Company coming? Sick to death of housework? Here are some speedy ways to simplify your house cleaning and get rid of stubborn stains both outside and inside your house.
If drippy trees or deck lumber deposit sap on your vinyl siding, don't delay cleanup. The longer you wait, the more stubborn the sap will become. If you attack the fresh sap within a week or so, a common kitchen cleaner such as Formula 409 or Fantastik will likely remove the goo. You can also use a biodegradable product such as Simple Green. If standard cleaners won't dissolve the sap, use a citrus cleaner such as Goo Gone (at home centers). Check the label of any product you use to make sure it's recommended for vinyl and test it in an inconspicuous spot for discoloration. Apply the cleaner with a rag or sponge. Scrub tough spots with a soft-bristle brush.
In terms of chemistry, some soaps aren't really true soap. Any soap in a liquid or gel form and some bar soaps, such as Zest and Ivory, are synthetic soap. These non-soap soaps are much less likely to form that dreaded layer of tough scum on your sink or tub.
If crumbs, papers or even flatware falls into the gap between your countertop and refrigerator, fill the void with nearly invisible plastic tubing. Clear tubing is available at home centers in several widths starting at 1/8 in.
Clean those narrow-necked jars and vases with small gravel (aquarium gravel works the best). Fill one-third of the jar with water. Add a handful of gravel, and then stir and shake the jar. The gravel will scour the inside of the jar clean. Dump the gravel into a strainer, give it a quick rinse (so it doesn't stink!) and save it for next time.
Dusting ceiling fans and other high, out-of-reach objects is a real chore. To make it easier, wrap a dryer sheet around a clean paint roller and secure the ends with rubber bands. Attach an extension handle to the roller and dust away.
Put your car-washing sponge inside a pair of old pantyhose for a nonabrasive, paint-friendly scrubber. The threads act like thousands of little scrapers that rub off insects and gunk with every swipe.
Microfibers are tiny strands (usually less than one-tenth the thickness of a human hair) that are sliced into even smaller strands and then woven into fabric. Those tiny strands reach into crevices and provide millions of little pockets within the fabric to hold dirt particles. The strands also have sharp scouring edges, so microfiber cloths often clean effectively without chemicals or even water (you can use cleansers or water if you choose). When used dry, microfiber cloths generate static electricity, which attracts and holds dust. To clean out all that dirt, just toss microfiber items in the washing machine. You can use microfiber products to dust furniture, clean glass, mop floors and even wash your car—or anything else. Find microfiber dust cloths, mops and other cleaning gear at most discount stores.
Clean off shoe scuff marks from vinyl flooring with a clean, dry tennis ball. A light rub and heel marks are “erased”.
The thousands of microscopic fabric hooks on a microfiber cloth (at discount stores) make it perfect to cut through the dried grout haze left after a tiling project. You'll still have to rinse and repeat, but the haze will clean up faster than it would with an ordinary rag.
If your sheet vinyl “resilient” flooring has marks or stains that won't come off with normal vinyl floor cleaner, you can use stronger stuff. The methods described here won't harm most vinyl floors, but it's best to test them in a closet or on a section of flooring that's hidden by furniture. Use white rags only; chemicals that dissolve stains can also make fabric colors bleed and stain your floor.
Isopropyl alcohol, sold as a disinfectant at discount stores, is a mild solvent. It's the best cleaner for heel marks and works on other tough stains too. You can also use lighter fluid or mineral spirits. Remember that all these products are flammable; turn off any nearby pilot lights and hang rags out to dry before throwing them away.
Oxalic acid is the solution for stubborn rust stains. It's often labeled “wood bleach”—but not all wood bleach contains oxalic acid, so check the label. Most paint stores and some hardware stores carry oxalic acid. If the stain won't rub off, wet a rag with the acid solution and lay it over the stain for 10 minutes. If the stain remains, rewet the rag and repeat. When that’s done, rinse the floor with clean water.
If a CD or DVD skips or won't play in a machine that plays other discs flawlessly, cleaning the disc may solve the problem. Disc cleaning kits are available, but all you really need is lukewarm water, a few drops of dish detergent, and a soft, lint-free rag. If the disc still misbehaves after the cleaning, examine it for scratches. Electronics stores carry repair kits to remove minor scratches from CDs and DVDs.
If the grille on your bathroom exhaust fan is clogged with dust, try a trick that's faster and more effective than vacuuming: Turn on the fan and blast out the dust with “canned air”. The fan will blow the dust outside. This works on the return air grilles of your central heating and cooling system too. Run the system so that the return airflow will carry the dust to the filter. You'll find canned air at home centers and hardware stores, usually in the electrical supplies aisle.
Caution: The cans contain chemical propellants, not just air. Don't let children play with the can.
If your toilet flushes slowly, the rinse holes under the rim may be clogged with mineral deposits. Use a hand mirror to see the holes under the rim of the toilet. Bend a coat hanger flat and probe the tip into the holes to poke out any deposits. You can clean out those clogged holes without ever getting your hands dirty.