Cleaning Tips for Your Whole House

Faster, easier, smarter ways to keep your whole house clean

Clean the air while you clean house


With their beater brushes and exhaust, vacuums whip up a dust storm. Later, all that dust settles on the surfaces you just cleaned. But you can use your forced-air heating/cooling system to filter the air while you clean. Just switch the thermostat to "fan" or "fan on." The dust reduction you get depends on your furnace filter. Standard fiberglass filters catch only the largest particles, while a pleated filter with an electrostatic charge will catch almost all the visible dust. Don't forget to switch back to "auto" when you're done.

Long-reach vacuum


A PVC pipe connected to a vacuum hose lets you reach up to high spots or into narrow crannies, so you can suck up those cobwebs around skylights or exterminate dust bunnies behind radiators. A 10-ft. piece of PVC pipe is inexpensive.

In the plumbing aisle, you'll also find PVC and rubber "reducer" couplings that let you connect your vacuum hose to a different-size pipe.

Get tough on glass stains


If your usual glass cleaner won't remove tough stains, apply a mild abrasive cleaner such as Soft Scrub, Bar Keepers Friend or Bon Ami and scrub with a soft cloth. These abrasives usually won't scratch glass, but test a small area first just to make sure. If elbow grease alone won't do the job or if you have large areas to cover, use a drill and a small buffing wheel (find one at home centers).

Clean a vacuum with a vacuum


The typical way to clean the filter of a bagless vacuum is to tap it against the inside of a trash can until most of the dust falls off. But that raises a cloud of dust and doesn't get the filter completely clean. For faster, neater, more effective filter cleaning, use your shop vacuum. Clean prefilter screens and post-filters the same way. Just remember to be gentle with the shop vacuum's nozzle. Some filters have a coating that you can scrape off if you press too hard.

Speed-clean with a pressure washer


Once you get your hands on a pressure washer, you'll find endless uses for it: Blast that dingy coat of dirt off your siding and trim, deep-clean embedded grime from your driveway or patio, wash down a deck or fence. While you're at it, don't forget the car, mower, bikes and patio furniture. You may discover so many jobs for a pressure washer that you want to own one. Electric versions usually cost less, but you may want to spend more for a more powerful gas model. Renting first is a good way to find out how much pressure and which features you really need. You can rent a pressure washer and do a week's worth of cleaning in one day. Before you rent, gather some tarps to protect plants and make sure your garden hose will reach all the areas you plan to clean. Good preparation lets you get more cleaning done during the rental period.

Minimize scum with synthetic soap


In terms of chemistry, some soaps aren't really soap. And these "synthetic" soaps make cleaning your shower or bath easier because they don't contain the ingredients that create tough soap scum. So how do you know if soap is synthetic or the real thing? Any liquid or gel soap is synthetic. Most bar soaps are true soap, but a few, such as Zest and Ivory, are synthetics. Synthetic soaps don't leave tough scum on your sink or tub the way standard soap does.

Dissolve rust with acid


To remove rust stains from a porcelain sink, tub or toilet, skip the standard cleaners and go for a product that contains acid. Don’t use any product that contains bleach—that will just make the stains tougher. Look for ingredients like "hydrochloric acid," "hydrogen chloride," "HCL" or "muriatic acid" on the label. Read the whole label to make sure the product won’t harm chrome or other finishes. If you're cleaning a toilet, remove as much water as you can to avoid diluting the cleaner. Scrub gently to avoid splatter that can damage your floor, painted surfaces or your skin. Be sure to flush the toilet a few times or rinse the tub thoroughly when you're done so you don't leave any residue behind.

Beat the dust out of cushions


Upholstery absorbs lots of dust—and then sends it airborne every time you sit down. Routine vacuuming reduces the problem, but can't suck out the deep-down dust. So take cushions outside a couple times each year, preferably on a windy day, and spank the dust out of them. An old tennis racket makes a great upholstery beater (and improves your swing).

Stop countertop stains


If you have an older plastic laminate countertop, you've probably noticed that it doesn't repel stains like it used to. That's because years of wear have left the surface lightly scratched and porous. The best way to prevent stains is to wipe up spills immediately. But a protective coating of countertop polish can also help. Plus it will restore the shine to dull countertops. All you have to do is spray it on and wipe it off every few weeks. Most home centers and discount stores carry countertop polish such as Countertop Magic or Hope's Counter Top Polish. If you don't find it in a store, search for "countertop polish" online to find a supplier.

Renew wood with mineral spirits


If the finish on your furniture or woodwork is dull and murky, it may need refinishing. But before you take on that project, take a tip from furniture restorers and clean it with mineral spirits. Mineral spirits— sometimes labeled "paint thinner"—is a gentle solvent that dissolves years of grime and residue from cleaners or polishes without harming wood finishes. Get it at a home center or paint store. Just soak a soft cloth and keep rubbing until the cloth no longer picks up grime. Work in a well-ventilated area and remember that the fumes are flammable. Hang the cloth outdoors to dry before throwing it in the trash.

Easy-clean closet floors


Household dust consists mostly of tiny fibers shed from clothing and other fabrics. So a closet packed with clothes is a major dust reservoir; every time you open the doors, you whip up a dust cloud. To make matters worse, closet floors are often bypassed by the vacuum because they're cluttered with shoes and other obstacles. The solution is a wire shelf. Install a wire shelf a few inches above the closet floor to clear off the clutter and make vacuuming easy. Get one at a home center, install it in a few minutes and you won’t be tempted to skip the closet floor next time you vacuum.

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