24 of Our All-Time Best Cleaning Tips
Over the years, we've shared our best solutions for tackling household tasks, and to our delight, readers have written to tell us how these tips have helped make quick work of washing windows, waxing furniture, removing stains, and more. Keeping your home in tip-top shape is a job that's never truly finished, and the methods used to complete daily tasks are always evolving. Here, we're sharing the best tips and tricks to cleaning all of the areas readers utilize most around the house.
To start, consider streamlining your approach. That, we've found, starts with knowing where to start. Then, consider the products you're using. There are a few cleaning agents that may be making your daily wipe-down harder than it needs to be: Wood sprays, for example, often leave behind oily residues that can attract a fine coating of dust. We're sharing the one item you really need to properly clean all the surfaces in your living spaces—wood included—plus a DIY solution you should try instead.
And don't forget about those under-the-radar areas. Cleaning the fridge's most obscure nooks, for instance, requires a certain know-how, as does removing grit and crud from kitchen and bathroom tile. Caring for delicate surfaces is just as tricky, like how marble can't be cleaned in the same manner as wood (floors and wooden furniture included).
Keep these tips handy as you refine your home cleaning skills in every area of your home. And check out our exhaustive checklists to be sure you don't miss a spot.
Many modern wooden furniture pieces come with a protective polyurethane coating, but for older items, nothing beats wax to protect against dust and moisture. Buy paste wax, the solid kind that is normally sold in tins. Natural (clear) wax works on any wood, but dark wood may benefit from tinted wax (it will mask tiny scratches more effectively). 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 the wax dry for 25 minutes before buffing vigorously.
Be sure to keep surfaces clean, improve air circulation if possible, 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.
Removing a Wine Stain
Red wine stains may be a sign of good times, but pesky to clean. On delicate fabrics, you should soak the spot with denatured alcohol. Flush the area with white vinegar to remove any residual staining. On sturdy fabrics, however, you can coat the stain with salt; let it stand for five minutes before carefully pouring boiling water over the stain from a height of at least a foot.
Think beyond the classic feather duster: The oils in a lambs-wool duster help attract and hold dust, while 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 before buffing away the residue.
On 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.
Caring for Marble
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.
How to Wash Pillows, Blankets, and Down
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, or handwash in a tub of lukewarm water and detergent. You'll have to 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.
Deep Clean Your Refrigerator
You'll need to wipe up spills immediately so surfaces won't become stained—otherwise, 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 same solution (let glass shelves come to room temperature first so warm water won't crack them).
To loosen hardened spills on areas that you can't remove, first wet the area using the baking soda solution, and allow the residue to soften. If it's hard to reach, try using a toothbrush to get to crannies. Twice a year, vacuum or brush the dust from the condenser coils to keep the system from overheating.
How to Vacuum Any Surface
Many vacuum cleaners come with standard attachments, but they're often forgotten. Know which tools you have access to—and how to use each—for more effective cleaning. You'll also want to be sure to dust before you begin vacuuming, and make sure to move furniture in order to reach all the dust and dirt.
Organized Bed Linens
This technique yields fitted sheets that will lie flat in the linen closet. Using this approach, you can actually fold all of the bed's sheets together, which is a great tip for those who are tight on closet space.
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.
Cleaning Cast Iron
Here's the best way to clean cast iron: Scrub it with coarse salt and a soft sponge. The salt, a natural abrasive, absorbs oil and lifts away bits of food while preserving the pan's seasoning. Rinse away salt and wipe dry.
Cleaning the Bathtub
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.
Cleaning Dirty Pots
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 a pot with 1 to 2 inches of water and add about 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Simmer 15 minutes, then scrape tough spots on the bottom with a wooden spoon as needed.
Cleaning Ceramic Tile
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.
Cleaning Finished Wood
Fine linens actually benefit from frequent use. 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.
Removing Pet Hair
As much as you love your puppy or kitty, cleaning up after pets is probably one of the biggest issues you face in keeping a neat home. We're sharing how you can expertly remove hair from all types of surfaces, from carpeting to upholstered furniture and even clothing.
Wood Floor and Carpet Tips
Caring for flooring doesn't have to be complicated, and cleaning your surfaces—especially places with lots of traffic, like your kitchen—is essential. These tips and shortcuts will keep your floor, whether wood or carpet, looking its best.
Get your gloves on and suds up—learn our best tips and tricks for cleaning dishes more efficiently when it's time to wash them by hand. We're also answering common questions like when you should be using cold water and when you should air dry or hand dry.
For a handy reference on removing all types of stains on all types of surfaces, you can print, laminate, and hang our stain chart at home. It'll walk you through how to remove 10 kinds of everyday stains without ruining the piece of clothing in question.