On How Clean Is Your House?, a television program imported from Britain, two irreverent women -- Kim and Aggie -- visit filthy homes and teach the owners how to clean, tsk-tsking them in the process of finding grease on the oven, goo on the counters, and layers of dirt everywhere.
It's good clean fun if you're a viewer -- until you happen to think: What would I do if they knocked on my door?
If housecleaning isn't your thing, or the word alone give you hives, you're not alone. Help abounds -- there are dozens of how-to-clean-house books and web sites out there. But what you may really need is a new attitude, a personalized schedule for cleaning, and tips on how to make the whole job less painful. So why not start with a novel approach to housecleaning basics that goes beyond the standardized lists?
Clean House Attitudes: The Basics
Instead of focusing on a rigid housecleaning schedule dictated by someone else, consider the needs of you and your family, then decide how clean your house has to be, says Cynthia Townley Ewer of Richland, Wash., the editor of the web site Organized Home and author of Houseworks: Cut the Clutter, Speed the Cleaning and Calm the Chaos.
For example, if you have young children, elders, or someone who is immune-compromised, you may need a much more rigorous cleaning schedule, Townley Ewer says, than a household of healthy young adults.
When you do compose a housecleaning schedule based on your needs, don't think of it as simply a to-do list, Townley Ewer says, but as a launching pad to allow you to easily delegate some of the cleaning. After all, it should be a team effort, she says.
How to Clean House: Minimum Maintenance
First consider minimum maintenance: which tasks that must be done on a daily basis to keep the household afloat, says Townley Ewer.
Depending on family size, this might include washing a load of laundry, wiping the kitchen counters and sink after meals, and giving the bathroom a basic cleaning.
"Every family needs their own set of minimums," Townley Ewer tells WebMD. How it shakes out will depend on such factors as family size and individual comfort levels about cleanliness.
Discuss the list, and delegate, then figure out when the chores will get done. You might decide every night after dinner is when the kitchen sink gets scoured or that you'll pop in a load of laundry as soon as you get up every morning -- so you don't have a mountain of it when the weekend comes.
Instead of dividing up the house room by room, designating days to clean each, Townley Ewer has a novel idea: divide the house into "wet" rooms and "dry" rooms and figure out how often they need to be cleaned.
How to Clean House: Wet Rooms
Wet rooms -- the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room -- ideally need cleaning twice a week or so, Townley Ewer says, depending on your family size. And because you use similar cleaning products in wet rooms, scrubbing them all at once can save time over switching back and forth between wet and dry.
Forget specialty cleaners, too, says Townley Ewer, and get basic products that will do double duty. Degreasers, scouring powders, and soap scum removers work for kitchen and bath, for example. Another timesaver: "Put everything in a tote or a bucket," she says. "You have all the tools and equipment to clean the room in one place."
How to Clean House: Dry Rooms
In dry rooms, the enemy there is dust. Vacuuming is most important, as well as laundering bedding to keep down the dust mite population. Once a week may be enough, depending on how many animals and kids you have.
In the family or TV rooms, equipment such as DVD players and the cable box get dusty fast, says Townley Ewer, due to static charge. "Your tools for dry room cleaning are the vacuum and electrostatic dry cleaning cloths." They'll both cut through the dust.
Another time-saving tip: "Start at the top, such as the ceiling fan," then work your way to the bottom. Otherwise, you clean the whole room, turn on the dusty ceiling fan, and all that work is for naught, she says.
How to Clean House: Get Modern
Once your daily and weekly cleaning is under control, you can focus on seasonal cleaning. And it doesn't have to involve a Herculean effort, Townley Ewer says. "The reason for spring cleaning 75 years ago was coal and oil heating sources," she says. The buildup would make any house dirty. "If you have a modern house, there is no need for that kind of cleaning," she says.
Instead, focus on moving furniture and dusting or vacuuming behind it, hard polishing the furniture and cabinets, she says.
How to Clean House: Products Matter
Good old soap and water is often viewed as an ideal cleaner, but not so, maintains Philip Tierno, Jr., PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the New York University Medical Center, associate professor of microbiology and pathology at the NYU School of Medicine, and author of The Secret Life of Germs.
"Soap doesn't kill bacteria," Tierno tells WebMD. The best way to kill everything, in his opinion, is a mixture of bleach and water, following manufacturer instructions.
In the kitchen, use a disinfectant cleaner spray every time you clean up, ideally once a day, suggests Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of soil, water and environmental science at the University of Arizona, who has long studied germs in the home and office environments. Use it in the bathroom, too, he says, as the kitchen and bath are two of the germiest rooms in the house.
How to Clean House: Forget Tradition
"A lot of people have misconceptions based on what they saw their mom and grandmother do," Townley Ewer says. But people need to set their own standards. How often you clean house also depends on who's visiting, for example. "When my daughter-in-law visits, with a toddler on the floor, we are going to pay more attention," Townley Ewer says.
Finally, think about balance when setting house cleaning standards. Townley Ewer subscribes to the old adage about how clean a house should be: "Clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy."