Top 10 Spring Cleaning Tips

This dude's stoked about spring cleaning!
This dude's stoked about spring cleaning!
Jupiterimages/@Getty Images/Thinkstock

When winter's here, I want to hibernate. Spend evenings huddled on the sofa with a heated blanket, a cup of tea and a good book. Toss ingredients into the slow cooker and eat soups and stews for dinner. Wear comfy, fuzzy pajamas and slippers. (Come to think of it, the heavy food might have something to do with the desire to hibernate). But once the holidays are over, sometimes it feels like a long, dull wait before spring arrives. Deep cleaning my house doesn't even cross my mind.

Then as the weather starts to warm up, I emerge from my cave (so to speak) and realize that the basic cleaning routine I go through every week is mostly just scratching the surface. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal; why not make that go for your house as well? Spring cleaning is a time-honored ritual for a reason -- the fresh air and greenery outdoors make us want to prettify our indoor spaces, too. It just makes us feel better. But if the mere thought seems overwhelming, here are a few tips to get you started.

Make a Plan
Making a list will help you get a start on spring cleaning.
Making a list will help you get a start on spring cleaning.

Whether your place is tiny or massive, spring cleaning can be a challenge. Spring cleaning is about going beyond your usual dusting, mopping, vacuuming and scrubbing routine. And if you've never done it, how do you even know where to start? Like all big undertakings, it's a good idea to make a plan. Yes, that means committing pen to paper. Or creating a spreadsheet, if that's more your style.

Start by listing out every room of your house, without forgetting places like the utility room, laundry room, garage and closets. Think about tasks like cleaning the baseboards, the walls, the windows and window treatments, as well as moving and cleaning behind and under furniture (and the furniture itself). Basically, things that you probably don't clean on a regular basis. If it helps you, walk through your house or apartment while making the list.

If even the idea of making a list is too much, do a little research first. There are books and Web sites on every subject and that includes cleaning. Find a list to work from or at least get some inspiration -- I use a printed chore system that hangs on my fridge, and it has spring cleaning tasks built-in when that time of year rolls around. While it doesn't look like there's an app just for spring cleaning, there are more than a few for cleaning in general. They could help you find your starting point.

Take Your Time
Stay on task, but don't get burned out, either.
Stay on task, but don't get burned out, either.
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Do you want to do it fast or do you want to do it right? After you draw up your list of tasks, you might be re-thinking how much time to allot to it. Sure, you can hit the highlights in a weekend, but if you want every square inch truly clean, you'll need to take more time. Before you give up because you can't take a week off work just to clean, remember this: nobody can.

The answer? The classic divide-and-conquer technique. Go back to your list and break down each task into manageable chunks. There's no rule about how long it should take you to finish your spring cleaning, and it doesn't have to be finished by the first day of spring. Estimate how long each task will take you and where you can add them on to your everyday routine. For example, if you're in the bathroom wiping down the sink and counter, maybe you can also take the time to clean and organize under the sink, too.

You also need to build in breaks to avoid burnout. I'm guilty of powering through when I'm in the middle of a task, but then sometimes I run out of steam before I reach my goal. At the same time, be a little ruthless with yourself -- now is not the time to flip through your old yearbooks or reread letters from pen pals.

Get Ready
Stock up on supplies beforehand so you don't run out of anything mid-cleaning frenzy.
Stock up on supplies beforehand so you don't run out of anything mid-cleaning frenzy.

I don't mean getting mentally prepared, although if you haven't looked under your sofa in a long time, you might need to be ready for anything when you pull that sucker out. I'm talking about making sure that you have all of the supplies you need. Spring cleaning isn't the most thrilling thing in the world, but it will be even more annoying if you have to stop and run to the store because you're out of something.

You probably have the basics already, but at a minimum, you'll need an all-purpose cleaner for everything from walls to floors and a glass cleaner for windows and mirrors. Don't forget about specialized cleaners, like oven cleaner, silver polish or wood oil, because you probably don't use those things nearly as much. Your tools are just as important: Inspect everything from brooms to mops, and replace them if they're in bad shape. A frayed broom can make sweeping take twice as long.

Spring is also a good time to go green. You can even go one step further and discover new uses for household items like white vinegar and baking soda. You may not have them in the quantities you'll need for cleaning, but buying them will cost you much less than traditional cleaning supplies. Try to avoid using paper towels if you can (although I can tell you that coffee filters are the best way to a streak-free window). Microfiber cloths are great for dusting, and you can use the inexpensive white cloths known as bar mops for just about everything. I use these, as well as a mop with a refillable head that can be machine washed.

Declutter First
Do you really need to keep that stuffed, hat-wearing puffer fish souvenir?
Do you really need to keep that stuffed, hat-wearing puffer fish souvenir?

Spring cleaning is kind of a misnomer because it's just about cleaning. If all you do is shuffle piles of stuff to clean around them and then put them back, sure, your stack of VHS tapes is cleaner, but is your living room ambiance really better off for all of your hard work? Before you can clean, you have to declutter and organize. There are lots of ways to go about it, but the easiest is to set up three different bins (or boxes, whatever works): keep, toss and donate/sell.

With each item, ask yourself what this particular thing is doing for you. If the answer is nothing but it's still calling to you, next decide whether you could be happy with just taking a picture of it (I'm thinking of some of those souvenir tchotchkes gathering dust). If you don't even want a picture of the thing, then why is it sitting on your shelf? A common mistake is to let the donate/sell bin stagnate. Make time to deal with those items accordingly so you don't have that staring you in the face in the midst of your otherwise sparkling clean home.

Once you have your "keep" items, think about how you can better organize them. If you're a cooking magazine hoarder (guilty as charged), go through the magazines, pull out the recipes you just have to make and haven't gotten around to yet, and either put them in a binder or scan them in. Recycle the rest. You can find inexpensive baskets and bins in all sizes at thrift stores or dollar stores.

Bring Backup
Enlisting your kids to help can (potentially) make spring cleaning more fun and efficient.
Enlisting your kids to help can (potentially) make spring cleaning more fun and efficient.
Comstock/Getty Images

You've got a plan, you've budgeted your time, you have your supplies ready ... and it still seems like way too much work for one person. There's really no shame in asking for help. And you might even need it for some of the big projects that involve moving around furniture or climbing ladders to dust light fixtures. Getting someone to help you clean might be even harder than getting someone to help you move, though.

If any other people live in your house, that's a good place to start. Their stuff and their mess are contributing to the need to spring clean, right? If you have kids, get them to focus on their rooms first (including the closet). Just remember that you'll need to help keep them on track and make sure they didn't just shove everything under the bed. Even small children and toddlers can do things like dust baseboards; they're still eager to help, and there's no time like the present. No luck with anybody at home? Offer to help a friend with his or her spring cleaning in exchange for help with yours (or for free food and/or alcohol -- if it works for moving, why not for cleaning?). Finally, if you can afford it, you could also hire a maid service to tackle some of the larger jobs that just seem way too overwhelming.

Top Down
If you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can even vacuum your ceilings!
If you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can even vacuum your ceilings!
Simon Bremner/Lifesize/Thinkstock

There's nothing like driving around in beautiful spring weather in a convertible with the top down and the wind in your hair. Just keep those thoughts in mind while you're cleaning your house. If you don't have a convertible, maybe you could treat yourself to a rental after you accomplish your goals. OK, back on track. One time-honored trick when you're spring cleaning is to tackle each room from the top down. Yes, you were supposed to make a list. But do you always do what you're supposed to? I sure don't. If you're more the type to wing it, you can get lots done by going into each room and literally going from ceiling to floor.

My house is a split-level with very high ceilings in the main living area, so cleaning from the top down means getting out an extension pole. Other than that, though, it's a pretty simple concept. Dust and clean the ceiling, molding and the light fixtures. Then wipe down the walls, clean the windows and window treatments, dust pictures and other art and sanitize the doors and light switches. When you're done with what's on the walls, move on to the furniture and the outside and inside of any storage pieces. You can either start with the closets or do them right before you clean the floor, which is always going to be last.

High-traffic Zones and Shortcuts
If you don't want to put in the elbow grease, hosing off windows (and walls, for that matter) is a good way to go.
If you don't want to put in the elbow grease, hosing off windows (and walls, for that matter) is a good way to go.

Even with all these tips under your belt and after enlisting help, does it still seem like an absolutely horrible, monumental and otherwise insurmountable task? Fine. Go over the list -- if you've made one, of course -- and figure out what you can cross off. One way to do that is to think about the most high-traffic areas of your home. The kitchen has to be high on the list, and so does the room that houses the TV, whether that's the living room or a den. So what can you remove? Rooms like guest bedrooms, bathrooms that don't get much use or finished basements with very little furniture or stuff in them (does that exist?). Closets that are already pretty organized anyway. Basically, the places where you and your family do the most living are the places that will need spring cleaning the most.

Another way to speed up the process is to look for shortcuts, like spot-cleaning instead of cleaning the whole thing. Instead of steam-cleaning all of the carpet, focus just on the stains in the high-traffic areas. If you have a hand-held steamer for clothes, use it on curtains instead of taking them down to wash. Window washing from the outside is a classic spring cleaning task, but I have to say that I haven't done much of it myself. I just turn the hose on the outsides of the windows occasionally to get rid of bugs and leaves, and I'm satisfied with that. A more ambitious person might take down the screens and scrub those, then clean the windows, too. It's your house, so you decide how your time is best spent.

Be an Early Bird
If you do your deep cleaning during winter, you're free to enjoy the beauty of springtime.
If you do your deep cleaning during winter, you're free to enjoy the beauty of springtime.
Yasuhide Fumoto/Photodisc/Getty Images

I know, I said that there aren't any rules about when you have to finish up your spring cleaning and that it doesn't even have to be done by spring. However, actually getting everything finished, period, will become more difficult as time goes by. When the warmth and beauty of the new season is beckoning to you from outside your window, do you really want to be knee-deep in a closet reorganization? Before you know it, you'll be in the dog days of summer, trying to find beach toys in the garage and realizing that once again, you weren't able to get to that room in the spring.

So here's my crazy advice: start early. Those doldrums of winter, when it's too cold and dreary and blah to go outside, are actually the perfect time to spring clean. If you have a yard, you don't have any of that work to do. If you live in a place that gets lots of snow in the winter, you can keep yourself busy (and warm) inside with your cleaning tasks. Then you can get outside guilt-free in the spring.

Expired? Retired!
Even medicine cabinets can benefit from a good spring cleaning!
Even medicine cabinets can benefit from a good spring cleaning!

Grocery stores use a system called FIFO (first in, first out) to rotate products with a limited shelf life so that they'll sell before they spoil. We should take a cue from businesses and save ourselves both frustration and money, and yet, many of us don't. There are probably expired products lurking in your pantry and medicine cabinet right now.

When you're spring cleaning your pantry, don't just pull everything out and put it back in. Actually check out those jars, cans and boxes. Pretty much everything has an expiration date. Whether something like pasta is still good past its date is up to you, but awareness is a good thing. You may be periodically cleaning out the fridge anyway, but sometimes we forget about the condiments. They have a longer shelf life most of the time due to ingredients like vinegar and those fantastic preservatives, but that life must come to an end at some point. When in doubt, throw it out. While you're at it, consider a new organizational system so you don't keep buying cinnamon because you can't find it and assume you're out.

The medicine cabinet and your other bathroom storage areas also need to be purged of old stuff. Expired medicine can be dangerous at worst and ineffective at best. Cosmetics don't have expiration dates, but liquid-based ones especially can harbor bacteria and should go in three to six months. If it looks or smells bad, let it go.

Take it to the House
Forgot to caulk your windows this winter? No problem -- just add it to your to-do list for spring.
Forgot to caulk your windows this winter? No problem -- just add it to your to-do list for spring.

The phrase "spring cleaning" doesn't just have to mean cleaning the inside of your house. There are lots of other home maintenance-type things that would benefit from your attention once spring has actually sprung. Murphy's Law says that if your air conditioner breaks down, it's probably going to happen right in the hottest part of the summer. So before it gets hot, get your system checked out to make sure that it'll actually work well for you when you turn it on.

If the winter was particularly rough, your roof probably needs an inspection for loose shingles, your siding might be loose or rotting and your gutters could be full of gunk. Take care of it all before summer does its own damage. Lots of people talk about weatherproofing to keep in the warmth during winter, but if you didn't do that, consider things like caulking around your windows and sealing any other leaks to keep in the cool air once you turn on that AC. You'll soon want to spend time on your deck or patio, so inspect that for wear and tear and get it into shape. If you do all of these things yourself, mild spring temperatures might even make them slightly enjoyable.

Do you have a completely perfect, sparkling clean and organized house inside and out by the time spring rolls around? Not me; there's always something left to do. But it's good to have goals, and maybe this year you can get a little further with the help of these spring cleaning tips.


Quiz: Do I Really Have to Wash This?

Quiz: Do I Really Have to Wash This?

Take this HowStuffWorks quiz to find out your how your cleaning skills stack up.

Author's Note: Top 10 Spring Cleaning Tips

Writing this article felt a little "do as I say, not as I do" because nobody would accuse me of being a clean freak. Sometimes, it's all I can do to keep up with the day-to-day stuff, never mind doing extensive cleaning. When I looked around for tips on spring cleaning, though, I found a lot of different ways to approach it and realized that I could fit it in, too. I don't have to meet anybody's standards but my own. I didn't grow up with any kind of special cleaning routine when warm weather rolled around; things just got done as they needed to and as time allowed.

I did find several arguments against spring cleaning. Some people think that it's a bad idea because it might give you an excuse to put off doing something that you should (or at least could) do right away. So my best tip that didn't make the list is that if you see something that needs doing and you have the time to take care of it now, don't put it off by sticking it on the "spring cleaning" list.

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