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Quick cleaning solutions for every room

  • Story Highlights
  • Let cleaners soak in to take full advantage of disinfectant
  • On floors, concentrate on cleaning around doorways, which harbor tracked-in dirt
  • Flushable wipes can quickly clean sinks and toilet seats and pick up dirt and bacteria
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- Here's what to do around the house if you have 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or half a day to clean.

Easy steps for cleaning the kitchen

KP duty isn't easy. The main culprit: grease. Before you start combatting it, move small appliances off the counters to ensure that bacteria (kitchen enemy No. 2) won't flourish underneath the toaster oven or the coffeemaker.

If you have 15 minutes:

Clean countertops and the sink. Spray disinfectant in the sink and let it soak. "Otherwise the product won't have time to kill all the bacteria and viruses you're trying to remove," says Janice Stewart, owner of Castle Keepers, a professional cleaning service in Charleston, South Carolina. Meanwhile, spritz the counters with disinfectant. Then scrub the sink with a sponge, rinse well, and dry. Return to the counters and wipe dry with a fresh cotton or microfiber cloth.

Sweep or dry-mop the floor. Make a pass using an electrostatic mop (like those from Swiffer) or cloth. This will pick up dirt and hair and make wet-mopping more efficient.

Clean the refrigerator handle. It takes only seconds to wipe down this bacteria-friendly spot with disinfectant.

If you have 30 minutes, add the following:

Wet-mop the floor. A few spritzes of an all-purpose cleaner and a damp microfiber mop will do the trick. "You can finish the kitchen floor in minutes -- with no dirty water bucket," says speed-cleaning expert Laura Dellutri.

Wipe down appliances. Clean the surfaces of the gadgets.

If you have 1 hour, add the following:

Wash the cabinet fronts. Wipe from top to bottom with a soft sponge and a solution of warm water and dish soap. If the cabinets are wood, use a wood cleanser.

If you have half a day, add the following:

Deep-clean appliances. To freshen the refrigerator's interior, clean it with a solution of 3 tablespoons baking soda and 4 cups warm water. No self-cleaning oven? Wipe down the inside with an all-purpose cleanser. Use a plastic scraper (or an old credit card) to get bits of food off the racks and drip pan.

Dust and degrime inside and out. Remove crumbs from inside cabinets with a vacuum attachment or a damp cloth.

Don't Miss

The Goods

Mr. Clean Antibacterial Multi-Surface Spray

This all-purpose cleaner has a solid fan base. "It degreases, cleans, shines glass and metal, and sanitizes surfaces without an overly harsh scent," says Laura Dellutri, the author of Speed Cleaning 101 (Meredith Books, $15, ).

To Buy: $2.50 for 22 ounces, at drugstores.

Weiman Cook Top Quick Wipes and Stainless Steel Wipes

These towelettes are made to clean and protect surfaces that traditional cleansing formulas can damage. The Stainless Steel Wipes get that metal shiny and streak-free, and the Cook Top Wipes spiff up ceramic, chrome, Corian, Formica, and granite.

To Buy: $5 for 30 wipes, at Target, or for retailers.

Casabella Magnet Mop

Thanks to a dense microfiber sponge head with a scrubbing nap, this pivoting mop is a great option for both those who keep eco-friendly households (it cleans well with just water) and those who want seriously sanitized floors (dampen it with an all-purpose cleaner). The removable, refillable head will last through at least 100 machine washes.

To Buy: $33; $13 for refill: and Bed Bath & Beyond stores.

Easy steps for cleaning the family room

In everyone's favorite flop spot, clutter reigns supreme. DVDs, crayons, chew toys -- they all find their way here. Dirt also collects quickly in this heavily trafficked zone, so floors and furniture need a bit of extra attention.

If you have 15 minutes:

Clear the clutter. Tour the room with a laundry basket in tow, picking up any out-of-place items for redistribution later.

Speed-dust at eye-level. Grab two electrostatic or microfiber cloths. Rotate out the grimy cloth, or opt for quick two-handed dust-busting, says Donna Smallin, author of Cleaning Plain & Simple (Storey Publishing, $17,

Fluff pillows and fold throws. These small adjustments result in a big visual impact.

If you have 30 minutes, add the following:

Vacuum or dry-mop the floor. It's time-consuming but important. "Dirt can cut carpet fibers and damage wood floors," says Jeff Campbell, founder of the Clean Team, a residential cleaning service in Jackson, California. He recommends concentrating on the areas around doorways, which harbor tracked-in dirt.

If you have 1 hour, add the following:

Tackle upholstery and window treatments. Use the vacuum's brush attachment to get dust off sofas and chairs. Clean under and behind cushions, then flip them to distribute wear evenly. Close the curtains and use a vacuum attachment to clean. For blinds, wipe each slat with a damp microfiber cloth.

If you have half a day, add the following:

Wash the windows. To minimize streaking, use a glass cleaner and a lint-free material, such as a cloth diaper or an old T-shirt. Graham and Rosemary Haley, authors of Haley's Cleaning Hints (New American Library, $15,, suggest cleaning with vertical strokes inside and horizontal ones outside (or vice versa) so you'll know which side any remaining streaks are on.

Spot-clean the walls. Remove crumbs from inside cabinets with a vacuum attachment or a damp cloth.

Combat hidden dirt and dusts. Get behind, underneath, and on top of tall furniture with a long-handled duster. Roll back rugs and clean the floor below.

The Goods

Swiffer Duster With Extendable Handle

Save the stepladder for changing lightbulbs. This expandable duster gives you three extra feet of height. And the head pivots and locks into four different positions, so you can skim the tops of ceiling fans and window frames and even reach into tight spots behind furniture.

To Buy: $8 for handle and two heads; $8 for 10 refills: at Target, Wal-Mart, and drugstores.

Don Aslett Microfiber Towels

A must for any room, as agreed on by most of the experts Real Simple canvassed. Fibers one-hundredth the width of a human hair grab dust and dirt off any surface, with or without the aid of a cleanser. To minimize scratches, these washable towels are 100 percent microfiber, including trim and tags.

To Buy: 16-inch-square microfiber towels, $10 for four,

Scotch-Brite Easy Erasing Pad.

Wet this sponge, wring out the excess water, then gently rub the foaming side on scuffs, marks, and stains on walls and floors. Flip it over and use the polyurethane blue side to lift off any excess residue. Each sponge is good for multiple uses, until the white foam has worn away.

To Buy: $2 for two, and drugstores.

Easy steps for cleaning the bathroom

Haven of mildew and mold, this is probably your least favorite room to clean. It takes a little effort to scrub the toilet and clean the grout, but the flushable wipe makes sanitizing a snap.

If you have 15 minutes:

Start with the sink. With flushable wipe in hand, clean the sink (the room's focal point) and its fixtures, concentrating on the grime-friendly seams where the two meet.

Speed-sanitize. Grab another towelette to clean the edge of the bathtub, the toilet seat, and the toilet exterior. Finish up by shining the mirror with glass cleaner and a cloth.

If you have 30 minutes, add the following:

Deep-clean the toilet. Squirt bowl cleaner around the inside edge and let it sit for a few minutes, says Sarah Smock of the Memphis-based cleaning service Merry Maids. While it's soaking, use a wipe or a fresh cloth and all-purpose cleaner to clean the seat around its base and hinges. Return to the bowl and give stubborn rings a scrubbing with a sponge or a brush.

Deep-clean the toilet, part 2. If your bowl is porcelain, try rubbing a natural pumice stone (available at most hardware stores) on lime, rust, and hard-water stains. Keep the stone very moist throughout the process and it shouldn't scratch.

If you have 1 hour, add the following:

Damp-mop the floor. Use a wet mop with a pivoting head to get into awkward corners between the sink, the toilet, and the tub.

If you have half a day, add the following:

Scub down the shower and the tub. Spray the shower walls and the tub with all-purpose cleaner. Scrub from the top down so the tub floor gets the full benefit of a soaking to dissolve buildup.

Remove mildew, mold, and other stubborn bits. For lime scale-laden shower doors (they look white and murky), speed-cleaning expert Laura Dellutri recommends a wiping down with lemon oil. To dislodge mildew and mold, apply hydrogen peroxide straight from the bottle (wear rubber gloves to protect your hands). Let it soak in for five minutes, then scrub with a grout brush.

The Goods

Method Flushable Wipes

They won't eradicate hard-core lime or mildew buildup, but these eucalyptus-and-mint-scented wipes quickly clean sinks and toilet seats and pick up dirt and bacteria from tile and countertops. They are also 100 percent biodegradable and won't clog toilets, so flush away.

To Buy: $4 for pack of 28,

OxiClean Miracle Foam Spray.

With a consistency like hair mousse, this foam spray penetrates grout grooves and tub corners, dissolving soap scum, grime, and hard-water stains. It relies on oxygen bleach, not harsh chemicals or chlorine, to get the job done.

To Buy: $4 for 32 ounces, at drugstores.

Scotch-Brite Bathroom Floor Cleaner

Curved on each side, this triangular tool is designed to conform to the rounded base of a toilet or a pedestal sink for easy cleaning. It swivels 360 degrees and bends nearly to the floor, so you can maneuver the head into corners -- even the behind-the-toilet zone. The disposable premoistened cleaning cloths are attached with Velcro.

To Buy: $13 for starter kit and four cloths; $4 for 10-cloth refill: at drugstores.

Easy steps for cleaning the bedroom

Probably the easiest room to get -- and to keep -- clean. Yet this lightly trafficked, memento-laden area presents one big problem: dust. The room is a breeding ground for the stuff (think under-the-bed dust bunnies and powdery picture frames).

If you have 15 minutes:

Freshen the bed. Shaking out or changing sheets kicks up dust, so do those tasks first. To further freshen, spray sheets with linen spray before making the bed.

Damp-dust surfaces. Spritz an electrostatic or microfiber cloth with dusting spray and make your way around the room in a clockwise circle. "Otherwise you'll bounce from corner to corner having no idea what you've cleaned and what you haven't," says San Francisco Chronicle cleaning columnist Tara Aronson. Start with the perimeter, then hit the interior.

If you have 30 minutes, add the following:

Tackle the floor. If it's wood, run a damp (not wet) microfiber mop around the edges of the bed and all other exposed areas. (Remember -- don't wet-mop hardwood floors, as they could warp.) Vacuum the same zones if you have carpeting.

If you have 1 hour, add the following:

Get under the bed. And behind it, too. Use the Dusterator (below) or a similar electrostatic dusting tool. It will clean hardwood floors and also pick up some dust and hair from carpeting, cutting down on those times you need to push aside the whole bed.

If you have half a day, add the following:

Do the windows, walls, and lights. Use a microfiber or electrostatic cloth and a glass or all-purpose surface cleaner to clean panes, frames, and windowsills in one fell swoop. Wipe down light switches and fixtures. Use an eraser pad to take any scuffs and stains off the walls.

Hit the closets. Why? Because dirt and dust are in there and will eventually find their way out. "Dust is microscopic and can aggravate allergies and asthma," says Sarah Smock of the Memphis-based cleaning service Merry Maids. "Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it can't do some harm." Vacuum or mop the floor. Also, dust the shelves and wipe down the doors with a damp microfiber cloth.

The Goods

Caldrea Linen Spray

Formulated with essential oils and purified water, these scented spritzers won't stain or leave water marks on even the most delicate linens. (So you can rest easy, 400-thread-count devotees.) The fragrances -- citrus-mint ylang-ylang, green-tea patchouli, basil-blue sage, and six others -- are subtle and clean, not perfumy or antiseptic.

To Buy: $12 for 32 ounces, to buy and for national retailers.

Starfiber Dusterator

With a 26-inch-long dusting sleeve and a telescoping handle that measures 59 inches when extended, the Dusterator is ideal for sweeping hardwood floors under beds (dust clings to its static-charged head). The head can also be bent at any point along its length, so it can be used to clean the tops of armoires and closet shelves.

To Buy: $15 for pole and dust sleeve; $6 for one refill sleeve,

Windex Clean and Shine Dry Microfiber Cloths

For spotless windows, swap run-of-the-mill paper towels for these specialty cloths. They work even more efficiently with glass spray -- and either way, they won't leave streaks and lint behind.

To Buy: $3.50 for 12 cloths, at drugstores. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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