If you love having a tidy house but hate housekeeping, one of the simplest and fastest ways to do the job and move on to better things is with a handy carryall loaded up with plenty of cleaning helpers. When you think dusting baseboards is a big yawn and scuff marks are a personal insult (why do some shoes do that?), we have a few tips that will get you out of the kitchen (laundry room, bathroom or basement) and into a recliner in time to watch your favorite reality show. After all, there are better things to do than spend your time with your finger wrapped around a bottle of disinfectant.
You probably use a feather duster or dusting cloth, but chances are it's dirtier than the surfaces you're trying to clean with it. Do yourself a favor and vacuum your duster after every job. That way it will be clean and ready to go next time. You'll pick up more dust instead of just moving it around from place to place. Once you get into the habit, you'll wonder why you never thought of this one before.
Specialty eraser sponges blast tough dirt and grime like magic. They're made of melamine foam, a soft but strong material that tackles embedded dirt without damaging abrasive action. A sponge eraser will get scuff marks off your entry floor in seconds and you won't have to use the usual elbow grease. If you have kids, rejoice. It's also great at getting crayon off walls and tile. Just add a little water and rub. Seriously, if you haven't tried one of these sponges, you're working harder on cleanup than you have to.
Regular old sponges get a bad reputation for being dirty germ carriers. That's a shame. There's nothing better than a sponge for light cleaning. Sponges are also pretty economical and Earth-friendly when compared to paper towels -- and they're available in lots of cheerful colors.
We advocate keeping lots of sponges on hand and using them often -- once you learn good sponge maintenance: Clean dirty sponges in hot, soapy water and then throw them in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Repeat the process after every use. That's it. You'll kill 99 percent of the germs on the sponge, making it one of the cleanest surfaces in your home. Use sanitized sponges again and again. Just take the extra precaution of retiring them after a month or so. Sponges rule -- really!
Dust is everywhere, but getting it off the coffee table is a lot easier than eradicating it from your mini-blinds and ceiling fans. That's where specialty dusters come in. They're shaped to reach those areas where dust hides, accumulates and turns to nasty grime after mixing with moist or grease-laden indoor air. With a specialty duster you can stop this vicious cycle and keep your fixtures and wall treatments looking better longer. A couple of flicks with a specialty duster and you're done. No more having to wrestle with the vacuum cleaner or finesse a lint-free cloth somewhere it really doesn't want to go.
Super glue isn't a cleaner, but it can be pretty handy when you're in a cleaning mood. You know that broken floor vent cover you've been meaning to glue back together, or the cracked handle on the decorative pitcher your mother-in-law gave you (kids can be so destructive)? Every time you clean, you promise yourself you'll grab the super glue and take care of those little chores, but it never seems to happen. Quit stalling. Super glue comes in tiny tubes that won't take up much room in your cleaning kit. You'll be Ms. Fixit and Ms. Clean in less time than it takes to cook a frozen pizza. Now, that's efficient.
This list wouldn't be complete without one just-in-case cleaning aid. We like retired toothbrushes because there're -- well, they're cheap. Repurposing them makes good sense, too. If you need to scrub a line of soap scum off the tub or get a dab of lime scale off the showerhead, a toothbrush is the perfect all-purpose fixer upper. It's low tech, gentle, and if you tackle a really nasty chore with it, you can pitch it without remorse. What could be better?
You may need a broom to coax that cat hair out from under the table, but the crumbs under the couch cushions (we won't tell), the dust accumulating on the furnace vents and the lint under the water heater can all be dispatched with a cordless, handheld vacuum cleaner. These mini vacs look a little like alien weapons, and keeping one at the ready can make it easier to take care of those pesky little jobs you'd otherwise leave for next time -- or the time after that.
Handheld steamers heat water fast to create a powerful blast of steam that can sanitize surfaces and get gooey, pesky dirt out of tight places. Steamers make short work of the gunk around the lip of the sink, the glop on the range hood and the sticky stuff on the refrigerator door gasket. They don't kill germs on contact -- that takes a few seconds of prolonged exposure -- but they work faster and better than sponges and brushes on hard to get to areas. Are you little concerned about what's growing in that spot between the porcelain water tank and base of your toilet? Life's too short to spend it stressing. A steam cleaner is the answer.
Microfiber fabric has a tight, soft weave with tiny hairs that grab and hold dust. It's very effective at cleaning electronic equipment, which is notorious for attracting floating particulates from the air. That makes microfiber cloths handy for dusting everything from your flat screen to your Smartphone charger. They're available in washable as well as disposable varieties, but we like washable options because they're a bit more Earth-friendly.
OK, don't get hostile. We know the last thing you need right now is one more list of instructions. A cleaning checklist can be really helpful, though. Have you ever cleaned the bathroom and put everything away only to realize you forgot to clean the tub surround, toilet or sink? Something probably happened to upset your regular cleaning routine: the phone rang or the kids got into an unfriendly brawl about chores. If you have a checklist, distractions won't lead to cleaning mishaps. All you have to do is take a quick peek at the list after a cleaning session to make sure you haven't forgotten anything.
Having a list can be neat in other ways, too: You can decide how often you want to do certain chores -- or who will do the chore -- and make a simple check to sign off on, say, baseboard cleaning for this quarter. You'll also have a handy spot on which to make a note that you need to restock your supply of room freshener. Taking an occasional gander at all the cleaning you've accomplished is rewarding, too.
HowStuffWorks gives advice on how to unshrink clothes.
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