39 Cleaning Tips and Tricks to Make Your Home Shine
Admit it – your house could be cleaner. That’s where we come in. Check out these tips and hints to get your house clean and keep it that way.
Clean the Exhaust Fan
Caution: The cans contain chemical propellants, not just air. Don’t let children play with them.
Beat and Shake Area Rugs
Do Air Cleaners Reduce Dusting?
While you’re debating the value of an air cleaner, take care of cleaning your air conditioner, it’s easier than you think.
Ditch Your Carpeting
Dust with Your Dryer
Rotate Bedding Weekly
Synthetic Soap Simplifies Bathroom Cleaning
Clean the Air While You Clean the House
Your vacuum’s agitator brush and exhaust whip up dust that eventually settles on the surfaces you’ve just cleaned. Filter out some of that dust before it settles by switching your thermostat to ‘fan on.’ This turns on the blower inside your furnace and filters the air even while the system isn’t heating or cooling. Leave the blower on for about 15 minutes after you’re done cleaning. But don’t forget to switch it back to ‘auto.’ Most blowers aren’t designed to run constantly. Plus: Here are 8 simple furnace fixes you can do yourself.
Scuff Mark Eraser
Clean off shoe scuff marks from vinyl flooring with a clean, dry tennis ball. A light rub and heel marks are ‘erased.’ Get more ingenious cleaning tips like this one.
Buff Off Heavy Grime
Pick up some polishing compound at a home center or an auto parts store and use an auto buffer to polish off the offending scum. If you don’t own a buffer, you can buy one for as little as $20 or borrow one from a gearhead friend. If possible, remove the doors and take them out to the garage to avoid messing up the bathroom.
Countertop Gap Filler
A Quick Cleaning Cures Skipping Discs
Duster for the Vertically Challenged
Clean Grout With a Bleach Pen
For tile walls, try using a bleach pen to transform your grout from grungy to great. This method is tedious, but the payoff is crisp, clean grout lines. Use the pen to “draw” bleach across the grout lines. The pen allows you to target the grout without getting bleach all over the tile. Wait 10 minutes and then rinse.
For really mildewed grout, you may need a second application, and it can help to gently scrub the bleach into the grout with a toothbrush before allowing it to work for 10 minutes. Make sure to run the fan in the bathroom and to avoid skin contact. This method is best for light or white grout. If you have colored grout, test a small area first. It might fade.
Remove Tough Grime With Less Scrubbing
Whether it’s built-up soap scum on the shower walls, ground-in dirt on the floor tile or dried toothpaste on the vanity top, a Magic Eraser sponge (or other brands) will make short work of it. Just dampen it and rub it on the offending mess. In most cases, the mess will come right off. These sponges are especially useful for removing ground-in dirt from porous floor tile and getting those pesky nonslip strips in the bottom of your tub clean.
Magic Eraser sponges are available at grocery stores, hardware stores and wherever cleaning supplies are sold. Unlike regular sponges, they wear out pretty fast, so stock up.
Capture Dust – Don’t Just Spread It Around
Clean with Microfiber Products
Microfiber dusting tools for blinds, ceiling fans, floors and general cleaning are available online and at many stores. Buy your microfiber cloths in the automotive section. ‘Cleaning’ and ‘detailing’ towels are the same as ‘dusting’ cloths, and they’re often a lot cheaper.
Make Your Own Greener Cleaning Solution
Professional housecleaner Maggie Orth likes to make her own cleaning products. Here’s her recipe for an all-purpose cleaning solution, modified from a recipe she found in the book Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan (available from amazon.com).
In a 5-quart bucket, mix 1 cup of distilled vinegar, 3 tablespoons of borax, 1 gallon of hot water and 1/2 cup of soap (Maggie uses Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds). Maggie likes to add 10 or 15 drops of tea tree, lavender or lemon oil for a nice fragrance. Mix the ingredients and then pour some of the mixture into a spray bottle. Save the rest in a gallon jug. The raw ingredients will set you back $25 to $30, but you’ll have enough to last for years!
Use this mixture to clean tile, countertops and painted woodwork. It’s a good all-purpose cleaner, but it’s not the best for cleaning glass. Maggie uses club soda to clean glass.
Ban Shoes Inside (But Offer Slippers)
Your first line of defense should be a coarse-fiber heavy-duty doormat placed outside exterior doors. Inside, have everyone remove shoes at the door. Keep a bench, a shoe rack and a basket of cheap slippers available so no one has to walk around in their stocking feet on chilly floors.
Clean a Sluggish Toilet
Bleach Away Stains
Remove stubborn stains from marble, cultured marble or plastic laminate with a bleach-soaked paper towel. Cover the towel with a cup to contain the bleach odor, and leave it in place overnight. If the stain has faded but not disappeared, just repeat the process. Test this trick in a hidden area first; it could discolor the surface. Dealing with a whole countertop? You can renew it yourself.
Polish with a Microfiber Cloth
Microfiber cloths excel at putting the finishing touches on mirrors, countertops, and even tile and fixtures. After cleaning surfaces with your favorite cleaning solution and drying them off with a terry cloth rag or a separate microfiber cloth, polish them to a mirror finish with a dry microfiber cloth.
Microfiber cloths are perfect for this because they pick up dust, wipe off smudges and don’t shed any fibers. You’ll find microfiber cloths wherever cleaning supplies are sold. You can also buy them in bulk at wholesale clubs and use them throughout your house for all kinds of other cleaning chores.
Keep Closets Clear for Easy Cleaning
Closets are dust reservoirs, full of tiny fibers from clothes, towels and bedding. Every time you open the door, you whip up an invisible dust storm. You can’t prevent clothes from shedding fibers, but you can make closets easier to keep clean and vastly cut down on dust.
- Box or bag items on shelves. Clear plastic containers are best?they lock fibers in and dust out and let you see what’s inside. When you dust, they’re easy to pull off the shelves and wipe clean.
- Enclose the clothes you rarely wear. Those coats you wear only in winter shed fibers year-round. Slip garment bags or large garbage bags over them. They help to contain fibers and keep the clothes themselves from becoming coated with dust.
- Keep closet floors clear. If the floor is cluttered, chances are you’ll just bypass it while vacuuming. But a wide-open floor adds only a few seconds to the vacuuming chore. And a wire shelf lets you clear all those shoes off the floor without losing storage space.
Microfiber Products Clean Faster, Easier and Better
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). Learn more about the science behind cleaning with microfiber cloths.
Easier Bottle Cleaning
Make Cleaning Easier
Photo: Courtesy of Toto USA, Inc.
Remove Tree Sap from Vinyl Siding
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 wait too long, you might have to use a pressure washer. 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 ($5 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.
A Scrub and a Wax
Field Editor Joe Stiles writes: “Every three months, I use CLR Calcium, Lime and Rust Remover and an old toothbrush to clean all the faucets and lavatories. Then I apply an automotive car wax like Turtle Wax and buff after the wax hazes. Our fixtures look like new.”
Make the Most of Your Vacuuming
The right vacuuming technique, combined with the right filters, bags and machine, has a significant impact on how much dust remains in your carpeting. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Vacuum high-traffic areas twice a week and the rest of the carpeting and large area rugs at least weekly.
- Make numerous slow passes over the same area in all directions (fast passes stir up more dust than is being sucked up).
- Use certified True High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to remove invisible particles and allergens. Look for the word ‘True’ on the label.
- If you have allergies, upgrade to a sealed-body bagged vacuum with an airtight ‘sealed filtration’ system that works together with a True HEPA filter. This means all of the exhaust will exit through the HEPA filter instead of leaking dust back into your house through the machine’s housing. Sealed-body vacuums have rubber seals or gaskets around the lid and filter and will last 10 to 20 years. Brands include Riccar, Miele and Sanitaire.
- Buy high-quality vacuum bags. Inexpensive 2- or 3-ply paper bags leak more dust. Higher-quality cotton-lined paper bags are better, and top-quality synthetic cotton HEPA bags are the best. Bag capacity matters too. Higher-capacity bags capture more, smaller particles that would have otherwise clogged the filter.
- Clean all your bagless vacuum filters regularly and replace them every three months.
- Turn off the agitator brush on hard flooring so you’re not blowing dust into the air.
- Maintain your vacuum: Empty the canister frequently (always outside) and change bags and belts when needed. Keep the agitator brush free of hair and other material, and check the vacuum for cracks and loose hinges and get it serviced every so often to keep it running smoothly.
Vacuum First, Then Scrub
For a really thorough cleaning, start at the top, vacuuming the dust from light fixtures and the top of window casings. Then work your way down. And finally, vacuum the floor methodically so you cover every inch. You don’t want to leave any stray hair or dust bunnies to muck up your cleaning water. A soft-bristle upholstery brush works best for this type of vacuuming. Figure out what vacuum to use here.
Install a Detachable Toilet Seat
It seems like no matter how hard you try, you can never get the hinges on the toilet seat clean. There’s always a bit of cleaning solution that seeps underneath and creeps out later. Installing a detachable toilet seat solves the problem. This Bemis brand seat is easy to remove by just twisting two hinge caps about a quarter of a turn. Then you have easy access to clean under the hinges. Detachable seats cost about $20. Installation is straightforward and only requires a wrench. Are your bolts rusted and stuck? Learn how to remove rusted toilet seat bolts here.
Remove Stubborn Rust Stains With Acid Magic
If you have a lot of iron in your water and struggle with rust stains in your toilet or bathtub, here’s a perfect solution. Acid Magic dissolves rust like, um, magic. It’s as powerful as muriatic acid but much safer and more pleasant to use. You should still take all the precautions you would with any strong cleaning solution, like wearing gloves and safety glasses when you’re using it. But it’s better than regular acid because there are no noxious fumes, and it won’t burn your skin.
To clean rust from toilets and other porcelain surfaces, add three parts water to one part Acid Magic. Apply the mixture to the rust stains with a sprayer, brush or foam pad and watch the stain dissolve. Rinse with clear water. You can also use it full strength for stubborn stains. Avoid getting the acid on metal parts because they can discolor. Acid Magic is available online and at hardware stores.
Remove Tough Stains from Vinyl Flooring
Isopropyl alcohol, sold as a disinfectant at drugstores, 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. Learn how to use it to remove tough stains from vinyl flooring.
Upgrade Your Furnace Filter
Your home’s forced-air heating or cooling system helps to control dust by filtering the air. A standard cheap fiberglass filter protects your furnace from large dust particles and provides maximum airflow, but it does little to reduce household dust. More expensive pleated filters usually provide a good balance between cost and filtration efficiency. These filters trap 80 to 95 percent of particles 5 microns and larger. Here are the best furnace filters to buy.
But if you have family members with allergies, consider spending more on high-efficiency filters, which capture 99 percent of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns (bacteria and viruses, fumes and pollen). Be aware that you’ll have to run your furnace fan full time to get the maximum benefit from a high-efficiency filter, and you’ll have to change the filter frequently to prevent damage to your furnace from the reduced airflow.
If you go the high-efficiency route, install a filter monitor such as FilterScan, which automatically alerts you when your furnace filter needs changing, or the GeneralAire G99 Filter Gage, which requires you to manually check it.
Protect Your Shower Doors From Mineral Buildup
When the beads of water left on your glass shower door dry out, they leave minerals behind that are at best unsightly, and at worst can be tough as nails to remove if you let them build up (see first tip). You can avoid beading water altogether by coating the glass with an auto-glass treatment.
Follow the instructions on the package to apply the treatment to your shower door glass. You can buy Aquapel online or at local dealers. You’ll find Rain-X at any auto parts store.
Purify the Air
- Place air purifiers in your most-used rooms to help suck up dust before it settles. Choose units with True HEPA filters rather than ionic cleaners, which release ozone, a respiratory irritant.
- Add a plant to every room. Plants naturally absorb common indoor pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde. NASA studies have shown that many plants, including aloes, palms and ferns, can absorb as much as 80 percent of the formaldehyde in a room in 24 hours.
- Keep the humidity in your house between 40 and 50 percent to help lower static electricity, which can cause dust to stick to surfaces and make them harder to clean. A humidifier (cleaned regularly) and leafy indoor plants will both increase humidity levels. Just don’t increase the level to more than 50 percent. This will promote the growth of mold, a far more dangerous condition than dust. You can monitor humidity levels with a cheap hydrometer from a gardening store.
- Keep your windows closed on windy days. Dust enters through doors and windows in the form of pollen, mold spores and airborne pollutants.
Easier Grout Haze Cleanup
The thousands of microscopic fabric hooks on a microfiber cloth (available 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.