We’ve finally made it to open-window weather and I’m reveling in it -- the fresh air does wonders for a house that’s been closed up all summer. That makes this the perfect time for a serious, hardcore deep cleaning.
I'm a reluctant cleaner at best (you did see how lazy I am about gardening, right?). But even I like to channel Mr. Clean a few times a year -- between dogs, art stuff, and the dirt road we live on, it's just downright necessary. So every time I get that bug up my butt, I get into gear.
This is the routine I use, because I'm surprisingly anal when it comes to deep-clean time. And I usually devote a weekend to the task. If you don't have time to do all of this, pick some of the key parts that will make the most impact for you. Or pick one room and give it the full treatment -- you can get that done in a few hours, which means that over the course of a few weekends, you'll have the whole place done!
This is a serious step. It’s not just boxing things up or rearranging knick-knacks. In every room, empty every single drawer, cupboard, shelf, bookcase, and closet (and anything else that has “stuff” in it). I’m not kidding. Pull it ALL out.
Then employ the 3-box technique: one box for trash, one for donations, and one small one for things you're keeping. This means you trash or donate old silverware, the 4 extra funnels you don’t need, the 18 wool sweaters you have even though you live in Miami .... In the pantry and medicine cabinet toss anything that has expired and donate any non-perishable foods that you bought but never used.
You have to be absolutely ruthless and unsentimental in this step. Take the trash boxes to the trash and the donate boxes to the car. Right now. Don’t look back. Leave the stuff you’re keeping where it is for now.
Empty the Room
Yep. If you can get it out of the room, take it out, even the furniture. Everything else, move to the middle of the floor so that you have easy access to corners. Take all the pictures off the walls. If you have removeable ceiling fan blades, remove them. Take down all the drapes and window treatments. Take down any light fixtures that you can and remove all other lamps from the room. When you're done, the room should look like it did before you moved in … except for the dirt.
Now comes the real work. There are some things you may opt to have professionally cleaned: heavy drapes, comforters and quilts, oriental rugs, and your wall-to-wall carpeting. Note: If you are having someone come clean your carpets, do alllll the rest of your cleaning before you call them; otherwise, you’ll be dumping dirt from those high shelves right onto your clean carpet.
- Go Top Down. This is a universal rule, no matter what room you are working on. Clean off ceiling fans and high shelves and make your way down to dressers and tables -- all the horizontal surfaces. Ideally, all of your furniture is out of the room, so you don’t need to worry about getting it dirty. If your furniture is in the room, pull it out and wipe everything down, including the back. Get in there with the vacuum to get up any dust bunnies or cobwebs before you push it back.
- Cobweb Hunt. I promise, you're going to be shocked when you really start looking and see how many cobwebs have collected behind the bed, the chairs, and along the ceiling. Suck ‘em all down!
- Clean the Woodwork. Crown moulding, chair rails, and baseboards all need a good scrubbing. A little dish soap in warm water will do the trick, but you can also use something like Murphy’s Oil Soap if your wood is unpainted. Clean any slatted doors as well -- my homemade Swiffer duster does a fantastic job of getting in between each slat. Hint: After they’ve dried, wipe your baseboards with a dryer sheet -- it will help prevent dust from redepositing.
- Hit the Windows. Wash inside and out if you can (if you can’t reach on the outside, break out the hose). If you have removable screens, take them out and wash them down. Scrub out any cobwebs and bugs that have gotten into the sill area -- clean the sash, too. Hint: Use a vinegar and water solution and crumpled newspapers to clean the glass: no streaks!
- Attack the Appliances. Large and small -- because when was the last time you actually cleaned out your toaster? Clean all refrigerator shelves and drawers, inside and out on the microwave, inside the oven, and on the stovetop. If you have burner pans that won’t come clean, pick up a new set at the hardware store. Don't neglect the broiler drawer. Pull out the fridge and clean the coils as well as the wall and floor. Do the same for your stove and your washer/dryer. Clean underneath anything and everything you can.
- Grout, Caulk, Tile. Everything should look like new when you are done. Get rid of all the mildew with cleaners and old-fashioned elbow grease. If you have tile on your floors, clean all that grout. Use a bleach or grout cleaning pen to get rid of stains that stick. Once your grout is spotless, seal it to waterproof it and help prevent future staining. If you have areas around the bathtub, sink, shower that need caulk, now’s the time to do it. I like to scrape out any of the old stuff that I can before I lay down anything new. Caulking will only take you about a half hour and the difference is like magic.
- Clean and Polish. Clean all your furniture to the max: wash slipcovers, clean and treat leather, break out the upholstery cleaner for cushions you can’t wash. Then hit the wood pieces with a moisturizing furniture polish. Move on to all your faucets. Remove built-up deposits by soaking a rag in vinegar and letting it sit across the area. In 30 minutes you should be able to use a scrub brush to gently remove the build-up. Hint: If you have glass shower doors, apply a light coat of car wax after you clean them -- it will protect the glass and seal the pores that collect mildew and soap scum. Clean and polish the toilet, too. Get rid of any rings or stains and check the inside of your tank. Get down on the floor and clean those hard-to-reach spots that people forget about.
- Wash and Wash. You’ll feel like you’ve been running a laundry marathon, but it’s worth it. Wash all slipcovers (pre-treat for stains), pet beds, plush pet toys, plush kids’ toys, mattress covers, linens, comforters and quilts, table runners. You can even wash your shower curtain, as long as you don’t try to dry it (though I prefer to just wash the pretty outer curtain and spend the $5 on a new liner).
- Vacuum and Shampoo. Now that all the dirt is on your floor and not the shelves, start vacuuming. Hint: Sprinkle baking soda scented with your favorite essential oil on the carpets to deodorize and freshen. I usually vacuum a few times to make sure I get everything up. If you have carpeting, you may want to shampoo them -- but at least spot treat any stains that have popped up. If you have wood floors, clean with the appropriate cleanser.
Put It All Back Together
- The first step here is to clean everything you removed from the room. Nothing should go back in dirty. Lampshades should be cleaned or replaced, glass globes from the lights should be de-bugged, all furniture should be thoroughly wiped down and cleaned.
- Be selective about what you let back into the room -- because it was there before doesn’t mean it has to go there now. If you have an old footstool or recliner that’s seen better days, think about donating it.
- At this point, you might want to put down new drawer liners, refresh the cedar blocks in your closet, things like that.
- Before you start stashing things in drawers and cupboards, think about your organizational needs. Maybe you need a better silverware tray -- or an extra one, to accommodate the junk drawer. Maybe the cabinets in your bathroom could benefit from some totes to contain the cold meds and the bandages. Organizing these things as you put them back in will not only make your life easier, it will make your newly clean area easier to maintain.
Image via Megan Van Schaick/Silver & Chalk