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Part 2 of MaidPro’s ‘Clean Like a Pro’ series looks at choosing the best solutions and tools and matching them to the right tasks
Any manufacturer can make strong cleaning chemicals usually at the expense of their workers, the people who use the chemicals and the environment. A disturbing proportion of the professional cleaning chemical industry comprises poorly designed chemicals that can burn people using them, emit dangerous vapors and damage the surfaces they are intended to clean. Here are some key considerations for choosing the right cleaning solutions:
Power to REMOVE dirt. The surfactants in well-designed cleaners will bond with and suspend large quantities of dirt and oils in relatively small quantities of water. This ensures that grime gets picked up and removed from surfaces whereas cheap, poorly designed solutions can leave you essentially smearing dirt around with water.
Power to DISINFECT. Many nonprofessional cleaners (and even a few professional outfits) use only glass cleaner and furniture polish, which do not disinfect. Surfaces may appear clean, but they can still spread illness from one family member to the next. Wherever touching happens (counters, tables, light switches, phones, remote controls, door handles and so forth), it’s a good idea to disinfect every so often to prevent spread of illness.
Power to AVOID leaving residues. Another factor to consider when it comes to cleaning formulations is the potential for chemicals to ‘fall out’ of solution and be left behind on surfaces. Again, thoroughly researched and designed cleaners hold their chemicals in solution, while poorly made cleaners can leave dangerous chemicals lurking on surfaces.
PH and other chemical properties. Depending on the kind of dirt or stain you are attacking, a cleaning solution’s acidity or basicity makes a huge difference. The fact of the matter is that getting something truly clean relies on a combination of time, temperature, effort and chemicals. Use the right chemicals and you can significantly decrease the time and effort factors.
With these and many other factors in mind, MaidPro extensively and continuously tests different lines of cleaning solutions. We continue to favor the Proctor & Gamble Professional line. (And no, P&G is not paying us to say that!). While P&G’s line is among the most expensive, we believe it is an excellent investment because P&G invests heavily in scientific research. The company has more PhDs working in its research department than its three closest competitors combined. They make carefully balanced and formulated cleaners that thoroughly disinfect without posing health risks to our service providers, customers and their pets. Here is a quick rundown on the specific P&G solutions we use for different tasks:
Spic & Span Disinfecting All Purpose Spray and Glass Cleaner. We use this for the majority of home surfaces. It is an incredible cleaner that tackles almost any task and contains a hospital-grade disinfectant, meaning we can disinfect surfaces and help to stop family illness cycles by ensuring the germs on wood, stainless steel and glass surfaces (not just your toilet) are killed and removed.
Mr. Clean Finished Floor Cleaner. This cleaner is safe to use on wood and all nonporous surfaces, including walls and baseboards. It can also be sprayed on a rag and used for dusting and leaves a nice shine after scrubbing a tub or sink.
Comet Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner. For soap scum (which requires a specific chemistry to treat) and other bathroom needs, this cleaner has a mild abrasive that won’t scratch. It also contains no bleach, so poses no danger to fabrics. We use this cleaner on all porcelain, ceramic, tile, fiberglass, acrylic bathroom surfaces. When cleaning high-germ areas, we spray on and leave cleaner wet for the specified amount of time required for proper germ-kill (a step that many non-professional neglect to do).
Febreze. We use this for removing odors – smoke, mildew, mold – from fabrics. A light spray leaves fabrics smelling fresh and clean. It is safe to use around pets and has been approved by the ASPCA.
n Part 1 of MaidPro’s ‘Clean Like a Pro’ series, we explain why professional cleaners typically get better results in less time
Depending on service frequency, MaidPro’s professional service providers spend anywhere from 35-45* minutes each cleaning typical kitchens and master bathrooms. Full baths: 20-30* minutes. Remaining rooms: anywhere from 10-25* minutes each. Non-pros cleaning the same rooms can spend up to 33% longer and still fail to achieve the same levels of lasting clean!
Big reasons for the time and effectiveness gaps between cleaning pros and non-pros:
• Professionals don’t get distracted. They don’t stop to answer the phone, catch a weather report on TV, or put something away in another room. Losing track of where you leave off adds time and often causes cleaning to be less thorough.
• Professionals use the right solutions and tools. Cleaning solutions vary dramatically in terms of things like disinfecting/sanitizing power, surfactancy (ability to suspend soils in water) and PH. The wrong solutions can be at the least ineffective and, at the worst, damaging if you don’t know your stuff (more details on why pros pick certain cleaning solutions and tools will come in Parts 2 and 3 of our series).
• Professionals clean systematically. Specific sequencing of cleaning activities – within both houses and rooms – ensures thorough, efficient work with no cross contamination. Proper sequencing ensures a safer, healthier and longer-lasting clean (more pro sequencing details to come in Part 4 of our series)..
• Pros benefit from cleaning consistency. When rooms get cleaned the same way on a weekly or biweekly basis – including the parts that don’t yet look dirty – they take significantly less time and effort to clean than rooms or room areas that get neglected. More details to come in Part 5 of our series on what to clean – or have cleaned – frequently if you want your home to look and smell fresh for a week or longer rather than just the first day or two after a clean.
*Time guides based on typical home size of 1K-2K sq ft, assume no pets, moderate quantities of knickknacks and typical flooring.
Keeping your home tidy is one thing, maintaining it to a consistently high level of clean is something else altogether. Start the New Year off right with this five-part plan:
Wrap your brain around the WHY of clean. Plain and simple: clean looks, smells and feels good. It’s healthy. And it’s also a sound long-term financial decision; clean better and more often to preserve – even increase – the value of your home and possessions.
Get introspective. Take a brutally honest look at where your home typically falls on the clean-o-meter – and why. Love cleaning? Hate it? Don’t mind it, but have too little time? Once you’re committed to cleaner habits, your strategy needs a strong dose of personality reality.
Get up to code! If – despite plenty of time and effort cleaning – your home never really feels, smells or stays clean for very long – you may be overdue for some deep cleaning. Think walls, floors, ceilings, carpets, furniture, fixtures and places you can’t see such as inside vents, cabinets and appliances. If you’re WAY overdue for this kind of work, consider gifting yourself the services of a professional cleaning crew that can bring your home rapidly to a better starting point for weekly and daily cleaning chores.
Educate yourself. Using ineffective – or just the wrong – cleaning tools and solutions can be another reason your home is falling a little shy on the clean-o-meter. Coupons can be a big culprit here, so do some research to understand what works best, where and why so you can make great buying decisions around cleaning supplies.
Build a budget. There is just no getting around the fact that proper cleaning takes time. Figure out what it takes each week clean your home well, and make sure you budget either the time to do it yourself, or the funds to have someone do it for you.
If you are expecting a baby within the next few months, you are probably focused on getting all of your gear and decorating the nursery. Something else you need – but probably aren’t thinking much about – is a good cleaning plan. The presence of a newborn in your home means two things: more cleaning work and different cleaning methods. Here’s how to get ready for the big arrival:
Before Baby Comes
Assume you are facing at least a six- to twelve-month window in which you will:
- Have little time or energy for large cleaning jobs.
- Want to avoid using harsh cleaning chemicals that generate fumes and leave residues.
Make a list and plan with your significant other to tackle large jobs or consider having them done professionally not long before baby arrives. Focus especially on tasks that will improve air quality by removing dust, dander and other potential allergens from carpets, mattresses, upholstery, textiles and so forth. The overriding objective: bring your whole home up to a standard of clean that will be very easy to maintain after baby arrives.
In Baby’s first Weeks And months
Dr. Sinner’s famous cleaning formula says that four variables, chemicals, temperature, time and action – working together – equal clean. Shrink one variable and the others need to get larger to deliver the same result. Where newborns are concerned, chemicals are the variable you want to shrink, so time, temperature and action (elbow grease) need to increase.
Deep-cleaning your home before baby arrives is a good start. Another good strategy is to avoid dirt and allergens in the first place, for example, by asking people to remove their shoes before coming into your home to visit baby. After the big arrival:
- Baby’s nursery should be dusted, vacuumed and – weather permitting – aired out at least weekly or even more frequently.
- Specific areas of baby’s room: sheets, changing table, waterproof mattress cover and diaper pail should be disinfected often with a nontoxic disinfecting solution.
- And, because diaper leaks and blowouts are common occurrences, plan on sanitizing your washing machine at least weekly or more frequently as well.
Where you do need to use cleaning chemicals, be sure to select high-quality cleaners that are effective in small amounts and designed to avoid leaving residues (many inexpensive and so-called ‘nontoxic’ or ‘green’ cleaning chemicals don’t meet this criteria). Also, be sure to read and follow directions closely to ensure you are realizing cleaners’ disinfecting and sanitizing benefits.
When Baby Starts To Move
While always bearing in mind that babies are born with wonderfully effective immune systems that need some exposure to germs to work properly, plan to increase the frequency with which you dust, vaccum, mop and scrub the floors throughout your home once baby starts rolling, dragging him or herself around and crawling (typically between five and nine months). Since babies love knobs and buttons, plan also to pay more attention to disinfecting things like remote controls, drawer pulls and cabinet knobs that are typically within baby’s reach.
One final piece of cleaning advice: when babies spit and/or throw up, it’s generally going to hit your clothing, carpet, furniture upholstery, bed spread or some other absorbent textile in your home. Depending on baby’s age and food stage, permanent stains will result if these textiles are not treated immediately and thoroughly to remove the agents that can interact chemically with your textile’s fibers.
Chances are you stick to a set list of weekly cleaning chores in your home. Here is a checklist for 14 not-so-routine cleaning tasks that should get your attention anywhere from 2-4 times a year with fall being one of them.
- Undersides of counter overhangs, tables, chairs and other surfaces. People tend to grip the edges of things especially when leaning. The resulting accumulation of grime and gunk may not be visible but can harbor germs and trap odors.
- Insides of drawers and cabinets. Emptying and cleaning cabinets, drawers and organizing solutions creates a great opportunity to sort and reorganize their contents and to toss expired items.
- Drawer housings and tops of cabinets. Pull drawers all the way out if you can. Depending on what a drawer gets used for, you may find crumbs, scraps of paper and even a few long-lost items that got pushed up and out the back of overfilled drawers.
- Inside your dishwasher. Especially if you live in an area with high mineral content (hard) water, you may notice deposits or odors building up inside your dishwasher. The good news: very little scrubbing is required. Use an appropriate solution in an empty dishwasher on a high-heat cycle; the only thing that may require a good scrubbing is the edges around the dishwasher door.
- Inside your washing machine. Newer washers may offer a sanitization cycle; be sure to use to remove germs from the washer drum and agitating elements. This cleaning can also be managed manually with careful application of a 1:10 bleach solution.
- Light fixtures and bulbs. Cleaning dirty light fixtures and dusting bulbs improves the illumination of your home just as the days start growing shorter and nights longer.
- Toys. Dirty toys can harbor germs and contribute to an overall impression of dinginess in your home. Colorfast plastic toys can be soaked briefly in a solution of bleach and water then rinsed thoroughly and dried. Smaller toys can be cleaned in your dishwasher.
- Small appliances. Think coffee makers, toasters, mixers, blenders, portable fans, built-in bathroom fans and so forth. While many small appliances only need a little extra attention to scrubbing out the crevices, your coffee maker may need decalcification to improve taste while portable fans should be dismantled and cleaned thoroughly either before placing into storage for winter or removing from storage during the warmer months.
- Closet floors. This is a quick hit. Next time you are vacuuming, dusting or mopping your floors, remember to pull everything off your closet floors and go over them as well.
- Dryer vent system. Lint accumulation inside your dryer housing and venting tubes poses a fire hazard. A quick vacuum four times a year is all it takes to minimize the risk.
- Refrigerator vents and coils. Dust accumulation here contributes to inefficient cooling and greater electricity use. If you have water filtration or automatic ice making system, you may need professional help to pull out the appliance and accomplish this maintenance (if you have a plumber in for any other job, it’s a great time to ask for this help). While you’re at it, replace your water filters too.
- Window screens and housings. While washing windows is a 2X/year task, screens and screen housings should be vacuumed and/or cleaned at least once every season to improve views and prevent more pollen and dust from making its way into your home.
- Chimneys and flues. This is important home safety maintenance that should be conducted by a professional at least once a year. If you didn’t do it in the spring, now is the time before winter sets in.
- Computer keyboards. You may be in the habit of dusting keyboard surfaces, but they occasionally need a little inside cleaning too. Compressed gas for doing so can be purchased at local office supplies stores.
STEP 1: DOORS
Remove all bottles and jars either to countertop or cooler. Remove door shelves (if possible) and place in sink to soak while you clean and dry the insides of your refrigerator doors (working as quickly as possible to keep the fridge open for a minimum amount of time). Be sure to clean around the sides of doors and also in the grooves of the sealing gasket. Close doors and scrub shelves. If shelves are too large for your sink, rotate them so each part gets a good soaking before trying to remove dried and ‘chilled on’ gunk. As you dry door shelves, inspect for spots you missed and re-clean as needed. Return dried shelves to doors. Wipe and dry bottoms of all jars and bottles, checking expiry dates and sorting by like items before returning to fridge doors.
STEP 2: SHELVES
Food crumbs and debris will fall down as you remove shelves for cleaning, so start at the top and work downward, following the same basic sequence of steps as for doors.
STEP 3: DRAWERS
The same basic cleaning sequence applies for drawers, but they have more moving parts that can harbor grime, so pay attention for opportunities to dismantle and clean parts separately. Also, before soaking, use your vacuum cleaner to remove larger food particles and other debris. You may also encounter hardened liquid spills hiding underneath drawers; soak with a hot cloth to soften and gently scrape as needed.
STEP 4: FREEZER
Remove food to cooler. Remove and soak any baskets and/or shelves. Remove ice trays/buckets and discard old ice but do not soak ice trays in soapy water; defrost and clean with hot water only. Brush any debris to floor and vacuum. Before returning to freezer, check dates on frozen foods and discard items that have gone past their recommended safe freezing timeframes.
STEP 5: VENTS AND COOLING ELEMENTS
If your refrigerator is NOT hooked up to water filtration or automatic ice making system, pull out from wall, unplug and vacuum cooling coils and back and don’t forget to clean the top. If the fridge is hooked up to water, you may need professional assistance to complete this final important step for ensuring cooling efficiency.
For a comprehensive list of what you’ll need to give your fridge a deep clean, click here.
KITCHEN. Back-to-school means food shopping less frequently, buying more on each excursion, cooking more often and struggling to serve nutritious, healthy meals in less time. Get ready by,
Cleaning out your cabinets, discarding all food items that have gone past their freshness dates and moving older items to the front to ensure they get used first.
Deep cleaning your refrigerator and freezer. This is actually recommended six to 12 times per year; pre back-to-school should definitely be one of those times.
Organizing food storage solutions – sort and neatly stack food containers and lids, discard stained and orphaned items and stock up on freezer, sandwich and snack bags.
Giving your recipe book/box a good purge and sort. The process will inspire meal and snack diversity by reminding you of recipes you haven’t made in a while and making space for new easy and nutritious meal ideas.
BATHROOMS. Bathroom wars are a hallmark of back-to-school as everyone wants to sleep as late as possible and timeframes for morning ablutions become extremely short and inflexible. Promote efficiency by,
Purging, organizing and stocking vanity drawers and cabinets,
Checking expiry dates on all items in your medicine cabinet, and
Taking an annual foray through your linens closet; inspecting and either discarding worn or rarely used items or converting for other uses such as storage padding and cleaning.
OFFICE SPACE. Back-to-school is guaranteed to bring an influx of physical and digital media – forms, notices, artwork, handbooks, emails and so forth – into your home. Get ready by,
Clearing bulletin/note boards of dated content,
Conducting an annual purge of filed papers,
Organizing frequently used phone numbers, email addresses and documents such as birth certificates, physical/vaccination records and emergency contact data,
Deleting or archiving old computer files and emails, and
Setting up folders for keeping new content organized and easy to locate.
OTHER LIVING SPACES. Back-to-school typically means more regular use and churn of more items that can cause a daily clutter explosion in your home. Get ready by,
Making space in storage spaces, including bureaus, under beds, closets, and junk drawers,
Assigning specific places where frequently used items will be considered ‘put away’.
Educating family members about where those places are, so they can be effective when asked to help tidy up.
Heavy-duty grill cleaning is a once-a-year job best done at the start of each new grilling season. For gas grills, ensure all knobs are set to off and disconnect propane. When cleaning the main grill apparatus, focus on getting the outside shiny and appealing, but don’t put too much effort into cleaning the inside; remove loose debris and ash but refrain from scrubbing away all that great cooked-on ‘seasoning’ that helps to control the grill’s cooking heat, ultimately producing better food.
When it comes to cleaning grill grates, there are two schools of thought.
If you have loads of time on your hands and are into burning extra calories, go the cold-cleaning route. Use your sink, bathtub or a plastic tub large enough to accommodate your grill grates. Soak them for several hours in warm, soapy water. Then apply serious elbow grease to scrubbing, scraping, rinsing, and drying your grates and more effort to removing greasy particles and residues left behind in your sink or tub. Never use toxic cleaning solutions, rinse all solutions thoroughly and allow extra time for grates to heat on their first outing to ensure all residues burn off before cooking. A tip for cold cleaning without harsh chemicals is to soak grates in brewed coffee for an hour or longer before scrubbing.
Depending on your propensity to grill with sugary marinades, cheeses and other substances that ossify with intense heat over time, even the most assiduous cold cleaning may not produce pristine grates. If you are more interested in speed and efficiency, your mantra for cleaning and maintaining grill grates should be: heat and treat. If you are lucky enough to have a self-cleaning oven, simply stick your grates and other removable metal parts into the oven and run the self-cleaning cycle. The extreme high heat will burn away grill grime and muck, leaving you with clean grates and a clean oven for the summer.
If you do not have a self-cleaning oven, invest in a high-quality wire grill brush and pair of high-heat-safe gloves or mitts. When the grill is hot, brush the grates firmly with as much pressure as you can apply safely without toppling the grill. After grilling, either brush grates while still hot and, when cooled, treat lightly with cooking spray, vegetable or olive oil to protect; or, simply leave the grates dirty as protection against the elements until the next time you grill. If you do not have a grill brush, a scrunched up piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil or half an onion used with extreme care (and high-heat-safe gloves) will also work to remove most stuck-on grime when the grill is hot.
For charcoal grills, be sure to remove cooled, spent ash after every use (and especially before it gets rained on). Gas grill briquettes should be periodically removed, shaken or brushed and gas jets cleared of grease and food debris, which can prohibit even distribution of heat. Flipping gas-grill briquettes periodically takes advantage of the grill’s high interior heat to clean them with virtually zero effort.
Finally, when not in use, remember to always cover your grill. Good eating!
By Donna Freedman
Frugal bloggers often write about making certain household essentials themselves, to cut grocery costs. The decision may be about health and/or the environment as well as dollars.
For example, vinegar is a healthful alternative to commercial cleaning sprays, especially if someone in your house is chemically sensitive. Homemade yogurt is much cheaper than the commercial kind — and it sends fewer small containers to garbage dumps. (It’s also delicious. I haven’t bought ice cream since I started making yogurt at home.)
An hour or two a week can save you some decent cash. For example, it’s cost me as little as 50 cents to make a quart and a half of yogurt. (Hint: Watch for close-dated milk.) A loaf of bread that costs 40 to 70 cents to bake can turn leftover soup into a satisfying meal.
Here are a few ideas to get you going.
Edibles: Yogurt, granola, bread
As noted, making yogurt cured my ice-cream habit. It really is that good, mixed with fruit or a little homemade jam. You don’t need a special yogurt maker, incidentally. A site called MakeYourOwnYogurt.com gives step-by-step instructions.
Ever made your own bread? The Frugal Girl discusses process as well as cost in “Is homemade bread cheaper than store-bought?“ A loaf of basic white costs half the commercial kind, she says, and doesn’t take nearly as much work as you might think.
Bonus: It makes your home smell marvelous, and a loaf of fresh bread turns leftover beef stew into an occasion.
Pressed for time? Try the “no knead” loaf, which according to the Steamy Kitchen blog is so easy that even a 4-year-old can make it.
More edibles: Cooking fat, soup stock
Home-rendered chicken fat beats vegetable oil for cooking, according to Penny at Penniless Parenting. She gets free chicken scraps and skin from a butcher, then renders them slowly in a pan or simmers them in a pot of water, which produces soup stock as well as cooking fat.
A reader who commented on Penny’s post cooks ground beef in water, which she drains and chills. After the fat is removed she has “Burger broth,” a good base for soup or chili.
I keep two containers in the freezer: one for chicken bones and pan juices and the other for vegetable cooking water and vegetable scraps. When the containers are full they go into the slow cooker to simmer slowly for hours.
Or go the veggie route. Scrappy Vegetable Stock, a recipe found on Poor Girl Eats Well, is just what it sounds like: broth made of potato peelings, green-bean ends, onion skins, etc.
Meaty or meatless, you wind up with free soup makings.
Home front: Laundry soap, all-purpose cleaner, cat litter
Most laundry soap recipes require grating and cooking a bar of Fels-Naptha soap. Here’s the how-to, courtesy of The Hillbilly Housewife.
Not gonna happen? One Good Thing By Jillee has a recipe called “No-grate homemade laundry soap.” It uses borax, washing soda and Dawn dish detergent.
Tired of paying for cat litter and of carrying it home? The Greenists published a homemade cat litter that calls for shredded newspaper, baking soda and biodegradable dish soap. The author reports it takes 30 to 45 minutes to make enough faux litter for two to three weeks, and that “it’s kind of fun, in an elementary school art project way.”
Vinegar makes a good all-purpose cleaner, either straight or cut with water. The smell does go away. Or avoid the odor altogether with a recipe from “5 easy green cleaning tips that use vinegar” on Organic Authority. The “Green Goodness” formula incorporates essential oils to leave your job site smelling sweet.
Readers: What household essentials do you make from scratch? Do you do this for economic or environmental reasons?