Most people don't enjoy housecleaning -- but they want a clean house. Eliminating germs keeps the family healthier -- and getting rid of clutter can make your house safer and more welcoming. The trick is to find shortcuts to minimize your cleaning time and maximize your cleaning efficiency. Here are some quick and easy ways to make your house sparkle -- so you can get out and enjoy the rest of your life.
We all have our own brand of clutter -- for some people it's newspapers and magazines, for others it's china or historical maps or coin collections. Whatever your clutter of choice, clearing it out -- or at least cutting it back -- will make housecleaning a more manageable task.
Organizing expert Donna Smallin suggests you walk through your home and try to look at it objectively as possible. "If there are things you seldom use and don't need, get rid of them," she says. "They are only taking up space and gathering dust."
If your piles consist of unfinished projects -- paperwork that needs your attention or purchases you want to return -- schedule a few hours each week to whittle them down. If you take the tasks seriously by scheduling them on your calendar and following through, you'll gradually and systematically reduce your clutter.
When you've thrown out or given away everything you can, put clutter you're attached to -- old photographs, for example, or your grandmother's shell collection -- into storage boxes, and put them away.
Do a Little Cleaning, Often
The experts we consulted agree that it's more efficient to take care of cleaning jobs as they come up, rather than putting them off until cleaning day.
"Maintenance is the key," says Kimberly Beyer, a professional organizer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. "If you clean as you go along, you won't end up with an overwhelming cleaning job at the end of the week."
Smallin agrees. "Clean up messes as you make them," she says. "Toothpaste in the sink is easy to wipe away right after it appears. And spills on the counter will be much harder to clean -- literally -- if you leave them for later."
Smallin, who has written eight books on cleaning and organizing, also advocates prevention measures, like using a squeegee on glass shower doors and walls every time you use the shower. "It's much easier to take 30 seconds every day than to clean up water spots after they're dry," she points out.
Have Good Cleaning Tools
If you have cleaning tools you like, you may find you dread cleaning a little less. Smallin recommends trying different cleaning products until you find the ones that work for you. "And keep looking, because new products are coming out all the time," she says. Her current favorite? An extendable duster that allows her to clean ceiling fans without standing on a chair.
Smallin also uses disposable wipes for quick cleaning jobs. She keeps containers of wipes around the house -- under the bathroom sink, for example -- so she can give the sink or the bathtub a quick wipe down without hauling out the bucket and sponge. "What I like about the wipes is that you aren't just getting rid of dirt, you're getting rid of germs as well," she says. Smallin recommends biodegradable wipes to minimize waste.
If you avoid using your vacuum cleaner because it's heavy, unwieldy, ineffective -- or all of the above -- consider buying a new one. Many new models are lighter than their older counterparts, with ergonomic design features; they also clean more efficiently. "You're more likely to use your vacuum if it's easy on your back," says Smallin, who uses a lightweight, full-power canister vacuum cleaner. If you purchase a new vacuum cleaner, consider buying a model with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters trap smaller particles better than regular filters, thus helping to reduce dust and allergens in your home.
Store Cleaning Tools in a Convenient Spot
If you have to hunt down your supplies before getting started, cleaning will be even more of a chore. Instead, keep all your products and tools together, and put them back in the same place when you're done.
Beyer recommends storing products and tools in a container with a center handle. She keeps a set of cleaning products in different spots around the house, so they're easily accessible for quick jobs.
And keep it simple, Smallin advises. "If you pare your products down to the basics, you'll have less to tote around," she says. "There's a lot you can do with a multipurpose cleaner -- you can wipe counters, scrub the shower, and use it to clean the toilet."
Change Air Filters Regularly
Replace the air filter in your furnace every three months or so. A clean filter will catch more of the dust and particles in the air, and minimize wear and tear on your furnace. A clean filter also reduces the energy your furnace consumes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Use Your Dishwasher More
Your dishwasher offers a variety of cleaning shortcuts. Many pots and pans can go in the dishwasher (check the label first), as can refrigerator shelves, drawers, and ice trays. Beyer recommends putting sponges in the dishwasher to sterilize them for reuse.
Put Clothes Hampers All Over
If you place clothes hampers in every bedroom and bathroom in your house, you're likely to find fewer cast-off clothes and towels on the floor -- even if you share your home with teenagers.
Let Cleaning Products Work
Difficult cleaning jobs will be a lot easier to accomplish if you give your cleaning products time to kick in. For example, if you apply oven cleaner and then go make a few phone calls, burned-on grease and gravy stains will be far easier to wipe away when you get back.
When it comes to oven cleaning, Beyer recommends prevention: she uses an oven liner to catch spills. These inexpensive liners, which can be trimmed to fit any size oven, are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
Smallin recommends pouring toilet bowl cleaner into your toilet before you go to bed at night, so it will be simple to wipe and flush the next morning. "As I like to tell people, you can clean your toilet while you sleep," she says.
Keep Dirt Outside
Eighty-five percent of the dirt on your carpet is tracked in from outside, says Smallin. She recommends placing a doormat outside the door and another one inside, to keep as much dirt as possible off floors. You may even want to establish a "no shoe" policy in your home to keep dirt out. (Keep a selection of cozy slippers on hand for your guests.)
Even if you can't afford a regular housekeeper, you may want to periodically hire a cleaner to give your house a deep cleaning. "If you feel like you can't get on top of the mess, it's worth it to invest in a good cleaning," says Smallin. "A cleaner will probably charge more for a one-time job, but if you start out with a really clean house, it's much easier to do daily and weekly maintenance."