Where To Start: Deep Clean Your Living Room

Welcome back to my series on deep cleaning! This week: living rooms!

Everyone on the internet has a nicer house than me. / Photo by Spacejoy on Unsplash

Living rooms are a bit tough to pin down when it comes to deep cleaning. First, it’s tough to get your spouse/kids/pets to stay out of the living room long enough for you to really get into a cleaning groove. I have no good advice there: I use threats and distraction but neither really works. Second, it’s tough to find (or give!) good guidance because living rooms tend to look a little different for each home. After all, as the name suggests this is where we do a lot of our “living” and that looks a bit different for everyone based on individual circumstances, needs, and priorities. Some folks have a glorified play area for their kids, some have merged the space with their dining room, some have a full on workstation in these wild WFH times. Unlike a bathroom or a kitchen, living rooms have a more fluid place in our homes — they can be whatever we want (or need) them to be.

Every time you try to clean your living room and someone wants to “watch their show.” / via Giphy

Though the specifics vary widely, living areas of all kinds can really benefit from a deep clean. We do so much “living” in these spaces that they often get pretty run-down pretty quickly, and it’s tough to find the time or space to go further than clearing off the coffee table and vacuuming the rug. So if you only have time for a partial deep clean, don’t worry! Go in stages, take breaks, and cut yourself some slack. It’s up to you how much you want to do and when you want to do it, but it’s always worth taking care of yourself by taking care of your space.

  • Start from the top down. When you really don’t know where to start, this is the best place for any and all rooms. Start with the stuff on the ceiling and work your way toward the floor. I like to use a vacuum to get rid of cobwebs (you can also use a rag tied around a broom head or a long-armed duster) and then clean off light fixtures and ceiling fans with a clean rag and some all-purpose cleaner (patch test if using on paint!). Nothing says “I’m deep cleaning” better than getting out a step ladder, and I’m always amazed at how much there is to clean once I get up there.
Does Miyazaki like cleaning as much as I do? The cleaning animation is so satisfying! / via Giphy
  • Clean your walls. Is this very extra? You bet. But there’s a real case for doing this every once in awhile. First, you will feel a smug sense of cleaning superiority when you casually mention you spent the day cleaning your walls (just kidding, people will think you’re over the top and scary, but it’s still worth it). It can also extend the life of your paint and make your home smell cleaner. You only need to do this every year or two, so I highly recommend taking some time for it because it makes such a difference in how your room looks and feels! Here’s a couple of approaches:
    • The easier: Get yourself a magic eraser, a rag, and some very watered down cleaner that you have patch tested on your paint. DO NOT skip patch testing for the cleaner or the magic eraser! Seriously, depending on your paint you could stain/damage the wall and end up with more of a mess than you started with. I’ve had the best luck with a spray bottle filled with 1 part Simple Green to 3 parts water, but you could also spot clean with Zep’s Foaming Wall Cleaner (use with an open window — this stuff is powerful but works wonders!). Once you’ve got everything assembled and tested, use a brush attachment to lightly vacuum the wall surface or dust with a clean dry rag. Then go on a dirt hunt (this is what I call walking around with cleaner and a rag and cleaning anything I see that needs it). Use the magic eraser on the really stained areas and the cleaner/rag over any other visibly dirty areas.
    • The advanced: Start with the brush attachment and thoroughly vacuum the wall (use a light touch so you don’t scratch anything). Work in roughly 4’x4′ squares. Remove any art/wall hangings as you go. Now get a clean mop (preferably the large, flat rectangular kind) and a bucket filled with warm water and, you guessed it, a patch-tested all purpose cleaner of your choice! The idea here is to basically mop your wall the way you would your floor. Use light pressure and again, work in squares to make sure you get everything. Once you’ve mopped the whole wall, go back with a magic eraser or rag to remove any spots the mopping didn’t completely remove. When the wall is dry, go back over it with the vacuum to pick up any dust or hair still stuck to the wall (trust me, this is an important step). Re-hang anything you took down and voila! Super clean walls.
  • Detail your seating area. Whether you have a couch, lounge chair, or a few cushions on the floor, all living rooms have somewhere to sit. Most of us give these a once over with a vacuum and call it a day, but it’s worth paying this area extra attention every so often. To deep clean a chair or couch:
    • First remove anything that can be laundered and do so. Cushion covers, slip covers, blankets–wash all of it. Next, anything that can be removed but can’t go in the washing machine should either be put outside to air out or thoroughly vacuumed.
    • Now, to the furniture itself: start by vacuuming thoroughly. Get every nook and cranny you can reach with an attachment. This step should take you awhile — at least 10 minutes per piece. Set a timer if you need to. The idea is to be thorough and really get as much dirt and dust out as possible. If you can, get underneath and vacuum the underside. Don’t be afraid to go over the whole piece a few times!
    • If you have a carpet cleaner and your furniture is cloth-covered, get in there and clean the whole piece. Take extra time for the spots that see a lot of traffic: the head and arm rests. If you have leather furniture, go over everything with a leather cleaner (I’ve even used some saddle soap on occasion to pretty good results).
  • Clean your art. Now that you have super clean walls, spend some time on the stuff you put on the walls. I usually dust things off during regular cleans, but occasionally I like to go through with glass cleaner and clean off all my frames really thoroughly.
    • If you have anything not in a frame or covered with glass like a wall hanging or sculpture, you can either go over it with the brush attachment on your vacuum or, if it’s in really dusty condition, use a toothbrush to clean out the nooks and crannies, hit it with the vacuum, and then use a clean rag pulled over your finger tip and some gentle all-purpose cleaner to get at any stuck-on gunk.
    • If you have delicate hand-painted items like an oil painting, you can either stick to dusting or take a page out of art restoration experts’ playbook: use a cotton swab and your saliva. Normally I don’t recommend spit-shine as a cleaning method, but saliva contains amylase (an enzyme that breaks down food) and is actually really effective for cleaning delicate paintings. It’s safer than water, believe it or not. I will say that using a cotton bud and spit is a long, arduous process, so maybe don’t do this unless there’s a spot you need to get out or you have a couple hours to spare. Simply stick the clean cotton bud in your mouth to wet with spit and then roll delicately back and forth over the painted surface. Be very gentle and don’t scrub — the friction could damage the paint.
See? The spit thing is real, no prank. / via Giphy

There are always plenty of things to clean, but these are a good place to start. Though cleaning your walls and art can apply to other parts of your home, I recommend taking deep cleaning room by room so you don’t get burned out. Deep cleaning can be really satisfying, but it’s also really taxing, especially when you realize you have to put the room back together after taking it all apart to clean it. I like to leave a little time and energy at the end of a big clean to re-stage the room. Put the cushions back, rehang the wall decorations, put away the cleaning supplies. Then, you can relax and enjoy your space!

Thanks for reading!

I Tested Emergency Stain Fighting Methods So You Don’t Have To

We’ve all been there. We’re trucking along, on our way to work or eating lunch out in the world, and BAM! Coffee down our fronts. Ketchup on our new pants. Stains happen, but like running into exes or your printer running out of ink, they often happen at the worst time. That’s why I don’t understand a lot of laundry guides’ stain removal sections. Yes, sure, ideally we have a Tide pen on our person at all times or can mix complicated concoctions to apply before a stain sets, but those options kind of demand that you’re in the right place at the right time. Most times I’ve stained something I mind being stained (home clothes are home clothes for a reason), I’m going somewhere important or nice and I don’t necessarily have access to more than a public bathroom or some napkins.

We’ve all been there, buddy. / via Giphy

Because of my perpetual under-preparedness, I decided to test the stain fighting options most folks usually have access to when they’re untethered from their laundry rooms on the stains most people get pretty frequently: ketchup, mustard, oil, and coffee. Yes, there are definitely many other things you can stain your clothes with, but I figured this covered the stain “worlds” pretty well (for instance, when you get a spaghetti sauce stain, it’s mostly the tomatoes and oil that’s staining the fabric, so you can still get a good idea from these samples of what would work best).

Before I talk about the method and results, a couple of notes regarding other frequent stains: ALWAYS use cold water to get blood out (run it under a faucet as cold as you can and gently rub with your fingers, and hand sanitizer is the best option for tree sap. Trust me, I’ve bled on a lot of stuff and sat in a lot of tree sap, and those are the best ways, hands down.

The method. I tested strips of fabric (I used 100% cotton) stained with each substance. I dabbed the excess off with a paper napkin, applied the treatment, rubbed with my fingers, then rinsed with warm water. None of the stains sat on the fabric untreated for more than a minute (I assumed most people would notice a treatable stain within a pretty short window — a dry stain noticed much later is a different ball game). I did use an Oxi stain stick on one strip as a sort of control so I could see what would happen if I were in an ideal situation where I had access to a stain stick and a sink. I also let everything dry completely before photographing.

The results. As you can see, not a ton of big surprises here, but some interesting findings nonetheless. Dabbing at a stain doesn’t really do much (this was the only strip that you could still see coffee on). Rinsing got the coffee out, but otherwise it doesn’t really seem to be worth getting your shirt wet if you don’t have anything else to treat with — the other stains weren’t really any different with water added. Hand sanitizer was better than water. This method is actually my go to when I stain my clothes and can’t use a bathroom, and it does seem to help the stain come out later in the wash. Plus I usually have hand sanitizer on me or in the car (especially these days), so it’s better than just dabbing or even rinsing.

Unsurprisingly, soap-based treatments won the day with all these food stains. What was a bit surprising, though, was how well dish soap did. I originally tested it because it’s what I would go for if I stained my clothing at a friend’s house or someplace where I didn’t feel okay about poking around the laundry room. And amazingly, dish soap outperformed the actual stain stick! I’ve written before about my love of dish soap (read more here), but I never really thought of it for stains besides oil. The dish soap left only the faintest trace of ketchup and mustard and completely removed the oil and coffee, but with the stain stick there was a discernible (if faint) stain. I honestly may just start treating at home stains with dish soap as well — an easy solution that works!

Finally, hand soap did okay (better than just dabbing, just water, or hand sanitizer), but it couldn’t seem to remove anything completely, even the oil. Still, probably the best option in a pinch, as most folks don’t carry dish soap everywhere (but maybe we should?).

My overall findings? Go for the soapiest thing you can find, but sub in hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to water. Rinsing isn’t worth it unless you spilled something very liquidy like coffee or soda. And remember: time is always important with stains. The longer something sits, the more likely the stain will fix. If you can’t do anything about the stain in the moment, no worries, just brush it off and deal with it when you get home. Ideally with dish soap.

Thanks for reading!

10 Cleaning Tips to Keep Your House Livable

Funnily enough, people who hate cleaning often make the best cleaners. When you hate something that’s a necessity, you’ll do anything you can to improve it or make it easier. I HATED cleaning growing up, but like most adults, I eventually figured out clean rooms are nice to live in (go figure).

In the name of livable rooms with minimal infringement on my Masterpiece Theater and blank staring time, I’ve done my best over the years to figure out the easiest and most efficient ways to keep my space clean. Cleaning is an art and a skill, and as is the case with so many things in life, knowledge is power. So, in the name of scientific endeavor, here are my 10 tips for keeping your house livable and clean(ish).

I’ve thought a lot about this and if I could train woodland creatures to help me clean I’d do it. Even if it ended up like Enchanted with rats and pigeons … I’d still do it. / via Giphy
  1. Never go with empty hands. This is a rule in restaurants for a reason. Think about how often you walk from one room to another in a day. If you’re passing through the kitchen, grab a dish. Headed out to the car? Take out the garbage on your way. It won’t eliminate clutter, but it will definitely help. (It’s also fun to say this phrase to family members in a sing-song voice whenever they leave a room. Seriously, people love it.)
  2. Make it fun! I love a good cleaning playlist, but sometimes I need more than good music. I switch it up by listening to an audiobook (I often keep cleaning because I’m invested in the plot) or a podcast. Try the Overdrive or Libby apps from your local library to get an amazing selection of free books. I also like to turn on a movie or a show, especially if I’m folding laundry or straightening up the living room. Keeping myself entertained makes it easier to take on big tasks.
  3. Toothbrushes are gold. Never throw away a used toothbrush! Toss it in the dishwasher and keep it for cleaning around faucets, scrubbing window tracks, cleaning gunk out of drains, and basically any task where you need to get into small cracks or details. I strongly believe that there’s not much a toothbrush and Simple Green can’t clean — words to live by.
  4. Start by clearing the floor. I hear a lot about cleaning from top to bottom (which is important), but if I’m tackling a specific room, I actually start by clearing the clutter off the floor. Pick up clothes, put away toys, and clear as much off the floor as you can before you start cleaning. It will make the actual dusting, vacuuming, etc. much easier.
  5. Wear gloves! Most cleaners, natural or not, are rough on hands. Also, humans are gross. Cleaning a toilet is a lot easier to tackle when your hands are protected. Just make sure you buy a pair for each room (mark them with a permanent marker).
  6. Clean your tools. Give some cleaning love to the things that help you clean! Empty the vacuum canister when you’re done cleaning. Wipe down attachments. Wash out the mop head. Wash your broom (and store it bristles up!). Clean your washer. We often forget to clean these things, and they really do need cleaning and maintenance. A full vacuum cleaner that hasn’t ever had its filter changed isn’t going to work very well, and you can extend the life of your tools by keeping them in good condition.
  7. Toss or keep, don’t shuffle. You know the stuff that lives on your dining room table? The old mail, notebooks, hand cream, etc.? It’s a better use of your cleaning time to either find a proper place for it or toss it. Shuffling it and cleaning around it ends up taking a lot more time, and your space will look so much cleaner without the clutter!
  8. Treat yourself! Some days incentives are pretty much the only way I get anything done. Save a cookie for after chores. Rent a movie. Take a bath in your sparkling clean tub. Go to Starbucks. Sometimes a clean house or a job well done is motivation enough, but don’t forget the carrot part of carrot and stick.
  9. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Give yourself credit for making an effort. If you’ve had a tough week and you can muster the effort to load the dishwasher but not scrub the sink or do a load of laundry but not vacuum the house, that’s ok. Nobody is Pinterest-perfect all the time, and I’ll bet good money that a lot of those pictures have the dirty laundry pile cropped out.
  10. Break the rules. Yesterday my husband told me one of the reasons he doesn’t really like mopping is because he feels like he has to vacuum super thoroughly beforehand. I told him I often vacuum, mop, and then sweep particularly dirty floors. His response? “Wait, you can do that?” Just because that’s how it’s always been done doesn’t mean that’s how you have to do it. If you try something and it works for you (and makes basic chemical sense), go for it.
If he can do it, you can too! / via Giphy

What are your best cleaning tips? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Homemade Window Cleaner (That Works!)

Weird confession: I love cleaning windows. We all have the chores we love (for me: windows, vacuuming, and scrubbing sinks) and the ones we hate (for me: scrubbing showers/tubs, emptying the dishwasher, and putting away folded laundry). Windows are the ultimate detail work for me, and a clean window (or mirror, for that matter) has an instant impact on a room.

Because I like cleaning windows, I’ve developed a lot of opinions about how I like to clean them and what I like to clean them with. I love Windex, but sometimes I prefer to make my own to switch it up or save money or just because. I always make my own window solution when I’m doing a deep clean, because I like to make a big bucket with hot water and a spritz from spray bottle of cleaner just doesn’t feel as satisfying and hot water and suds.

Simply the best. / via Giphy

My window cleaner recipe, like many out there, includes rubbing alcohol and vinegar. However, I also include dish soap, (which some folks don’t do) because I feel the soap helps break down grime and grease marks better and more quickly (also I use dish soap for everything — read more here). It also helps the solution cover the glass — vinegar and alcohol without the soap doesn’t cling to the glass very well. So don’t skip the dish soap!

Here’s how I make glass cleaner in a (standard 23 oz. size) spray bottle:

Yes, I reuse a bottle from a certain famous glass cleaner company.
  • Add the following straight to the bottle: about 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol (any percentage will do); about 1 teaspoon dish soap (again, any type will do, but blue Dawn gives the blueish tinge that means “window cleaner” to everyone’s brain); about 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar.
  • Fill the bottle about 1/2 to 3/4 full with water. Make sure to tilt the bottle so the stream of water hits the side and doesn’t create too many bubbles.
  • Replace cap and use! You can give the bottle a quick shake to reincorporate the ingredients before each use (a bit of separation is natural, like Snapple says).
See what I mean about the suds?!

You can add the same ingredients in similar proportions (but overall larger amounts) to a bucket and add hot water to make a great window cleaning solution for bigger jobs. Use a rag (don’t wring it out too much, you want it to be like a wet mop) to scrub the window and remove the excess with a squeegee. Trust me, your windows will literally be squeaky clean.

All clean!

Thanks for reading!

my Spring Cleaning Superstar? Dish Soap.

I really like spring cleaning. I like the detail of it, the feeling of accomplishment after really cleaning a room top to bottom, and it always feels like I’m getting to know my house a bit better—like learning something brand new about an old friend. I feel more connected to my home when I learn how a lighting fixture is put together or how a cabinet shelf can be moved because I had to take something apart to clean it. Deep cleaning is also kind of like therapy: you can focus on something you can control and accomplish, and it’s a really good feeling to lose yourself—even for an hour or two—in cleaning your space, preparing for the new season, and blasting pop punk jamz (though if you really want deep cleaning to be like therapy you can do what I did cleaning out my last apartment and marathon Brené Brown audiobooks—you will be sooo mentally healthy).

My vibe after a weekend of deep cleaning my kitchen cabinets.

My overly philosophical approach to washing window screens and cleaning under your couch aside, spring cleaning can also lead to cleaning product overload. You either end up buying a bunch of new products you don’t need in an effort to boost motivation, or you end up carting around like 10 different bottles of all-purpose cleaner, wood cleaner, glass cleaner, etc. So when I’m spring cleaning, I bring an old friend into rotation that I know will cover most of my work and is also already in my house: dish soap. Dish soap is to me what Windex is to the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There’s literally nothing it can’t fix. NOTHING.

Now, fair disclaimer: if you are concerned about a surface or fabric, test an inconspicuous area first. But also, like, use common sense and don’t try to clean an antique oil painting and wonder why it got destroyed. That said, here are things I have cleaned with a bit of dish soap, warm water, and a rag/toothbrush/scrub brush: my stovetop, my microwave/hood, my window tracks and sills, my baseboards, my ceiling fans, the tops of my kitchen cabinets, cabinet fronts, my heater grates, a grease spot on the ceiling above my stove I didn’t notice until I collapsed on the floor in despair after a failed batch of cookies, my front door kickplate, my refrigerator (inside and outside), my bathroom counters, every thrifted piece of furniture I’ve ever bought, and most of my appliances (unplugged, of course).

Anywhere there is oil, dirt, or unidentified gunk, dish soap is a good catch-all. It’s fairly gentle, extremely cheap, and you don’t have to bother with specialty cleansers taking up space. When you’re deep cleaning, adaptability is key because you don’t want to have to keep finding different bottles of cleaner or worry about mixing products. Dish soap is also usually much more effective than a standard all-purpose cleaner (even my ride-or-die Simple Green).

It’s not a super complicated thing to use: you can either use a drop or two directly on a wet rag or a brush, or you can mix a tablespoon or so into a bucket of warm water. Either way, once you’ve given whatever you’re cleaning a good once-over with the suds, use a clean rag (wet or dry) to remove the excess soap. I usually finish off with a dry towel, and voila! Clean, easy, unfussy.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

This is definitely not a revolutionary tip. Yes, soap makes things clean. This is more a reminder that sometimes the simplest way is the best way. There’s no illegal diet pill way around deep cleaning. There are a few products that let you simply apply and rinse off, but the truth is we all will have to clean our house at some point, and we’ll have to use some elbow grease. Using dish soap doesn’t mean not scrubbing or magic results, but I’ve found it to be more of a reliable standby. So as you get stuck into spring cleaning (or any kind of deep cleaning), just keep it simple and enjoy the aforementioned jamz.

What’s your ride or die cleaning product? Do you have a few standbys or do you like to switch it up?

Thanks for reading!

If It Fits in the Dishwasher, It Goes in the Dishwasher

Awhile ago, I read an article on The Kitchn about how Ina Garten puts everything in the dishwasher. Knives, wooden utensils, pots and pans—it’s all fair game. It was meant to be a casual, lighthearted cleaning tip, but like the lazy cleaning-obsessed nut I am, I went wide with it. If Ina does it, then why can’t I?

Ina gets it (p.s. she also has a husband named Jeffrey and so obviously I could be friends with her.

For a long time, I’ve slowly run out of wooden utensils as they await handwashing and avoided using the ice cream scoop because it too must be handwashed. Like the moment I started washing clothes that said “Dry Clean Only,” I decided to go for it, and damn the consequences! (I know I’m too invested in this, but I honestly just don’t have a lot going on in my life right now.) So I followed Ina’s word and started putting everything but cast iron (I mean, I’m not a monster) in the dishwasher. If it was in my kitchen, fit in the dishwasher, and did not have a plug, it went in. I was freeeeeee!

BUT THEN. Then I decided to start spring cleaning yesterday, and I thought again about how Ina said everything could go in the dishwasher. And then I washed my trash can lids (the buckets wouldn’t fit), my stove knobs, my dish rack, my silverware containers (I keep mine in cups on my counter), my toothbrush holder, my fan filter, and SO MUCH MORE! Basically, if it’s made of plastic, metal, or glass, it’s fair game.

All this said, I will say there is a reason all my stuff isn’t melted, discolored, or warped. So, here are some suggestions if you too want to stop scrubbing and start pressing buttons:

This is my dream…
  • Do NOT use anything resembling the “Heated Dry” feature. Heated Dry is actually pretty bad for your dishwasher and most dishes. I keep it off all the time, but if you use it for dishes, you should turn it off if you’re putting other stuff in, especially plastic on the bottom rack.
  • Make sure the fins can spin. A lot of dishwashers have little rotating fins above each rack. Always make sure these can move freely, especially if you’re putting tall lids or other odd items.
  • Use your dishwasher like a washing machine. Putting delicate items in the dishwasher? Adjust the settings to run cooler for less time. Washing gross stuff? Don’t put it in with dishes you’re going to eat off of. Just like you don’t put your cleaning rags in with your fancy going-out shirt on extra hot, think about what you’re putting in the dishwasher and where it came from in your house.
  • Think about detergent. Speaking of washing machines, many of you probably have a detergent for more delicate items (if you don’t, consider it—it’s great!). Do the same for your dishwasher! I usually use Cascade pods for a regular load of dishes, but if I’m putting a bunch of delicate stuff in that might get discolored, like metal that might react with a citrus-based soap or something painted, I use a mild soap like Seventh Generation in a bottle so I can control how much goes in (just a bit!) and keep it as gentle as possible.

These rules may seem like a bit of a hassle, but remember that once you load the machine and press the button, you get to walk away! It’s really satisfying, and every little bit helps. Even if it only saves five minutes, that’s five minutes, and when I have zero energy, sticking something in the dishwasher is a much more attainable goal.

Thanks for reading!