A Room-By-Room Guide To Cleaning Every Filthy Thing In Your Home
If you’re anything like us, you’re in full spring cleaning mode. This month, we’re bringing you a series of posts on how to tidy up everything in your life, from your finances to your wardrobe. This week, we present to you a room-by-room guide to cleaning just about everything in your home.
The first time I ever felt like a real, genuine adult was not the moment I signed my first lease or chose my first 401(k) allocation or did my taxes. These were all required of me, so they lacked the sheen of chosen responsibility. Nope, the first time I felt like I had truly become a grown-up was the moment I found myself on my hands and knees on the floor of my bathroom, scrubbing the floor of my bathtub — even though I wasn’t expecting company.
No one was making me clean my tub. No one else ever used it. I could’ve let the scum build up as long as I could tolerate it and beyond, with virtually no consequences. I could’ve half-assed the job and sprayed the floor with some generic bathroom cleaner and let the showerhead wash it away. But my 22-year-old self chose to scrub it down as soon as I saw the slightest hint of pink buildup on the side of the tub, and I felt about as smug as one can feel while wearing a ratty t-shirt, hand-me-down basketball shorts from my brother, and hot pink rubber gloves on a Friday night.
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve experienced a similar moment or are in pursuit of your own adulthood benchmark. Now that I’m about to turn thirty, I’ve learned enough about keeping a home clean that I feel entitled to pass on my knowledge to the next generation of grown-ups. Let’s take it room by room. Just do yourself a favor and buy some good rubber gloves first. It really does make this whole process much more palatable.
Get your kitchen squeaky clean
I love to cook, and I prepare 90% of my meals myself, which means I regularly destroy my kitchen. As a result, out of all the rooms in my house, my kitchen is the highest risk of devolving into an out-of-control mess if I’m not careful. So I make a daily effort to stay on top of things, especially now that I share my kitchen with my boyfriend. Plus, a clean kitchen is much, much more pleasant to cook in.
Self-cleaning ovens are kind of a racket. The self-cleaning function often cranks the heat up so high that it damages the oven’s heating element, and it still can’t do the job better than you can.
Start by filling an oven-safe dish with water and putting it inside your hot oven for 20-30 minutes. Don’t open the oven door during this time; you want all that steam to build up and soften any hardened gunk. Turn the oven off and let it cool down for a few minutes before donning your rubber gloves. Stand to the side when you open the door so that steam doesn’t billow straight into your beautiful face. Take out the racks. Soak your sponge in a 1:1 mix of water and white vinegar and start scrubbing. For really nasty build-up, make a paste with baking soda and a little water, smear it on, and leave it overnight. A sponge should do the job after that. If your oven is really a disaster, you may need a store-bought oven cleaner. You can scrub down the racks in your sink or even run them through the dishwasher.
If you don’t use your oven much, you can probably get away with cleaning it once a year. If you’re a hobby baker, aim for once every 3-6 months. If something drips onto the bottom of your oven, don’t procrastinate cleaning it up. The longer you wait, the harder it will be – in terms of both texture and effort required.
It’s easy to fool yourself (okay, myself) into thinking the stovetop is clean after a quick wipe-down with a rag. But unless you have one of those fancy glass flat-top stoves, your stove is full of nooks and crannies and those nooks and crannies are full of crumbs and sticky splatters. Every few months, or when you make a huge mess, take the grill racks and metal plates off, and either scrub them down by hand or run them through the dishwasher. While they’re drying, use a vinegar/water solution or all-purpose cleaner to clean the stovetop.
If you do have one of those fancy glass flat-top stoves, I think you need a special cleaner for it. Either way, let me know in the comments how you keep it clean, because I had one for a while and could never figure it out.
Once every few weeks, it’s a good idea to give your sink a good scrub. I usually just use dish soap and a sponge for this. Move any soap bottles or holders out of the way so you can get rid of scummy rings and whatnot. Give it a good rinse, and you’re back in business.
As dictated by office etiquette, if you befoul your microwave, you should clean it right away. But general cleaning is fine every 3-6 months, depending on how often you use your microwave and how spatter-y your leftovers tend to be. My favorite trick: Mix a 1:1 solution of water and white vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke it until it’s bubbly. Open the door carefully so you don’t get a faceful of vinegar steam, and wipe down with a sponge.
I have a confession to make. I absolutely hate cleaning out my fridge. I would rather fold a thousand fitted sheets than clean out my fridge. But it literally never takes as long as I think it will, and I’m always so glad I did it. Here are a few ways I make it palatable for myself:
- I make sure my dishwasher or sink is empty when I start so I have somewhere to put jars and containers that no longer belong in the fridge.
- I make sure my trash is empty, too.
- One time, I literally donated $20 to a charity to offset how awful I knew I’d feel about all the wasted food I was about to discover.
Start by taking everything out or work shelf-by-shelf if you have limited counter space. Throw away stuff that’s gone bad (of course, clean out and recycle the containers whenever possible). Use a 1:1 solution of water and vinegar to wipe down the shelves. Extra credit if the shelves are removable: I find they’re easier to clean in the sink. Same with drawers. Take them out and scrub them. Then get down on your hands and knees and scrub the empty drawer compartment, too. There is no limit to how far the contents of a leaky container on the top shelf can travel. If you have a really sticky or scummy spot, dish soap works great.
As you’re putting everything back, keep an eye out for duplicate items. At my house, there is always an absurd quantity of lime juice cached throughout the fridge. Ask yourself whether you need to store that item more prominently so you don’t keep buying more of it. And if you encounter a sticky, leaky bottle, rinse it off before putting it back. I won’t prescribe a specific organizational system since everyone will have different needs and preferences, but it’s worth attempting to group things by category or investing in a few cheap plastic bins if that helps you keep it tidy.
Floor and counters
Sweep the floor and wipe the counters on an as-needed basis (this will be daily for some) and aim for a deep clean once a month or so. When it comes to kitchen surfaces, it’s easier to stay ahead of the mess than fight your way through a month-old accumulation of grime.
Tidy up your living room
Here’s the problem with the living room: Because its normal activities don’t generate as much obvious mess as a kitchen or bathroom, it’s way too easy to let slip on the cleaning. Fear not: I am here to help.
Carpeted floors and rugs should be vacuumed once a month at the bare minimum, once a week if you’re going for an A+ or if you wear shoes in the house (by the way: DON’T. It’s so hard on your rugs and you track in so much crap. If you must have something on your feet, get slippers). If you can afford it, get a nice vacuum. The difference between a $30 vacuum and a $100 vacuum is drastic. When I vacuumed my apartment for the first time after upgrading from a Target knockoff to a Bissell, I nearly projectile-vomited when I saw just how much dust and cat hair and unspeakable filth had been loitering beneath my feet for God knows how long. If you wear shoes in the house, if you have a pet, if you have lungs, love yourself enough to get the nicest vacuum you can afford.
Wood floors should be swept once a week or so, more if you’re stepping on crumbs and debris all the time. I aim to mop mine about once a month. Be sure to get a specialty cleaner for your wood floors (I like Bona brand), and they’ll stay nice much longer.
At least once a year, pull all the pillows and cushions off your couches and chairs and vacuum those suckers down. Be like Rachel in that one episode of Friends and use all your vacuum attachments. Use the little skinny one to fish crumbs out of the crevices and that weird brushy one to pick up pet hair and general dust from the backs, arms, and cushions. I also recommend having a bag handy for corralling all the long-lost items you find, so you can sort them all later. Because you will find stuff. The abyss underneath your couch cushions is where bobby pins go to die.
Odds and ends
Clean your window treatments. If you have curtains, vacuum them, launder them, or get them dry-cleaned. If you have blinds, dust them. Get your Windex and wipe down your windows. If you have a pet, be sure to give their favorite window an extra scrub, since it’s probably covered in smears from all their spying on the neighbors. Clean your lighting, too. Use your vacuum wand to get cobwebs off of lampshades and dust lamp bases. While you’re at it, dust off any surfaces: mantels, shelves, tabletops, windowsills. Pro dusting tip: Put an old sock on your hand in lieu of a dust cloth. You’ll be able to reach all the weird spots and give your unpartnered socks a job.
Don’t be afraid of the bathroom
Gird your loins for this one, my friends. For a room that’s designed to get you clean, bathrooms are pretty gross.
I present this next tip with the economical pride of a crafty Depression-era grandmother. It has revolutionized my life. You’ll need white vinegar, blue Dawn dish soap, an empty spray bottle, and a sponge. Start by taking everything out of your shower: shampoo, conditioner, razor, shower caddy, everything.
Recycle anything that’s empty and throw away all the old razor heads cluttering the ledge (or maybe that disgusting habit is mine alone). Microwave some white vinegar (I usually do about a cup) until it’s hot-ish and your kitchen stinks. Add it to your spray bottle, followed by an equal quantity of blue Dawn. Give it a shake so it’s all mixed up, and then spray the ever-loving shit out of your shower and bathtub. Absolutely douse it in this rank-smelling magical blue elixir, especially the scummy spots. Go do something else for an hour or so, and then come back with your rubber gloves, your sponge, and maybe a bandana tied around your nose and mouth, because hot vinegar truly reeks. Now you’re going to scrub. Time and heat have literally melted those caked-on soap stains enough for you to destroy them with a quick rubdown. Scrub every inch of the shower, and then rinse everything with water. Your shower and tub will shine like they’re brand spanking new. Your life is now changed. You will never buy a traditional tub cleaner again. You’re welcome.
Oh, and give all your toiletries a rinse before putting them back so you don’t defile your pristine palace of cleanliness with any of that bottom-of-the-bottle scuzz.
I spent a long time wondering why the hell my toilet still smells right after I clean it before realizing my brush was doing a woefully inadequate job cleaning the underside of the lip of the bowl. Be ye not so stupid as me, and be ye not afraid of scrubbing your toilet. That’s what your rubber gloves are for. Squirt your toilet bowl cleaner in there, let it sit for a minute, and then scrub with your toilet brush, especially that weird pink (?!?) ring that always forms right at the water’s edge. Flush. Then get in there with your Borax. I personally find it awkward to finagle a toilet brush up under the lip of my toilet bowl, so I usually use a sponge to get in there. You could also use an old toothbrush, though I’ll confess I find this metaphorically repulsive. NEVER use steel wool. Steel wool scratches porcelain. Flush again. And don’t forget to wipe down the rest of the toilet: the seat, the tank, the floor stand. Regular bathroom cleaner is fine for this.
Counter, sink, and mirror
Toothpaste is the sneaky phantom of the bathroom, especially if you have a white sink. When you clean your sink, give it a really good scrub, and then look at it from a few angles to make sure there aren’t any stubborn patches of Crest clinging to the bowl. A standard bathroom cleaner is usually fine for your counter and your sink. But don’t forget to switch a glass cleaner for your mirror!
Odds and ends
Clean all the crap out of your medicine cabinet. Over-the-counter meds have an expiration date (so do condoms, by the way), so get rid of that ibuprofen from 2016. Throw your towels, hand towels, and bathmat into the laundry on a regular basis.
You deserve a cleaner bedroom
Your bedroom is probably where you spend the most time in your home, provided you’re getting a required amount of sleep. You might as well make sure that room is clean.
You spend eight hours a night shedding dead skin, sweat, hair, and other bits of human viscera onto your sheets and pillowcases. Wash your bed linens more than you are currently washing your bed linens. Once a week is ideal but aim for at least every other week. You can get away with cleaning your pillows two or three times a year. If you switch to flannel sheets in the winter, make sure you wash your off-season sheets before putting them away.
This will depend on what kind of bed you have. Make sure you dust or wide down the head and foot of your bed every so often. And for goodness’s sake, vacuum and sweep under your bed at least once a year. I sorely neglected this task in my last apartment and could’ve made another cat with the amount of fluff I found under there on move-out day (along with a long-lost favorite sock, a receipt, and like $20). Recruit someone to help you move it if you must, and maybe ask that person to help you flip your mattress while they’re there. Vacuum your mattress while you’re at it.
Similar to the living room, dust all the surfaces: lamps, windowsills, your bedside table, your bookshelf. Wash your windows and window treatments. Clean the floors. If you keep a gravity-defying stack of books on your bedside table, as is common in my house, now is a great time to put some of those away. Clean out your nightstand drawers, too. If you haven’t written in that journal in over a year, you’re not gonna.
Don’t forget these odds & ends
Laundry: If you have a washer and dryer in your home, take a moment to revel or perhaps weep with gratitude for how deeply fortunate and blessed you are. A lucky, privileged gal like you already knows that you should clean all the lint off your lint trip every time you use your dryer, right? A jam-packed lint trap is a huge fire hazard, so make sure to get as much lint off that screen as possible (if you’re crafty, stuff it in a paper towel tube, wrap it like a Tootsie Roll in newspaper, and you’ve got the best homemade campfire starter known to man). For extra safety, bring your vacuum into the laundry room and use the hose attachment to suck any runaway lint out of the vent where the lint trap sits.
A good laundry tip: Nothing is better for smelly laundry than white vinegar. If you let wet laundry sit too long and it gets that weird mildew smell (don’t beat yourself up; we’ve all done it), or if you’ve got a hamper full of real stanky workout gear, just dump a cup or so of white vinegar on top of your clothes before starting the cycle. It’s magic.
Another good laundry tip: Keep a small bin or bucket for non-clothing dirty laundry, like dish towels, cloth napkins, and rags. Then you can keep those things corralled without forcing your favorite jeans to mingle with a crusty washcloth.
If you’ve never dusted your ceiling fan, then you need to take a few deep breaths and maybe put on a hat before doing so. Because it’s going to be gross. Ready your Endust and your rag or sock and prepare to experience a little shame; it’s an important rite of passage. If possible, recruit your mattress-flipping buddy to hold a garbage bag underneath the blades to catch the drifts of dust that are sure to come cascading down. Afterward, look yourself in the mirror and make a promise to never again neglect that task for so long. You deserve better.
One final thought: The internet is rife with memes about people who treat cleaning like a beloved, life-giving hobby and people who despise it so much they’d rather sleep under a pile of crusty socks than do a load of laundry. You do not have to choose between these two extremes. Your sentiments toward cleaning do not have to become your personality. With a few basic skills and an attainable schedule, you can impress your guests, prolong the life of your furniture and décor, and achieve the pride and joy of a clean and comfortable home. Invest in some good rubber gloves. You got this.
(This post was originally published March 2020 and has since been updated.)
Maggie Olson is a marketing professional living in northeast Ohio. She is a voracious reader, a doting house plant parent, and a hiker/biker/runner/kayaker. She’s currently on a mission to cook 30 new things before her 30th birthday. You can follow her cooking and baking adventures on Instagram at @maggieolson or find her on Twitter at @maggiebolson.
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