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Dreaded Cleaning Tasks Made Easier: Advice on Cleaning by REAL SIMPLE

Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Hate to clean? These quick tricks make even the most irksome tasks easier, from the coffeemaker in the kitchen to the grout in the bathroom

Sang An

Behind every shiny surface lies a nettlesome problem. Or two. Or three. When polled on what you loathe most about spring-cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms, Real Simple readers came back with a compelling hate-to-do list (ovens, bad; toilets, worse).

But take heart! In this easy guide, you’ll find time-saving techniques, simple shortcuts, and a bucketful of hard-charging, expert-recommended, staff-tested products to help make the dreadful a little more doable.

When polled on what you loathe most about spring-cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms, readers came back with a compelling hate-to-do list. Here, a quick tour of duty through your main spring-cleaning conundrums:

  • The Kitchen: Small Appliances
  • The Kitchen: Large Appliances
  • The Bathroom
  • The Living Room
  • Cleaning Small Appliances
    Sang An
    Cleaning Small Appliances

    Germs breeding in your microwave? Gunk stuck in your toaster? Give your kitchen workhorses a much deserved spa treatment.

    Microwaves

    Cheese meltdowns, syrup spills, and butter tsunamis: Readers said this indispensable machine takes a beating—inside and out. To soften up grease and calcified oatmeal (or whatever that crud is), place a bowl of water mixed with lemon juice in the microwave and run on high for one minute, then use a food-safe sanitizer (such as Lysol’s version) to banish germs lurking under the turntable. An all-purpose cleaner (such as Windex MultiTask) or a mildly abrasive powder (like Bon Ami) can usually dislodge one of the biggest reader complaints: constantly reappearing streaks and fingerprints on the door. Buff with a rag or a microfiber cloth.

    Toasters

    To get rid of those “annoying crumbs stuck in the bottom of the toaster,” slide the tray out and wipe it down, then blast the interior with a computer-keyboard cleaner. Don’t forget the exterior: Coax stubborn rust spots off chrome with a ball of crumpled aluminum foil. Before cleaning any appliance, always remember to unplug it.

    Coffeemakers

    While dispensing your favorite brew, your coffeemaker may harbor oily residue (from the grinds) and caked-on minerals (from the water). Every one to six months, run a descaling solution (such as Barista Cleaner & Descaler) through the machine. Then rinse thoroughly with clean water. Check the coffeemaker’s instruction manual first.

    More Tips
  • A mild abrasive will immediately lift the dirt off cabinet knobs and handles, but don’t use it on painted cabinets — it will dull the gloss.
  • To extract grime lodged in nooks and crannies, apply a multipurpose cleaning solution, then get into the groove with a cotton swab.
  • Control where your cleaning solution goes. Unlike a spray, a gel glass cleaner won’t seep behind push buttons or into appliances.
  • Top Tools for Cleaning Small Appliances
    Sang An
    Top Tools for Cleaning Small Appliances
    Coffeemaker Descaler

    Coffee tasted better after machines were treated with Barista Cleaner & Descaler (shown, bottom left).
    To Buy: $4 at Starbucks.

    Cleanser

    Pros recommend the mildly abrasive Bon Ami (shown, top left) because it’s safe on all hard surfaces except glass.
    To Buy: About $1 at grocery stores.

    All-Purpose Cleaner

    Unlike other vinegar-based versions tested, Windex MultiTask (shown, right) doesn’t leave streaks on glass.
    To Buy: $3.50 at grocery stores.

    Sanitizer

    The ammonium chloride in Lysol Food Surface Sanitizer (shown, center) kills bacteria but won’t contaminate food.
    To Buy: $3 at grocery stores.

    Cleaning Large Appliances
    Sang An
    Cleaning Large Appliances

    Stovetop stains, grungy ovens, dusty refrigerator coils, and petrified dryer lint (oh, the horror): Yes, you can conquer them all.

    Cooktops and Ovens

    Burnt-on splatters are a major reason stoves are so “troubling and daunting,” as one reader put it. So soak before you scrub. Remove cooktop grills and saturate stains with an all-purpose cleaning solution (such as Simple Green or Mr. Clean). Give the solution about 10 minutes to do its job, then wipe clean. When you scour the oven, you’ll need a powerful, highly alkaline oven cleaner, which may contain lye, so be cautious. (Try a fume-free product, like Easy-Off.) Caveat: Oven cleaners are not safe for use in a self-cleaning; they can damage the interior.

    Refrigerators

    Food debris beneath the bins bugs you big time. Pull them out and use a food-friendly spray cleaner (like those made by Home Thymes), which won’t contaminate fruits and vegetables. If you really want to do the refrigerator a favor, dust the condenser coils with a coil brush or your vacuum cleaner’s crevice tool. (The coils are located on the back of the refrigerator, usually at the bottom.) Appliance wheels, available at hardware stores, help move the refrigerator away from the wall.

    Clothes Dryers

    “Is that a fire hazard?” a reader asked, referring to the dust clouds that gather inside the dryer duct and in back of the dryer. “Lint is highly flammable,” confirms Captain Jim Doucette of the Sacramento Fire Department, in California. Once a year, check to see if air is coming out of the duct outside your house. If you can’t feel air, snake a lint-removal brush up the duct or call a professional to do a deep cleaning. Also, vacuum behind the dryer at least once a year.

    More Tips
  • Any filter in the house should be cleaned at least once a year. Range-hood filters can be degreased in a sink filled with hot water and detergent.
  • No need to buy sprays and wipes made especially for stainless steel. Spritz with window cleaner and polish with a worn T-shirt.
  • Put those irritating fake credit cards that come in the junk mail to good use: Scrape along the edges of the stove’s knobs to get rid of accumulated grease.
  • Top Tools for Cleaning Large Appliances
    Sang An
    Top Tools for Cleaning Large Appliances
    All-Purpose Cleaners

    Pros swear by Mr. Clean’s concentrated solution (shown, bottom center) because it’s reliable and a good value.
    To Buy: $3 at grocery stores.

    Home Thymes (shown, bottom left) won points from testers for its mild scent.
    To Buy: $9, www.thymes.com.

    Fans of Simple Green’s all-purpose cleaner (shown, top) are drawn to the company’s eco-friendly approach.
    To Buy: $6 at grocery stores.

    Refrigerator-Coil Brush

    Whirlpool’s specially designed bristles (shown, far right) get into tight spaces.
    To Buy: $6.50, www.appliancepartspros.com.

    Oven Cleaner

    Longtime favorite Easy-Off now comes in a fume-free formula.
    To Buy: $5.30, www.amazon.com.

    Cleaning the Bathroom
    Sang An
    Cleaning the Bathroom

    In a word: yuck. It’s your least-favorite room to clean, but new tools make the job easier than ever before. Really.

    Toilets

    The number one item on readers’ things-to-avoid list? The toilet, especially when it comes to what one reader called the “damp dust” that collects around the base. A swivel-head mop with a detachable pole (such as Mr. Clean Magic Reach) distances you from the beast. The smart way to clean the bowl’s interior, says Laurie Kilpatrick, cocreator of the video series Miss Laurie’s Smart Guide to House Cleaning ($15,www.misslauriessmartguide.com), is to pour a bucket of water into the toilet to empty the bowl (trust us — it works) so you can clean with less sloshing. Try a brush with disposable pads (such as the Scotch Brite Disposable Toilet Scrubber).

    Tiles and Grout

    Go for a cleaner that’s tough enough for porous, stain-loving surfaces (such as Ceramiclean Tile & Grout Cleaner). As with any strong product, open a window, wear rubber gloves, and dilute according to the package instructions. “To stay ahead of the grout game,” Kilpatrick says, “keep an old toothbrush in the shower and scrub away mildew the moment you see it.”

    Showers and Tubs

    Dissolving soap scum (a mysterious combination of soap, sweat, body oil, dirt, and mineral deposits) can require serious elbow grease. Use a product specially formulated to break it up (such as Scrubbing Bubbles). Or go for a mildly abrasive powder and a nylon-backed sponge, which protects porcelain while loosening dirt. Or invest in a flexible scrubber with single-use pads (such as the Clorox BathWand).

    More Tips
  • To remove streaks from mirrors, says Peggy Oelschlager of Maids Home Services, a residential-cleaning franchise, use coffee filters. “As a finishing touch,” she says, “you can’t beat them.”
  • Ran out of cleanser? In a pinch, rub a dab of plain toothpaste onto bathroom fixtures, then buff clean to make them shine.
  • Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Cover the drain with a wet cloth, wait five minutes, uncover, and flush with steaming-hot water.
  • Top Tools for Cleaning the Bathroom
    Sang An
    Top Tools for Cleaning the Bathroom
    Shower Cleaner

    Scrubbing Bubbles Shower Cleaner (shown, bottom left) zapped soapy residue most efficiently.
    To Buy: $5 at grocery stores.

    Mop

    Testers used Mr. Clean Magic Reach’s mop head (shown, top left) to sneak around a toilet’s tight corners.
    To Buy: $13 at grocery stores.

    Tub Scrubber

    The Clorox BathWand (shown, center) conforms to the shape of the tub for easier cleaning.
    To Buy: $10 at grocery stores.

    Toilet Scrubber

    Scotch Brite’s version (shown, far right) comes with disposable pads that drop neatly into the trash.
    To Buy: $5 at grocery stores.

    Tile and Grout Cleaner

    Ceramiclean’s concentrated solution (shown, right) made grout gleam.
    To Buy: $5, www.hardwareandtools.com.

    Cleaning the Living Room
    Sang An
    Cleaning the Living Room

    Leave ’em in the dust — say good-bye to scuffed floorboards, dingy blinds and curtains, and the fur that Frisky left behind.

    Wood Floors

    When spring rolls around, floors typically reflect a season’s worth of imported dirt and slush. “What’s safe to use on wood?” one reader asked. Thanks to the polyurethane finish on most wood floors today, you can mist them with no-wax cleaning products that add polish and fill in small scratches (such as Method’s O Mop Solution). “Never use these cleaners on waxed floors,” cautions Sean Flynn of New York Flooring, in Manhattan. “They only add residue that will need to be sanded away.” As for baseboards, another vexing reader problem, your vacuum cleaner’s round dust brush (such as the one included with the Hoover Constellation) will quickly remove dirt.

    Blinds and Drapes

    Nothing is more distressing than row upon row of dust-coated blinds. Whether the blinds are wood, plastic, or metal, simply close them and run a lamb’s-wool duster (sold at hardware stores) or a microfiber-chenille duster over the slats (like the Casabella Mini Duster); both materials are major dust magnets. Dusty drapes? Use your vacuum’s crevice tool on curtain folds and pleats, setting the suction on low to avoid harming the fabric.

    Sofas and Chairs

    Deploy your vacuum’s stiff, short-haired upholstery brush on and between sofa and chair cushions to remove “disgusting pet hair” and debris. Another neat cheat: Put on a standard latex rubber glove, lightly moisten the fingertips with water, and gently glide your hand over the cushions to pick up the hair.

    More Tips
  • A vacuum cleaner’s round dust brush handily sucks soot out of window screens; the crevice tool can remove desiccated insects from window wells.
  • When dust settles into draperies, you can have them dry-cleaned. But for a fast spruce-up, toss them in the dryer on the air setting, then rehang immediately.
  • Did you know that a tough vinyl doormat, such as those made by Chilewich (www.chilewich.com), can stop up to 80 percent of grit at the front door?
  • Top Tools for Cleaning the Living Room
    Sang An
    Top Tools for Cleaning the Living Room
    Duster

    Casabella’s colorful microfiber mini duster (shown, left) expertly picked up dust on blinds, books, CDs, and more.
    To Buy: $11, www.casabella.com.

    Vacuum

    The new Hoover Constellation features the usual array of helpful attachments (shown, middle), including a crevice tool, an upholstery brush, and a round dust brush; plus, it hovers slightly above the floor for ease of movement.
    To Buy: About $200, for stores.

    Mop

    The all-in-one O Mop kit (shown, right) from Method includes a curved pole, a microfiber mop head, and a bottle of cleaning solution.
    To Buy: $30, www.methodhome.com.

    April 2007

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