How to Clean the Places You Don't Want to Touch

cleaning bathroom
Well, she has the right idea with the gloves on.

No matter how tidy you think you are, there are always a few places around the house that are so gross and disgusting that you don't want to deal with them. How do you muck out your roof gutters, clean and unclog your toilet, deal with the baked on mess in your oven (and those greasy dust bunnies under it) without gagging? We hate grease, germs and mystery goo as much as anyone -- hey, maybe more. When it comes to beating sticky, stinky gunk, we advocate a no tolerance policy coupled with a few reassuring layers of hazmat gear and some super grime busters.

Dirt and germs are no laughing matter. Statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that one in six people in the U.S. suffers through a bout of food poisoning every year. That includes exposure from all sources, but an alarming number of cases occur in that cozy nook you're always wiping down with a sponge or paper towel -- your kitchen.


The take away is that cleaning is important, even those jobs you hate, like scrubbing the blade on the can opener or cleaning the ashes out of your fireplace grate, that you may be saving for a visit from the cleaning fairy.

Materials for Cleaning Places You Don't Want to Touch

cleaning bucket
Keep it all in one place for an easy grab-and-go cleaning session.

Grab your shopping list because we're in the market for a few cleaning aids that will put some distance between us and revolting homemade messes. Taking a bite out of grime is important, and adopting a hands-off approach to doing it has its merits. These handy filth busters will make short work of the worst kind of dirt and help you maintain a safe zone while you clean.

  • Antibacterial cleaners - We like cleaners that kill germs and recommend them for big, nasty jobs. Using them for every cleaning task may be a bad idea, though. Exposure to small amounts of bacteria helps kids develop resistance to disease. There's a secondary risk of too much chemical warfare in your home, too. No antibacterial agent kills 100 percent of germs. The ones that survive build up resistance to the very cleaners you're relying on, creating super bugs that are really something to worry about.
  • Steam cleaners - Steam cleaners kill bacteria on contact. Using steam has a number of other advantages as well. Germs don't develop resistance to steam. Steam cleaners don't use harsh chemicals, either, which is good for your family and the environment. After you invest in the equipment, using these accessories is an inexpensive approach to home maintenance. A handheld steam cleaner can beat the grease under your range hood with a minimum of neck craning and get the goo off of your refrigerator door gasket in a few seconds. It can also tackle tough jobs, like removing cooked on food from your stovetop burner reflectors. You can clear away the gunk with a paper towel or sponge. It may be icky, but it won't be a germy wonderland. Once steamed surfaces are wiped down and dried (this process may take a few minutes), they'll be squeaky clean.
  • Face mask and eye protection - Before you tackle nasty jobs like toilet duty, mold cleanup or cat litter removal, suit up. You probably already know about wearing your oldest sweats to perform heavy duty cleaning, but there are other things to keep in mind. When removing mold or cleaning anything that releases airborne particles, like dust from overhead fixtures or dirt from gutters, wear a respirator and eye protection. For some landscaping projects and home repairs, it's a good idea to have a mask and snug fitting eye protection on hand -- and on you -- if the job calls for it. Remember, protective gear won't do you any good if it's on a shelf in the garage.
  • Gloves - We can't stress this enough: Wear gloves for nasty chores. You'll protect your hands, limit your exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals and save your nails. If you think the idea of having dirty, used gloves around is as revolting as the chores you've used them for, try disposable gloves or go for spray on gloves instead. Just spray on, rub the mixture all over your hands, and wait for it to coat your skin and pores. When you've finished cleaning, wash it off with soap and water. It may not be the right choice for tackling every job, but when you need more dexterity than a regular glove can give you, it's another option.
  • Disposables - When the task is just too nasty, consider purchasing a cleaning aid that's designed to be pitched after a single use. The market for this type of product is growing, and you can find toilet brushes and floor cleaning products that are engineered to use disposable pads or brushes you can get rid of as soon as the job is done. These items aren't the most environmentally friendly choices, but when the job is so off-putting you're inclined to postpone doing it, isn't it better to tackle it now with a convenient, disposable product than put it off?

We feel compelled to mention a few small but important details. Cleaning is an ongoing process. It can seem like a never ending task, because it is. Dirt, grease, bacteria, dust, fingerprints and bugs are waiting for an opportunity to dismantle your carefully laid plans for keeping a clean and safe home. The best way to keep cleaning tasks under control is to clean regularly. Instead of a spring cleaning marathon once a year, stay current with chores like vacuuming, scrubbing your oven, replacing your furnace filter and keeping your refrigerator condenser coils dusted. You'll save energy, and your belongings will stay cleaner and last longer. They'll look (and smell) better, too.


Tips for Cleaning Gross Surfaces

If there's a nasty cleaning chore on the horizon, these tips will help you tackle the job with a few secret weapons on your utility belt:

  • Carry your supplies around with you. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of a gunky cleanup and realizing that you don't have everything you need nearby. Invest in a couple of plastic cleaning totes and outfit them with project specific supplies. That way you won't be spongeless at a critical moment.
  • Clean messes soon after they occur. That dollop of gravy that dripped down the side of your stove will come up easily if you catch it before it dries. It may take moving the stove if it's nestled between your built-ins, but doing that now will save you a very nasty cleaning project later. If you've let the gravy dry, there are probably other foul drip cascades you'll have to deal with when the mess starts to smell. Sooner is definitely better than later.
  • Anticipate disaster. If you've ever let your marinara sauce boil happily on the stove without supervision, you know from experience how far those molten blobs can toss bits of sauce. Anticipate cleanups, and nip them in the bud. Put lids on saucepans. Engage your range hood fan if you're frying a meal. Put a paper towel over any microwave meal you think may cause spatter. Use aluminum foil, paper towels, cookie sheets (for oven protection) and other handy helpers to keep messes contained.
  • Perform preventive maintenance. If you remove fading veggies from the fridge's vegetable crisper regularly, you'll never have to deal with a mini-swamp of rotting goo. This is only one small example of how you can cut down on the number of nasty cleanups if you do simple daily or weekly maintenance.
  • Keep an old toothbrush or two around. When you need to clean the grout in the bathroom, scrub lime scale off your water dispenser, get the grime out from under the lip of your kitchen sink or any of a hundred other cleaning tasks, one of the handiest tools around is an old toothbrush. Just be sure to soak them in isopropyl alcohol before you use them.
  • Don't forget door handles and cabinet pulls. We hate to add to your chores, but while you're worrying about cleaning the bathroom floor, some of the germiest spots in your home are up a little higher. While you're cleaning, give your door handles, cabinet pulls, faucet handles and telephones a once over, too.
  • Always read and follow directions.This is such a no brainer we feel a little sheepish for mentioning it. In our defense, every year, people are admitted to hospital emergency rooms for mixing products that contain ammonia and bleach. When combined, they make chlorine gas, a potentially fatal gas you don't want anywhere near you or your family. Cleaning agents are serious business, and using them according to the package directions is important. This includes paying attention to information about diluting concentrated cleaners (more concentrated isn't better), cleanup, (yes, you probably do have to rinse surfaces after cleaning) and providing adequate ventilation.

There are some cleaning tasks that are always going to be horrid. With some planning, you can work more efficiently to get through them faster and avoid direct contact with the really revolting stuff. Until you can afford that maid service you've been dreaming about, though, it looks like the buck, and the bucket and mop, stops with you.


Lots More Information

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  • BBC America. "Tips for a Cleaner Home. How Clean is Your House? Undated. 12/14/10.
  • CDC. "Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern." 3/11/09. 12/14/10.
  • Clorox. "How to Use Bleach." Undated. 12/14/10.
  • Consumer Search. "Steam Cleaners." 6/10. 12/14/10.
  • Daimer Industries. " KleenJet Mega 1000CVP Steam Cleaner." Undated. 12/16/10.
  • Do It Youself. "Bathroom Cleaning Tips." Undated. 12/14/10.
  • Forte, Carolyn. "Cool Tools for a Spotless Home." Good Housekeeping. Undated. 12/14/10.
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