(Real Simple) -- Here is a guide to making heavy-duty chores easier.
Deep cleaning window treatments
The key to a longer, more attractive life for your drapes, shades, and blinds lies in keeping a sentinel watch out for the dust that continually settles on them. The tools you need are already on duty in other parts of your house: the sturdy brush attachment for the vacuum, a few clean rags, and good old dishwashing liquid.
Giving them a regular, thorough dusting will limit wallet-draining trips to the dry cleaner.
Step 1: Gently tug drapes to open pleats. Using a low setting and the brush attachment, vacuum each panel. For delicate or loosely woven fabrics, hold the brush an inch away to avoid pulling.
Step 2: "Pay special attention to the lower foot of the drape and the hem, where dust and dirt accumulate," says Sergio Finetto of the Silk Trading Company, a Los Angeles drapery maker.
Step 3: To remove smudges (the kind passing pets leave), Finetto applies a bit of baby powder to a clean toothbrush and gently brushes the spot. "The powder protects the fabric and helps lift the dirt."
Water is a no-no for linen, silk, and wool but usually fine for cotton, canvas, and treated fabrics. Be sure to check the tags.
Step 1: Vacuum the shade first, then submerge it (except for any wood or metal mounts) in a bathtub filled with several inches of cool water and two capfuls of Woolite or dishwashing liquid.
Step 2: After 5 to 10 minutes of gently agitating the shade to lift dust and grime, drain the tub completely and refill it with clean water. Move the shade around to rinse it.
Step 3: Blot excess water with a colorfast towel, then use a clothespin to clip the fully extended shade to the shower rod to dry. (If you have a nonwashable shade, try rubbing it gently with a dry-cleaning sponge.)
If wooden blinds are sealed (most are), they can be washed. Always vacuum or dust them thoroughly beforehand.
Step 1: Adjust the blinds so the slats are angled down, toward the floor. In a bucket, prepare a solution of a few capfuls of dishwashing liquid and water.
Step 2: Working one slat at a time, wash each with a damp (not saturated) rag. Use a dry towel to soak up excess water as you go. Flip the blind and repeat on the other side.
Step 3: To clean the cord, pull the shade all the way up so the cord is fully extended. Run the damp rag up and down it once, then follow with the dry towel.
Deep cleaning fabrics & furnishings
Keep your hard-earned finer things looking fine -- and cut down on costly professional cleaning services -- with vigilant vacuuming and dry spot cleaning. When they need more attention, give them a gentle bath or a wipe-down, but always check the labels first, or ask the manufacturer to make sure that water and your fabrics mix.
If there's a "W" on the care tag, upholstery can be cleaned using the steps that follow. Otherwise, play it safe: Consult a pro.
Step 1: Add two capfuls of Woolite or a neutral-pH dish soap to a bucket of cool water. Dip in a sponge, wring it out well, then rub a thin layer of the solution onto each cushion, starting with the dirtiest side.
Step 2: Balance the cushions against one another or a wall to dry. Put colorfast towels or white paper towels between points where pieces touch, leaving as much surface area as possible exposed to the air.
Step 3: Clean the body of the sofa or chair, wringing the sponge out well so you're using as little liquid as possible. To prevent mildew growth, let all the pieces air-dry completely before reassembling.
Connie Rakower of New York's Just Shades recommends this bath for fabric shades (for velvet or silk, see a professional).
Step 1: Gently roll the shade from side to side in a bathtub filled with a few inches of lukewarm water and two capfuls of Woolite. Use a sponge or a rag to distribute the solution evenly over the shade.
Step 2: Run a damp cloth or a sponge over the shade inside and out to rinse off the solution, then blot gently with a colorfast towel (droplets can leave water spots).
Step 3: Set the shade on its bottom rim on a clean towel placed on a flat surface and let it dry completely. Reaffix it to the lamp -- and see things in a new light.
It's true (and truly icky): Dust mites live and breed in mattresses. Vacuum cleaner to the rescue.
Step 1: Wash your mattress pad in hot water every two months. (If you don't have one, you should get one. Mattress pads, especially the antiallergenic variety, significantly inhibit mites' proliferation.)
Step 2: Using your vacuum's wand or upholstery attachment and a high setting, carefully go over the entire surface of the mattress, paying special attention to indented or buttoned areas, where dust lodges.
Step 3: Every other time you vacuum the mattress, flip it over and rotate it so the head moves to the foot. And vacuum newly exposed sides, too. This cuts down on uneven wear and helps keep mites at bay.
Use this routine to minimize dirt buildup between deep cleanings, which should be left to the professionals.
Step 1: Place the rug face down on an old (clean) sheet and vacuum thoroughly; if your vacuum has a beater bar, flip it to the lowest setting. Turn the rug over and vacuum the top side.
Step 2: Using a sponge or a clean towel dampened (not saturated) with plain water, gently blot any dirty areas several times. Alternate with a dry towel to keep moisture to a minimum.
Step 3: Work carefully over the damp areas with a soft, clean carpet brush to raise the pile and expose the fibers to the air. The agitation dries them and lifts any remaining dirt.
Deep cleaning cabinets, floors & walls
Dirt resides almost undetectably on paint and wallpaper, in floor grooves, and among the "clean" pots and pans in cabinets -- until suddenly it's not so undetectable anymore. (You could have sworn you picked Studio White, not Gutter-Water Gray, for the kitchen walls.) Here's how to make short work of the buildup.
Step 1: Prepare your tools: Fill a bucket with plain lukewarm water to clean your sponge as you work. In a spray bottle, mix about 20 ounces of water and a tablespoon or so of Woolite or dishwashing liquid.
Step 2: Working in sections and wiping off drips as you go, spritz on the solution and let it sit for five minutes. "Use less product, but give it time to work so there's less work for you," says Rathey.
Step 3: Wipe each section with a clean, damp (not wet) sponge. Rinse and wring out the sponge periodically so you don't spread dirty water back onto the clean wall.
Experts agree: Wood floors and water don't mix, and refinishing is strictly for pros, so dust and spot-clean with vigilance.
Step 1: The golden rule: Vacuum or dry-mop wood floors at least once a week (some experts say every other day). The longer dust and dirt sit on the wax or finish, the more dulling and scratching will occur.
Step 2: When spills or scuffs appear on polyurethaned floors, use a slightly damp mop or sponge to lift them. If they're stubborn, use a bit of the cleaner the floor manufacturer recommends to break them down.
Step 3: When the floor begins to look scratched or dull, call in the professionals to do one of two things: scuff-sand and recoat the finish, or sand and completely refinish the floor.
Sadly, closed doors don't always deter dust and dirt. Open your cabinets and wash them out.
Step 1: Empty cabinets of all pots, pans, and utensils and give the interiors a thorough dusting with a microfiber or electrostatic cloth. Press it into corners, under ridges, and along door edges.
Step 2: With a solution of dish soap and warm water and a damp (not wet) sponge, clean the bottoms, tops, and walls. Rinse the sponge in clean water as you go. Dry with a clean towel or rag as you work.
Step 3: Consider an idea from How Clean Is Your House's Aggie MacKenzie: Store muffin tins, woks, and other rarely used things in plastic bags so you won't have to rinse dust off the next time you use them.
Deep cleaning appliances
Considering the money invested in them, appliances deserve a thorough scrubbing on a regular basis. In addition to giving you the satisfaction of knowing they're spanking-clean inside and out, your good work can optimize their performance and even extend their lives.
Clean spills and deodorize with this routine from San Francisco Chronicle cleaning columnist Tara Aronson.
Step 1: Fill a coffee mug with water and a few slices of lemon; put it in the middle of the microwave's tray. Cook on a high setting for about three minutes, then turn off the microwave.
Step 2: Leave the mug inside for another three minutes or so. The steam will soften food spills, and the hot lemon will give that lingering pasta-sauce odor the boot once and for all.
Step 3: Open the door and take out the mug. Wipe down the walls with warm, soapy water to remove residue and food. Then rinse and dry with a clean dishcloth.
Mineral deposits slow the brewing process and may taint flavor. Here's a natural way to flush them out.
Step 1: Empty and clean the filter. Pour two to three cups of water and the same amount of white vinegar into the water chamber, then switch on the brew cycle.
Step 2: Halfway through the cycle, turn the machine off and let the solution sit for about an hour. Switch the coffeemaker back on to complete the cycle.
Step 3: Run at least one cycle of clear water (two to be on the safe side) through the machine to rinse out any residual vinegar. Now go ahead and brew with confidence.
Unplug it or turn it off before cleaning. Remove all the shelves and drawers; they get their own wash-down.
Step 1: Add two tablespoons of baking soda or dish soap to a quart of warm water and wash all inside surfaces. Rinse them with clear water and dry with a clean cloth.
Step 2: Wash the drawers and shelves in the sink with dishwashing liquid and warm water, then wipe dry. Use the same solution to clean the door gasket (the rubber bumper that seals the refrigerator shut).
Step 3: Add a tablespoon of dishwashing soap to a quart of water and disinfect the door handles with the solution. No need to rinse -- the solution will dissipate on its own, taking germs with it.
Cooking oil and grime build up on surfaces (and in the air filter) despite weekly wipe-downs.
Step 1: Soak a gas stove's burner grates in warm water and dishwashing liquid for five minutes. Use a soft dish brush to scrub away cooked-on food, then rinse.
Step 2: Dry grates with a clean cloth. Be especially vigilant with cast iron, which can rust if it's not completely dry when put back in place.
Step 3: Place the hood's air filter in the bottom rack of the dishwasher; or soak it in dish soap and hot water for at least 10 minutes, then rinse and dry. Degrease the hood with hot, soapy water, then rinse.
Missed spills bake in more stubbornly every time you don your chef's hat. Take time out to cook or dissolve them away.
Step 1: Remove racks (and detachable steel side supports) and soak them in the sink or the tub in dish soap and warm water. Use a soft brush or a white (low-abrasion) SOS pad to remove built-up food and grit.
Step 2: If your oven is self-cleaning, activate the cleaning cycle. If not, apply oven cleaner (Easy Off was an experts' favorite), following the label directions carefully.
Step 3: When the self-cleaning cycle is finished, use a soft cloth to sweep the ashes out of the oven. Make a final pass with a damp rag to get every last bit. E-mail to a friend
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