reduce any lingering food smells. Another great tip: Toss a tablespoon or two of baking soda, with a bit of warm water, every few days to keep the drain smelling clean!

Garbage Disposal:For garbage disposals, there are a lot of quick fixes that work well. My personal favorite: pour half a cup of baking soda down the disposal, and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Follow with a cup of vinegar, and put the plug in quickly. These two ingredients have a chemical reaction that causes them to foam up - expect to hear a fizzing noise. The foam fills every nook and cranny, and the vinegar's acidity clears old food remains off the disposal mechanism! Another great tip is to use ice and rock salt. Fill the disposal with ice cubes, and then pour rock salt over them. Run cold water, and turn the garbage disposal on for 10 minutes. You can even make the ice cubes out of half water, half vinegar! These tricks are great because they don't involve physically trying to clean the garbage disposal - Remember, always cut power to the disposal by flipping the fuse switch off before attempting any manual cleaning methods not mentioned here!

- To keep the disposal smelling clean in the coming weeks, toss in a wedge of lemon or lime every few days!

Pantry: Most of us have all kinds of old food accumulated in the pantry. Going through and throwing out expired food and food you'll never wind up actually eating will naturally increase organization, as well as clear up some shelf space to make it easier to wipe down if necessary. If you want to be extra thorough, you can remove all foods from the pantry and wipe down all surfaces with Extra Strength Sandy Wipes, but I feel that this is a really inefficient use of energy, and can be skipped without serious consequence if there are no spills, stains or other causes for concern.

Fridge: Like the pantry, going through and tossing old expired/undesired food will make the fridge seem much cleaner and more organized, as well as make it easier to clean. All removable shelves and parts can be removed, and soaked in the bathtub with warm water, a squirt of dish soap and a few tablespoons of baking soda. Fridges are notorious for developing bad food odors. A common fix is to leave an open box of baking soda inside. Other great tricks include leaving a small dish of vanilla extract in the fridge, or a shallow pan of activated charcoal (often used for cat litter, available at pet stores).

Fridge Coils: Refridgerators cool by gathering heat from inside the compartment and releasing it outside through condenser coils. Dust can block/interrupt this process, leading to a warmer fridge and more expensive energy bills. If you have cats or dogs, this problem is exacerbated. Cleaning these coils with the wand arm on a vacuum cleaner solves this issue easily and quickly. On most modern fridges, the coils are typically at the bottom, with a removable grill, otherwise they'll be at the back.

Oven: If you don't have a self-cleaning oven, cleaning the oven can be a huge pain, and unfortunately there aren't that many available shortcuts. To clean the oven racks, remove them from the oven, and place them in the bathtub with half a cup of dishwasher detergent, with enough warm water to cover them. Soak for an hour, and rinse dry. The oven surfaces, specifically the floor, are trickier; foods like cheese like to bubble over and stick to the floor, melding to it because of the heat. To minimize the amount of scraping needed, spray oven cleaner inside the oven, close the oven door, and let it sit overnight, so the cleaner can loosen the burnt sludge a bit. Be sure to crack a window when you open the oven door - oven cleaners can be very potent stuff!

- Afterwards, line the bottom of the oven with a sheet of aluminum foil! When the sheet gets disgusting, you can just throw it out and replace it.

Countertop: Stains from liquids like coffee and juice can be removed by sprinkling baking soda over the stained area, and scrubbing with Extra Strength Sandy Wipes. For really tough stains, add a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to a cup of warm water, and wipe away gently with a wipe or towel dipped in the mix. If you have a granite, slate, or engineered stone countertop, you can buff them away with super fine (grade 0000) dry steel wool.

Coffee Machine: A great, effortless way to clean the coffee maker is to fill the water reservoir with equal parts vinegar and water, and brew. This cleans out the inner workings of the machine, and leads to better tasting coffee! After the vinegar-brew, perform 2-3 brews with just clean tap water to get rid of any vinegar remains.

Blender: Blenders are a joy to clean, because they do all the work themselves. Simply squirt in a few drops of liquid soap, fill halfway with warm or hot water, and blend for 30 seconds. Rinse out, and you're done!

Coffee/Tea Mugs: Coffee and tea ceramic mugs will always get dark stains from these beverages, and conventional cleaning doesn't touch them. A great technique to remove those dark coffee/tea stains is to fill it with warm water and drop in a denture-cleaning tablet! For severely stained mugs, repeat the process.

Tupperware: If you've got a dishwasher, and have made the mistake of trying to machine-wash tupperware or other plastic containers before, you probably have a cupboard full of mineral-stained tupperware that no amount of scrubbing seems to get clean. To get rid of those nasty deposits, fill almost to the top with water, add a squirt of dish soap and 1/4 cup of bleach, and microwave the container on high for 30 seconds or until the water begins to boil. Rinse it out with cold water. Congratulations, your tupperware is spotless now! Careful - Let it sit in the microwave for a few minutes until the water cools to avoid burning yourself.

The Bathroom.

The bathroom is a curious cleaning job: It's typically the smallest room in the home, but yet the one that can require the most time for many people. It's very important that you disinfect your bathroom. Germs love bathrooms, and it's not enough for your bathroom to look clean. The good news is that routine bathroom cleaning and spring-break bathroom cleaning are very similar - there are only a couple of added, special tasks, so the bathroom shouldn't take much longer to clean than it normally does!

The Brisk Bathroom Boogie (Spring Cleaning Edition). In a previous column, I laid out my personal bathroom cleaning game, dubbed the Brisk Bathroom Boogie. The goal is to clean your bathroom as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality by using a specific, precise routine (outlined below). You'll be timing yourself, attempting to beat either your own previous highscore or one of the Star Times below. For the Spring Cleaning edition, there are a few extra tasks, and so you have been given more time to get one of the star times.

Select Bathroom Size:
Gold Star 15 minutes 30 seconds
Silver Star 20 minutes
Bronze Star 28 minutes 30 seconds

These times might seem very low - If you typically spend more than an hour cleaning your bathroom, you might think it's impossible to do a good job in the time listed. Don't give up before you start! Use the method below, and you might just surprise yourself. These times also assume you clean your bathroom semi-regularly. If you haven't cleaned it in months, it will take a bit longer, so take that into account.

Cleaning supplies you will need:
- Extra Strength Sandy Wipes or similar disinfecting wipes
- Grout cleaner (can be substituted with 50/50 vinegar/water mix in spray bottle)
- Toilet cleaner and toilet brush
- Mop
- Disposable gloves (optional)
- Plastic baggie and vinegar (optional, for cleaning the showerhead if water pressure is low)
- Sponge (optional)

Before starting the timer, gather all these supplies in the bathroom. Remove any items that shouldn't be in the bathroom, like clothes. Read through this routine at least once, and visualize yourself moving from task to task in your head. When you're ready, start the timer, and clean! Get printable version

  1. Gather all linens, fabrics, bathmats and towels. Put all towels and fabrics, including your fabric shower curtain if applicable, into a laundry hamper, and begin the washing machine. Most bathroom rugs, even those with rubber bottoms, are machine-washable - just hang them to dry to avoid cracking the rubber. Check the tags to be sure.
  2. Throw out all garbage and declutter. Place all trash, such as used cotton swabs and empty shampoo bottles, into the trashcan or a garbage bag. Place the trashcan just outside of the bathroom. Place any out-of-place items into their spot, such as hair dryers under the counter, without reorganizing anything.
  3. Clean the toilet. We'll start cleaning with the toilet, because it's the most work-intensive and we want to do it while we have energy. Apply liquid toilet cleaner under the rim, and allow to drip down and soak the inside of the toilet bowl. While it soaks, grab a disinfectant wipe and wipe down the seat lid, the seat, and the outside of the bowl, in that order. Grab the toilet brush, and scrub the inside of the toilet. Flush.
  4. Dust the vents/fan. Many bathrooms come equipped with a ventilation system or a fan. Dust can buildup here and reduce efficacy of ventilation. run a disinfectant wipe along all surfaces.
  5. Clean the counter and sink. Grab a disinfectant wipe, and wipe down the counter by the sink, moving towards the sink. Wipe down the sink fixtures, and then the sink itself, starting at the top and working towards the drain.
  6. Clean the tub. With a new disinfectant wipe, wipe the faucets, showerhead and surface of the tub. Tubs tend to remain fairly clean, so you can do this quickly, without scrubbing or going over an area more than once. As an optional step if your showerhead pressure isn't what it used to be, fill a plastic baggie with vinegar, and secure it to the showerhead with tape or a twist tie so that the showerhead is immersed in vinegar. Let it sit for a few hours.
  7. Clean the tiles. If your bathroom has tiles by the shower/tub, the grout in between them is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Spray down the tiles, and scrub the grout with a sponge or a disinfectant wipe, focusing on yellowed areas.
  8. Clean the mirror and other glass. Grab a disinfectant wipe, and wipe down the mirror, with circular motions to avoid streaking. You can alternatively use a glass cleaner (I like to mix vinegar and water in equal parts, and pour it into a spray bottle) and a rag or paper towels. Clean any other bathroom glass (eg. shower door, window).
  9. Mop. You're almost done! Mop up the floors, focusing on high-traffic areas and by the toilet.
  10. Wrap-up. Throw the used disinfectant wipes, paper towels and other garbage into the trashcan sitting outside the bathroom. Replace the trashcan's bag, and put it back in the bathroom. Put away all cleaning supplies.
  11. Stop the timer! You're done! Hit the stop button, and mark down your time! You'll still have to transfer the washing machine linens to the dryer, and rehang the fabric shower curtain, but these small steps can be done quickly later on.

Additional Notes: Everybody's bathroom is different, and so the times listed here are approximations. If you have a more elaborate bathroom than most, don't be discouraged if it takes you a bit longer than you expected. The goal of this game isn't really to beat the high scores, it's to clean the bathroom more quickly, and for it to seem like less of a chore.

Also, most shower curtain liners get pretty dingy after a year - Since you'll be washing the fabric shower curtain, it may be time to replace the liner at the same time.

The Bedroom.

Bedrooms are nice and simple to clean, because most of us spend most of our time in them sleeping! These quick-tips should make your bedroom feel fresher and more inviting, for a better night's sleep.

Let in that spring air! After a season of having the windows sealed shut, I like to leave the windows open for a full day when it's nice out in spring. Let that natural freshness in, and ventilate all that stale winter air. Another way to get the most out of springtime air? Hang your linens to dry outside, even if you have a dryer! Your sheets will smell extra fresh, and sunlight has a way of naturally bleaching whites!

Blow that dust away. For tight corners, bumpy surfaces, high up and other tricky situations, it can be hard to maneover a vacuum, or even a lint roller, to remove dust. Buying an air compressor is a great fix - a quick spray of air loosens dust, and lets you collect it on easier surfaces. Make sure you do this first! You don't want to have to re-clean the same spot twice.

Freshen your furniture. You can remove musty odors from old furniture with a vinegar cup - Simply fill a sealed small plastic container with vinegar, and poke a few tiny holes in the lid. Put one inside each drawer, cabinet or other furniture piece overnight!

Cleanse your curtains. Fabric window treatments like curtains and drapes often don't get dirty enough to launder, but they do collect a fair amount of dust and pet dander if you have pets. Your vacuum's fabric brush is a quick fix for this issue, that doesn't involve dismantling and remantling anything! Follow with a fabric spray for optimal results.

Let light through your lampshades. Lampshades can get pretty grimy-looking pretty quick, because of the fact that light shines through them and exposes otherwise unnoticeable dust. If you haven't cleaned them in a while, they can even reduce the amount of light emitted! A quick vacuuming can solve this problem, and you can also use a lint roller. For stained lampshades, remove and let soak in a warm bath with mild soap. Rinse under gentle running water, pat dry with towel, and let air dry. The fabric may sag when wet - don't worry, it'll firm itself up as it dries.

Flip the bed. Most spring-based mattresses are reversible - there's no top or bottom side. If your bed has started comforming to your shape a little too much, flip it over

The Family Room.

The family room typically gets a lot of use, and can attract a lot of clutter. Fortunately, it's pretty quick to get this room restored, and the benefits can be enjoyed by the whole family!

Couch Refresh. Family room couches, loveseats and armchairs tend to get a lot of use, and over the course of a year they can pick up a lot of wear, stains and clutter. If your couch has a removable cover, this is the time to take it off and throw it in the wash. Otherwise, instructions will vary depending on what your couch is made of - look for a tag on the couch that will point you in the right direction.

-If you have a microsuede or microfibre couch, look for a large letter symbol on the couch. 'W' or 'W-S' means you can use a water-based cleaner, 'S' means only use mild water-free dry-cleaning solvents. 'X' means brushing only, and 'V' means just warm water and a mild soap.

Remove all cushions and pillows, and get rid of all the junk that's fallen between them. Pull out larger items like coins and pens, and use a vacuum or sticky roller for the smaller stuff like crumbs and dust. Flip cushions if possible for a fresh new look.

Freshen with your vacuum. A great tip: Stick a fabric softener sheet in your empty vacuum bag before you start. While you vacuum the couch and carpets, the air circulation will freshen the room with the dryer sheet scent!

Blast electronics. The air vents on TV, DVD players, video game systems and other electronics can collect tons of dust. With a can of compressed air, available at hardware and electronic stores, you can blast that dust out easily and quickly.

Declutter! Family rooms are notorious for collecting a bunch of clutter. If you followed the Bin And Out game earlier, hopefully the only clutter left is that which belongs here, like stray DVD cases and TV remotes. Put all this stuff away, so that dusting and sweeping can go faster and easier.

Bookcases and other storage. Bookcases, DVD racks and other living room storage can be a pain to clean because of how irregular the shapes are, and how dust slips into all kinds of nooks and crannies. Your best friend for these structures is a can of compressed air. A quick puff of air can move the dust from a tight corner to a flat surface. Go through with the can of air, getting all the tough spots, and then just wipe up the dust from the flat spots with a duster or Extra Strength Sandy Wipes.

Always work from top to bottom. The dust you knock off of higher spaces can be collected as you continue. otherwise, you'll need to re-do sections!

Avoid stacking. This subject will be touched on further in the organization section, but for now, avoid stacking items like books and movies. Stacks inevitably tip over, creating clutter, and can be difficult to clean. Find a spot for them, like in a bookshelf or closed storage system.

Large rugs. If your family room has a large rug, don't worry! Ornate rugs with complicated, colorful patterns are easy to clean because their patterns hide most stains and other messes. Run a vacuum or carpet cleaner over it to remove dust and pet dander, and spot-clean any noticeable marks - no need to thoroughly clean parts that don't look like they need it!

Other Rooms.

Other rooms, like a home office, don't have many distinguishing features that haven't been covered in other sections. If you followed the pre-organization stage and cleared your work desk of all clutter, take a moment to appreciate it, now that some time has passed and you can witness it with fresh eyes. A clean, clear workspace can boost productivity and reduce stress. While wiping down your desk with a disinfecting wipe, and using compressed air to clean electronics like computer fans, consider how much has to return to the desk, and how much can be left stored somewhere else.

For storage spaces like closets and attics, these rooms tend to develop large dust problems. Cleaning them thoroughly can often be a huge time and energy commitment, but fortunately, I feel like because these rooms aren't frequented often, we can skip a few steps. The most important thing is dust - we need to remove a large quantity of dust so that it doesn't spread to other rooms. For now, try and clear dust from all the boxes and surfaces. Don't worry if most of it winds up on the floor - you can gather that when you do all the floors, in the 'home constants' section below. If you went through and split most of the closet contents into the 3 piles in Step 1, most of the dust should have been cleared through that process already.

Finally, for special rooms like a home gym or a conservatory, there aren't many generic tips to share. Just focus on the tricks already described, and try to come up with your own ideas for reducing cleaning time. The main goal of this article isn't to be used as a step-by-step recipe guide for faster cleaning, but to train your mind to look for shortcuts, so you can build your own timesaving routine.

Home Constants.

With the exception of ceiling fixtures like lamps and fans, home constants such as floors, walls, light switches and doorknobs should be done last. This is great for your sense of pacing - You can finish rooms quicker, so you're more motivated to work harder - but the main reason I choose to structure it this way is to prevent wasted effort. Dust easily travels from room to room, especially when you're cleaning. No sense cleaning the floors in the first room you clean, because by the time you finish with the last room, the first room's floors will be dusty again!

A note on multi-level homes. If your home has 2 or more floors, you should start by cleaning the floors and constants on the top floor. When you get to the stairs, clean from the top down. For wood or other hard surfaced stairs, sweep each step, knocking dust and debris onto the step below. For carpet or soft stairs, vacuum each step from the top. Once you get to the bottom, sweep or vacuum up the pile that you've been building, and start the home constants on this floor.

Wall fixtures. Wall fixtures like paintings and wall clocks should be gently dusted with a feather or dry cloth duster. For the edges of a frame, or for clocks or artwork behind glass, a wet cloth or Sandy Wipes should be used to make these objects more presentable and dust-free. Feel free to remove these objects from the wall in order to facilitate cleaning them - You can also check to see if there's any dust or dirt on the wall. If, after taking the painting off the wall, you can see a 'dirt outline' on the wall, you know it's time to wash your walls!

Light switches and doorknobs. "Practical" wall fixtures like doorknobs and light fixtures are germs' favorite place to hang out, because your family keeps touching them. In order to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria, it's important that these fixtures get cleaned regularly and thoroughly, with either a disinfectant spray or Extra Strength Sandy Wipes.Families tend to get sick in groups - when one member catches a bug, the whole house gets it - and this is a vital part of preventing that process.

Walls. People hate cleaning walls, because there's so much wall space that needs to be cleaned! In older homes where the job hasn't been done in a decade, this task is unavoidable. For everyone else, a quick vertical sweep with a broom, with a wet wipe handy for dirty spots, is often enough! If a thorough job is necessary, pick up a paint roller. Fill a bucket or paint pan with water, with a small amount of bleach added, and roll onto walls!

Baseboards. One of the most grueling housework tasks is washing and wiping all the baseboards throughout your home, on your hands and knees for hours on end. It's part of why people find housecleaning so unappealing. As with the walls, a lot of people can get away with focusing on just the dirty areas, with a quick broom sweep everywhere else. For older homes that haven't had a thorough cleaning in a while, the paint roller trick works as well!

Floors. Unfortunately, floors almost always require considerable attention, especially if you've followed these directions and have saved them all for last. Hopefully the knowledge that this is the last cleaning task - you're done after this! - makes it easier to bear. Start by sweeping the whole house. You can save yourself a lot of time and energy by buying a large, wide broom. You'll still need the standard-size broom for corners and tight spaces, but the large brook can reduce the number of passes you need to make in large, open spaces.

It's taken years, but the latest generation of robot sweepers, like the Roomba, have finally reached the point where they can be a considerable timesaver. If you have the budget, buying an autonomous robot sweeper can save a lot of time during this step. You'll likely still need to do a bit of follow-up sweeping for spots that they've missed or objects that were too big to get sucked up, though.

For floor-to-floor carpeting, sprinkle baking powder over the carpet, let sit for 5 minutes, and vacuum up. The baking powder will lighten and restore carpets to their original color, and also give you a visual cue for what's left to vacuum. Small carpets should be taken outside and hit several times, to loosen any buried crumbs or dust, and then vacuumed.

After sweeping and vacuuming, the only thing left to do is mop. Start in the furthest corner from the entrance door, and move towards it, so you never have to cross wet floor.

Congratulations! Your home is clean and sparkly from ceiling to floor, and you've (hopefully) spent less time cleaning now than in years past.

In just a few days, Part 2 of my spring cleaning column will be published, with post-clean organization tips and tricks - Stay tuned! As always, I'd love to know what you think - email me at linda@sandywipes.com!

Editors' Note: This article contains links to many external websites. Sandy Wipes is not affiliated with any brand names or companies mentioned. These links are provided for your benefit, and neither Sandy Wipes nor Linda Brown is being compensated in any way for their inclusion. When clicking a link, you should be aware that other sites have their own terms as well as privacy policies, and that our privacy policy only applies to pages hosted by Sandy Wipes. Furthermore, this article is provided for informational purposes only. Neither Sandy Wipes nor Linda Brown are responsible for any damages or injuries that occur while attempting the modifications or techniques mentioned above.


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