We've been cleaning for more than two decades. Okay, not continuously, but let's just say we know how to use all our vacuum-cleaner attachments at this point. Over the years, we've shared our best solutions for tackling household tasks, and to our delight, you've written to tell us how these tips have helped you make quick work of washing windows, waxing furniture, removing stains, and more. So grab your bucket and get ready to make your home sparkle.
Dirty panes are no problem when you use rubber-edged squeegees, which are quicker and more effective than cloth or newspaper. They come in a variety of sizes -- and a screw-on extension will let you reach high spots. To start, dip a sponge into a bucket of warm water and a few drops of mild dish soap. Wet window; rub dirt away. Dampen squeegee; starting at an upper corner, draw it down pane from top to bottom. Repeat, overlapping strokes and wiping rubber edge with sponge after each stroke. (For large windows, "snake" squeegee back and forth; then touch up edges.) Dry windowsills with a cloth.
Many modern wooden furniture pieces come with a protective polyurethane coating, but for older items, nothing beats wax to protect against dust and moisture. Choose paste wax, the solid kind sold in tins. Natural (clear) wax works on any wood, but dark wood may benefit from tinted wax (it will mask tiny scratches). Begin by cleaning with a mild solvent, such as mineral spirits (test first in a hidden spot).Then cover the piece with a thin, even layer of wax using a cotton rag or cheesecloth. Let dry 10 to 25 minutes; buff vigorously.
When it comes to mildew, prevention gives you the upper hand. So be sure to keep surfaces clean, improve air circulation, and reduce dampness (for example, don't bunch wet towels). In poorly ventilated basements, install open shelving, use a dehumidifier and fan, and store items in airtight plastic containers with desiccants (such as silica gel). In musty closets, leave an incandescent lightbulb on to dry the air, or hang packets of desiccants.
Conventional wisdom holds that pots and pans should be given a good soak. But every metal has different properties and requires special care. Stainless steel is prone to stains from heat and hard water. To remove blemishes, apply white vinegar with a soft cloth and rub. Always dry thoroughly after washing to prevent a film from forming. Never soak stainless-steel cookware; this will result in pitted surfaces.
Red wine has a way of winding up in the wrong place. Here are some ways to ensure that it doesn't stay there for long. On delicate fabrics: Soak the spot with denatured alcohol. Flush with white vinegar to remove residual stain. On sturdy fabrics: Coat stain with salt; let stand for five minutes. Stretch stained area over a bowl; secure with a rubber band. Place in sink; carefully pour boiling water over stain from a height of at least a foot.
Think beyond the classic feather duster: The oils in a lamb's-wool duster help attract and hold dust; one with an extendable handle lets you reach ceiling fans and other fixtures. A basic wide paintbrush (look for one with natural bristles) can reach into all kinds of nooks; use one to remove dust from a lampshade's pleats. And electrostatic mitts and cloths are wonderful for a variety of jobs -- the material grabs hold of dust; try them on wooden furniture.
Flickering candles set the mood for a dinner party, but there's nothing charming about spilled wax. To remove it from tabletops, heat with a blow-dryer on the lowest setting for several seconds; then scrape up using the edge of a credit card. Buff away residue. To remove from fabrics, use ice to freeze wax, or place the item in the freezer; scrape off what you can, then use an oil solvent or mineral spirits to remove residue. Rinse with isopropyl alcohol, let dry, and use an enzyme detergent to wash.
Marble needs to be handled with care to maintain its appearance. For routine cleaning, sponge marble with warm water and a mild, neutral detergent. Rinse and dry with a soft cloth. Wipe spills promptly; acids in alcohol and fruit juices are particularly damaging. Marble often comes with a protective sealer that helps prevent staining; reapply coating (available at hardware stores) once a year. For tough stains, try a poultice treatment (also available at hardware stores); reseal the stone afterward.
Rather than pay for professional cleaning, you can safely clean many down-filled items yourself. You'll need a low-sudsing, mild detergent. One method: Machine-wash in a large front-loading washer (if your washer is top-loading or small, try the local Laundromat). Another method: Hand-wash in a tub of lukewarm water with the detergent. Gently squeeze soapy water through item; drain water. Rinse with cool water; repeat as needed. To dry machine- or hand-washed items, first use a washer's spin cycle to release excess water or press out water by hand. Then tumble-dry on low. Adding dry towels will speed the process; tennis balls or commercial fluffing rings in cotton socks will help keep feather clusters fluffy.
This task is a daunting undertaking; make it more manageable by breaking it down.The first step is to wipe up spills immediately so surfaces won't become stained. Make it a habit to throw out old food once a week. Every few months, wash the interior with a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda for every quart of warm water. Wash removable shelves and drawers in the solution (let glass shelves come to room temperature first so warm water won't crack them). Loosen hardened spills on fixed parts by wetting the area with the solution, allowing the residue to soften. Use a toothbrush to scrub crannies. Twice a year, vacuum or brush dust from the condenser coils to keep the system from overheating.
A simple chemical reaction causes tarnish to disappear naturally. Place sterling or plated silver in an aluminum pan -- it must be aluminum. Sprinkle 1/2 to 1 cup baking soda over the silverware. Keeping the pan in the sink to minimize splashing, pour enough boiling water to cover the utensils. When the tarnish disappears, remove the silverware and buff with a soft cotton cloth.
Here's a nontoxic but effective way to clean your tub: Add one teaspoon of liquid soap and several drops of an antibacterial essential oil (such as tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary, or peppermint) to one cup of baking soda. Add just enough water to form a paste, and use it with a sponge or brush to scour bathtub surface.
Little, if any, scrubbing is needed to clean even the dirtiest pots when you use baking soda -- and it is nonabrasive and environmentally friendly. Fill pot with 1 to 2 inches of water and add about 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Simmer 15 minutes, then scrape tough spots on bottom with a wooden spoon as needed.
For mildew and stains, avoid harsh products like bleach, which can strip grout of its color. Instead, scrub the grout with a paste of baking soda and water, then rinse. Next, submerge a microfiber cloth in a solution of water and mild dishwashing liquid. Wring out the cloth, then wipe down.
Wood sprays leave behind oily residues that attract dust. For daily cleaning, just dust with a dry microfiber cloth. For sticky or grimy wood surfaces, submerge a microfiber cloth in a solution of warm water and mild dishwashing liquid. Wring out the cloth, then wipe down the wood.
Despite fears to the contrary, fine linens actually benefit from frequent use. So, don't hesitate to pull out your favorite linen napkins for special meals -- they will be better off after being used, washed, ironed, and refolded. To keep stains from setting on table linens, attend to them as soon as possible. This guide will help you take care of the toughest spills.