Ultimate Guide to Spring Cleaning

The glazed, pasty look of mid-winter.
The glazed, pasty look of mid-winter.
Agnieszka Pastuszak-Maksim/iStockphoto

­Winter brings a myriad of lovely things: the holiday season with all of its feasts and glad tidings, quiet stor­ms and the opportunity to build a snowman, the chance to catch up on all of the shows that have accumulated on the DVR.

But TV shows aren't the only things that accumulate indoors during winter. In no particular order of importance or measure, so too does pet dander, dust, grime, dirt, odors and generalized funk. Humans, like other mammals, tend to be more sedentary when days are short and cold than we are during warmer months. Essentially, we become a little too lazy to do any real heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining a truly clean house during winter. This may very well explain why, when the icicles have melted into the soil below and buds appear on trees, we get a crazy look in our eyes that indicates we're bent on returning our surroundings to a pristine state. Most people know it by the common term "spring cleaning."

­In Eastern cultures -- specifically Chinese, Jewish and Persian -- spring cleaning is codified. Here in the West, it's a bit more free-for-all. There aren't any set guidelines and any slob who opts out of spring cleaning altogether won't have to be viewed as an outcast. Anyone who does choose to clean out the house come spring may do it piecemeal or tackle it headlong. Spring cleaning ca­n be as light or as deep as one pleases. It's casual.

For those who can't stand the thought of living another week with a season's worth of scum and grime, we at HowStuffWorks.com present some tips and techniques for clearing out the winter to let in the spring.

­

First, Make a Cleaning Checklist

Before spring cleaning, it's a good idea to make a list -- even just a mental one -- of the steps ahead.
Before spring cleaning, it's a good idea to make a list -- even just a mental one -- of the steps ahead.
Blackred/­iStockphoto

­It's quite easy to engage in spring cleaning without any forethought. The lure of cleaning often begets further cleaning; it's difficult to wipe down the kitchen cabinets but leave the brown strip of grime around the baseboards. In short order, the refrigerator is pulled from its alcove and the floor beneath is mopped for the first time since moving in. There are those among us who prefer to plan, no matter what the task, and household experts suggest creating a game plan is an excellent idea to save time when undertaking spring cleaning.

Simply mentally running through the areas and rooms of the house will create an overview of what needs to be done. The rocking chair and crib your daughter forswore for new models when she had her baby can be discarded. With spring here, you can throw out that old stuff and toss the mental note to get rid of them in the mental wastebasket as well. The frayed cord on the lamp you noticed this winter can be sent off for rewiring. You've been meaning to clean out the pantry; spring cleaning's the perfect time.

Regardless how definitive the mental -- or even written -- checklist becomes, there will surely be more jobs to be done. Stopping in the middle of one cleaning task and taking up a new one will eat up time and perhaps even derail the drive to clean. All of this can be circumvented by quick planning and divvying up the chores ahead into segments. Think of spring cleaning in layers; start with the top layer and work each one away until it's finished.

The first layer would be to get rid of clutter.

Decluttering Your House

Surely you can part with some of this stuff.
Surely you can part with some of this stuff.
Lisa F. Young/iStockphoto

Based on per capita gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of all goods and services produced and money spent by a nation in a year, divided by the nation's number of residents -- the United States was the 10th richest country in the world (out of 229) in 2009 [source: CIA]. The United States is also a consumer economy; 70 percent of the nation's GDP was based on personal consumption -- food, clothes, entertainment, housing and other necessities and niceties [source: Hoover Institution]. In other words, Americans love to buy stuff and generally have the money for it.

That's a fancy way to say this: Surely there's some stuff in your house that you can bear parting ways with.

­Throwing out stuff you no longer need is an excellent way to kick off a good spring cleaning. First, it reduces clutter. Second, less stuff means less stuff to clean and care for. Go through closets to find old clothes. With the changing of the season, there's a perfect opportunity to look ahead to the warm-weather clothing. Any outfits that seem too last season can be chucked. Using spring cleaning as a time to switch out your winter wardrobe for your lighter clothing also gives you a chance to consider what never made it out of the closet when it was cold. These can be chucked too. Taking them to a charity for resale will open up space in the closets and help others, too. It's a win/win situation.

The garbage is obviously no place for clothes; nor is it a good place for other unwanted items you'll likely find around the house. Old furniture in the attic and piles of books can also go to the local charity, along with clothes. When cleaning out the garage, old paint cans, old electronics, solvents and other chemical items shouldn't be thrown into the garbage either. They'll be dumped in a landfill and left to seep into groundwater, potentially polluting the drinking supply. The phone book or a quick Internet search should provide you with a designated place to take pollutants. There's a certain amount of conscientiousness re­quired in getting rid of unwanted stuff from a home.

With the house so decluttered that it's approaching Japanese minimalism, it's time to begin cleaning.

Spring Clean Away!

That's right, you've got it. Start high and work down to the floors.
That's right, you've got it. Start high and work down to the floors.
Brian McEntire/­iStockphoto

­Just as we've been looking at the entire process of spring cleaning as a multi-layer event, the single layer that is the actual cleaning should be viewed much the same way. Basically, it's best to start at the top and work your way down. This holds true with both the house as a whole -- it's best to start at the top floor and work down to the ground floor -- as well as each individual room. Start with the ceiling and end with the floors.

Since dust is easily kicked up and spread from surface to surface, it's a good idea to dust first. Here, any spring cleaner is presented with a route to take in cleaning the house. One may perform each task -- for example, dusting -- in each room of the house and then repeat the process with each subsequent task. Another method is to completely clean each room at a time. It's a matter of preference; neither method is necessarily better than the other. Cleaning each room entirely before moving onto another can give a sense of accomplishment each time, but cleaning the house as if it were one giant room may make the cleaning go by more quickly.

Regardless of what method you choose, dust the ceiling first. Move to raised objects, like high shelves and ceiling fans next. Then move onto surfaces like countertops, windows, blinds, tables and lamps. Essentially, move the grime to the floor or carpet, where it can be swept up. A good spring cleaning means moving normally stationary objects -- like couches and appliances -- to clean behind them. As a spring cleaner you should feel obliged to go the extra mile; wherever dirt and dust may hide, you must be prepared to fearlessly tread in order to eradicate it.

Some spring cleanings may be a bit deeper than others. For a lot of people, moving the couch to clean beneath it is a big enough deal. There are others, however, for whom this is only the beginning.

Really Going to Town: A Deeply Cleaned House

Looks sharp, but did you take the extra effort to vacuum the coils underneath?
Looks sharp, but did you take the extra effort to vacuum the coils underneath?
Guillermo Lobo/iStockphoto

A deeply cleaned house with less clutter provides a good, pristine feeling. When the spring sunlight streams into the house through streak-free windows, onto a spotless floor, illuminating a room fully devoid of dust, the spine can start tingling. It's the clearest reminder that winter is gone for another six months or so and that the warmth of spring and summer lies just ahead. That same beam of sunshine can also point out reminders that the home still houses filthy flaws, however.

Take the bathroom, for example. An open window can let in light that points to mildewed caulk around the tub and sink. You may be able to eat a reasonably hearty meal off the gleaming floor of the bathtub, but still, there's that mildew and it's bugging you. For those who can't let go of little flaws others may overlook, there's plenty of spring cleaning still ahead. We've now entered the realm of projects.

­While it seems like a big deal, replacing caulk around the tub and other areas is actually fairly easy and inexpensive. It also creates a huge impact, restoring a bathroom or kitchen to its natural clean state.

Maintaining appliances is another easy way to further clean the home. If you didn't clean the oven in the preliminary sweep, now's a good time to do it. While in the kitchen, remove the grille from the bottom of the refrigerator front and stick a vacuum hose attachment underneath. This will remove dusty buildup from the coils, which will protect the compressor from being overworked. The same goes for the vents in your dryer, which can catch lint and the interior and exterior of your outdoor air conditioning unit. Cleaning appliances can vastly extend the life of their working p­arts -- and give even more of a sense of cleanliness.

Organizing is another good project to undertake around spring cleaning. Even after removing some of the clutter in the house, there are probably still stacks of things you plan on keeping. Purchasing some cheap storage bins or shelving can provide a neat place for useful items.

If the mania has worn off now and you've reached the point where the dust would have settled if there were any left in your house, maybe it's time to settle down on your great smelling couch to reflect on the benefits of what you've just done.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Spring Cleaning

Somewhere between compulsive cleanliness and abject squalor may lay a healthy immune system.
Somewhere between compulsive cleanliness and abject squalor may lay a healthy immune system.
Marc Dietrich/­iStockphoto

­The benefits of spring cleaning are self-evident. You end up with a clean home, which won't require further cleaning for awhile. Your house, and by extension your life, is less cluttered, freeing your mind to dwell on more important things. You'll be less likely to suffer an allergy attack or fall ill in your newly-sterilized environment.

That last benefit's up for debate, actually. While allergy sufferers can attest that a clean home is less likely to produce allergy attacks, it's possible that their chronic allergies are the result of living in too clean an environment. There's a school of thought in the field of immunology that it might be a bad thing to completely eradicate dirt in the home. Called the hygiene hypothesis, it says, essentially that dirt contains germs. Germs in small doses have the effect of triggering production of antibodies that can ward off allergic reactions. So, logically, a little dirt and germs around the house may help children develop more robust immune systems.

This theory jibes with a current trend in cleaning, spring or otherwise: using green cleaning products. Out are harsh chemical-based cleansers, some of which contain toxins shown to act as carcinogens. In are cleaning tools that don't require additional cleansers, such as microfiber window cloths that require only water and leave no streaks [source: Daily Green]. Time-tested traditional cleaning solutions, like vinegar and water for window cleaning, are also increasingly replacing cleansers manufactured by chemical companies in environmentally- and health-friendly homes.

Again, there's no set method or tools that are required to spring clean your home. Regardless of what route you choose to take -- room-by-room, green cleaners, in-depth or nothing at all -- it's fairly difficult to screw up spring cleaning. It's also fairly difficult to resist the urge to clean the house when spring comes. Ultimately, the urge is in the reward: getting to kick back in a clean house and await spring's arrival.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Bell, Marlys. "Gardening spring cleaning."My Mother Lode. February 7, 2009. http://www.mymotherlode.com/News/article/kvml/1233969778
  • Breckenridge, Mary Beth. "Spring cleaning tips can aid households." Akron Beacon Journal. February 28, 2009. http://www.ohio.com/lifestyle/40465257.html
  • Brody Jane E. "Babies know - a little dirt is good for you." New York Times. January 26, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html
  • Carrell, Al and Carrell, Kelly. "Extend the life of your appliances with annual cleanings." Daily Herald. February 20, 2009. http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=272802
  • Jackson, Quita. "Get organized before you do that spring cleaning." KNXV-TV. February 17, 2009. http://www.abc15.com/content/news/smartshopper/story/Get-organized-for-free-before-you-do-that-spring/QV_aCJZO1EqPNRFwkAKn4g.cspx
  • Krupp, Elysha. "Spring cleaning with a conscience." Montreal Express. February 24, 2009. http://www.montrealexpress.ca/article-306869-Spring-cleaning-with-a-conscience.html
  • Loveday, Eric. "Why winter is the perfect time for spring cleaning." Detroit Home Improvement Examiner. February 6, 2009. http://www.examiner.com/x-2719-Detroit-Home-Improvement-Examiner~y2009m2d6-Why-winter-is-the-perfect-time-for-spring-cleaning
  • Reichert, Leslie. "The tools you'll need for green spring cleaning." The Daily Green. February 19, 2009. http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/eco-friendly/green-cleaning-products-tools-460209
  • Shockley, Mary Daisey. "Like it or not, it's spring cleaning time." The Daily Times. February 25, 2009. http://www.delmarvanow.com/article/20090225/DW06/902250352
  • "Facts on policy: consumer spending." Hoover Institution. Accessed March 4, 2009. http://www.hoover.org/research/factsonpolicy/facts/4931661.html
  • "Rank order - GDP - per capita (PPP)." CIA World Factbook. February 24, 2009. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2004rank.html
  • "Spring cleaning checklist." Martha Stewart Living. April 2007. http://images.marthastewart.com/images/content/web/pdfs/2007Q2/la_0407_spring_cleaning.pdf
  • "Tips for tackling that spring cleaning." Early County News. February 25, 2009. http://www.earlycountynews.com/news/2009/0225/other_news/021.html