23 of Our All-Time Best Cleaning Tips

martha cleaning stove
Photo: Andrew Eccles

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 tried-and-true 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. Ahead, we're sharing our best cleaning tips and tricks to refresh all of the areas you utilize most around the house.

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Waxing Furniture

waxing wooden furniture

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).

1. Begin by cleaning with a mild solvent, such as mineral spirits (test first in a hidden spot).

2. Cover the piece with a thin, even layer of wax using a cotton rag or cheesecloth.

3. Let the wax dry for 25 minutes before buffing vigorously.

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Preventing Mildew


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.

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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.

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Dusting 101

Bryan Gardner

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.

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Removing Wax

colorful wax candles

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.

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Caring for Marble

Ditte Isager

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.

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Washing 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.

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Deep Cleaning Your Refrigerator

Bryan Gardner

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 2 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.

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Vacuuming Tips


Many vacuums 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.

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Organizing Bed Linens

Diane Fields

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.

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Removing Tarnish

silverware in flannel cover

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.

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Washing Bottles


The drudgery of cleaning small-necked decanters and antique apothecary bottles can be avoided with this easy solution: Fill the bottles with water, drop in a tablet or two of a denture cleanser such as Efferdent, let stand overnight, then scrub with a narrow nylon brush.

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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.

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Oven Cleaning

Di_Studio via Getty Images

If you don't have a self-cleaning oven (which burns off residue at very high temperatures), try this eco-friendly solution, which uses baking soda to effectively bust crud and other caked-on stains.

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Cleaning the Bathtub

blue bathroom
Lisa Romerein

Here's a nontoxic, but effective way to clean your tub: Add 1 teaspoon of liquid soap and several drops of an antibacterial essential oil (such as tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary, or peppermint) to 1 cup of baking soda. Add just enough water to form a paste, and use it with a sponge or brush to scour bathtub surface.

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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.

1. Fill a pot with 1 to 2 inches of water and add about 2 tablespoons of baking soda.

2. Simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Scrape tough spots on the bottom with a wooden spoon.

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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.

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Cleaning Finished Wood


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.

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Laundering Napkins


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, tend to them as soon as possible.

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Removing Pet Hair

cat laying in pet bed

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. Here, we share how you can expertly remove hair from all types of surfaces, from carpeting to upholstered furniture and even clothing.

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Cleaning All Flooring Types


Caring for your floors doesn't have to be complicated and is truly important, especially in places with lots of foot traffic (like your kitchen). Our tips and shortcuts will keep your floor, whether you have wood or carpet, looking its best.

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Using Your Dishwasher Effectively

open dishwasher in modern kitchen

Put those rubber gloves down and learn how to load your dishwasher the right way and use this appliance more effectively to guarantee sparkling dishes every time. And if you'd rather hand-wash? Read up on tips to ensure the dishes that get clean in the sink are sanitized and ready for your next meal.

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Stain Removal Chart


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 all kinds of everyday stains without ruining the piece of clothing in question.

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