20-Minute Home ‘Clean-Ups’ for a Healthier Family

Daunted by the mess in your home? These quick and easy cleanups will tackle that mess while saving you time.

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on December 02, 2012
5 min read

Doing a thorough, deep clean of your whole home can take several hours -- hours you don't always have available. Make the most of your valuable time with faster, smarter solutions for getting at those places where germs, dust, and allergens lurk.

Once your children are old enough to sit safely in the tub and play for a bit, you can toss in a variety of bath toys and get the bathroom sanitary -- if not sparkling -- during 15 or 20 minutes of tub time. You’re still within arm’s reach should any water mishaps occur. All you need is some distilled white vinegar to clean and kill most bathroom germs without having to worry that the kids tub will be inhaling harsher chemicals.

  • The toilet. Toilets are where most of our bathroom germs come from -- urine is actually sterile, but feces are decidedly not. Flushing can send all kinds of bacteria, germs, and fungus into the air. Pour about two cups of white vinegar or disinfectant into the bowl, and then use a spray bottle to spray more onto all the hard surfaces of the toilet (including the rim and handle). Let it sit about 10 minutes while you handle one of the other tasks. Then wipe down the outside and scrub the bowl with a toilet brush.
  • The sink. Spray your sink with vinegar and wipe thoroughly. Don’t forget the handles and faucet.
  • The shower. If you have a glass shower door, regularly spraying it with vinegar prevents residue from building up.

If you’re like most busy moms, your kids eat at least one meal in the kitchen sitting at the counter or island or in a breakfast nook or dining area nearby. During the 20 minutes it takes them to eat, you can tackle a fast kitchen clean-up that will leave everything more healthy and hygienic.

  • Spray all hard surfaces -- countertops, sink, cupboard fronts, taps, and faucets -- with a disinfectant cleaner (or distilled white vinegar) and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • Do a fast purge of the refrigerator. Dump leftovers that are more than 2 days old and other foods that are past their expiration date. Check the crisper drawers and toss withering lettuce and moldy strawberries.
  • Replace old sponges.
  • Take out the trash. Before you put a new bag in the trash can, spray down the sides with cleaner and wipe. Bags often leak or overflow and bacteria can collect on the bin.

Ask the kids to put their dishes in the dishwasher when they are finished eating (or help them, if they’re little). Then spray the kitchen floor with disinfectant cleaner or distilled white vinegar and let them use dirty dish towels to wipe it clean. Toss the dishtowels in the next load of laundry.

Quick, what’s the most unhygienic place in your kitchen? It might be the sink, but it might also be under the sink. When’s the last time you really cleaned there?

Aricia LaFrance, a psychotherapist, parenting coach, and organizational consultant, says, “We worry about the countertops, sink, and stove. But nobody ever thinks about under the sink. But it can be a hazard. You can get mold under there, and a lot of times it’s where bugs -- and even mice -- get in if there are gaps.”

  • Take out everything.
  • Check the pipes. “We’re always stuffing things under the sink and it pushes on the pipes," LaFrance says. "They may leak just a little along a seam, and then you get mold and mildew building up in the walls.”
  • Wipe hard surfaces clean with a disinfectant spray or distilled white vinegar.
  • Purge old products -- anything you haven’t used in a year -- and overly toxic chemicals.
  • If you find gaps, make a note to pick up a can of spray foam sealant at the hardware store. It expands and fills in spots where pests can get in. Be sure to read and follow all safety directions carefully before applying. These products can be very flammable and toxic.

When was the last time you actually cleaned your laundry room or closet? Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t remember. Many of us think changing the lint trap regularly and collecting the change that falls out of pockets counts as “cleaning.”

But all kinds of dust, mold, and mildew can accumulate around the sides of and behind washers and dryers. “People don’t think about these areas," LaFrance says, "and they get really, really gross.”

While kids are doing homework in the evening or watching cartoons in the morning, you can purge the laundry room of allergens such as dust mites and mold.

  • Come prepared with a trash bag -- you’ll probably collect more fuzz and goop than you expect.
  • Move the machines. It’s easier than it sounds. Many move easily on their own; if not, get a package of little furniture coasters -- many drugstores and hardware stores carry them -- to smooth the job.
  • Use a dust cloth or hand vac to get up all the lint that’s accumulated.
  • Spray surfaces with a disinfectant or distilled vinegar and wipe. You probably don’t need to let it sit as you do in the bathroom or kitchen.
  • Throw away old bottles of detergent, empty fabric softener bottles, and other junk that’s collected.
  • Dust or wipe down storage shelves.

Dust is bad for health. We know that dust mites are the No. 1 indoor allergen. But most of us still fill our homes with knick knacks that attract dust. It’s time to say goodbye to those dust buddies.

Lisa Jacobs, a certified home organizer and the founder of Imagine It Done, a lifestyle consultancy, says, “Set the timer for 20 minutes and look around one floor of your house for things that collect dust.”

These include:

  • Silk flowers and artificial plants
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Stuffed animals
  • Picture frames and knick-knacks

You don’t have to get rid of your children’s entire stuffed animal menagerie or your treasured teacups from your trip to London. But if you cut the furry zoo in half (give some away or store them in sealed bags), pack away all but your favorite treasures, and toss the fake ficus, your home will be healthier.

Once in a while, look under your furniture. “We mop floors and dust surface, but don’t think about underneath, for instance, like the gap under the sofa,” LaFrance says.

Take 20 minutes in a high-traffic room -- living rooms, family rooms, and home offices -- with an allergy-friendly dust cloth and duster. Dust:

  • Under the couch.
  • Under the tables and entertainment center. Some of these items have small gaps underneath that are classic dust-catchers.
  • Underneath stereo components and computers.
  • In floor vents, which are huge dust-catchers.

If you have kids with allergies, be a little more thorough. Use a hand vacuum with a brush attachment. And buy micro-fiber dust clothes that pick up more dust.