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Streamlined spring cleaning plan

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  • Clean windows on cloudy days to prevent streaking
  • Have plenty of microfiber cloths ready
  • Use specially formulated mildew treatment on grout and let it soak in first
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- Forget what constitutes a "proper" spring cleaning, and instead take aim at what you can see and care to see no more: the sofa covered with cat hair, the greasy kitchen shelf paper, the mildew in the shower.

Washing windows

Save this job for a cloudy day (the sun's rays cause streaking) and start indoors. Just spray the panes with water and wipe clean with one of the versatile new microfiber cloths, which work by trapping dirt between the fibers. When the cloth looks dirty, rinse it in warm water. (If your water is hard, substitute distilled water.)

Finish up outside with a blast of Windex Outdoor, which attaches to your hose, spares you the experience of falling off a tippy ladder, and is harmless to plants. Windex Outdoor works even through screens and dries without streaking. (If you have hard water, you'll need a ladder, a friend to hold it, and a squeegee on an extension pole to finish the job properly.)

ACT Natural microfiber cloths, $15 for three, 888-638-3552. Windex Outdoor, about $9 for 32 ounces, at grocery, hardware, and discount stores. For squeegees, visit or call 800-825-0750.

Cleaning blinds and drapes

If your blinds and drapes have reached the "don't want to touch" stage, turn them over to a professional (check the Yellow Pages under "Drapery Cleaners" and "Window Treatments").

If they're only moderately dirty, begin by dusting the valance and frame, then vacuum top to bottom, using the upholstery attachment for drapes, the brush attachment for blinds (close them first).

If the blinds are more dirty than dusty, try the Mini Blind Vac Attachment by Ideaworks, $8,, with blinds in the open position. Or, with the blinds shut, wipe with a damp microfiber mitt. Casabella 48-inch washable lamb's-wool duster, $10,, 800-841-4140.

Telescoping ostrich-feather duster, $30, at Restoration Hardware,, 888-243-9720. Heller Mister Quack Spray Bottle, $5.50, Burpee Gardens, 800-888-1447.

Cleaning kitchen cupboards

Start by emptying the contents onto a cleared table. (Toss out those Pocahontas cups from Burger King while you're at it.) Wipe the shelves with a damp micro-fiber cloth or, if they're extra-dirty, attack them with a multipurpose cleaner and a scrubber sponge.

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If you use liners, fit food shelves with a washable, strippable liner; for shelves holding glasses and dishes, try a resilient plastic mesh liner, to reduce breakage. Wipe down the cupboard exteriors with a microfiber cloth and you're done.

One product you can try is Earth Friendly Products' Orange Plus Concentrate cleaner; $3.50 for 22 ounces, available at grocery and health-food stores,, 800-335-3267. ACT Natural microfiber cloth, $15 for three, 888-638-3552. Scotch-Brite Delicate-Duty sponges, about $1 each. Con-Tact shelf liner, $3, widely available. Cushion-Aire Mesh Shelf Liner, $8; for store locations call 800-533-6900.

Cleaning upholstered furniture

If you're dealing with mostly superficial dirt, home cleaning can work a big improvement. Remove all cushions and, with the crevice tool, thoroughly vacuum nooks and crannies; use the brush attachment to clean and smooth any fabrics with a nap; use the flat attachment for smooth fabrics.

Remove stains with a spot cleaner (test first, following the label directions) and a colorless, lint-free cloth.

Naturally Yours Carpet and Upholstery Shampoo, $7 for 32 ounces, 888-801-7347. Caldrea Fabric Paper Towel (on sofa), $10,, 877-576-8808. QuickSilver MSV multiple-surface vacuum by Simplicity (converts to an upright for floors), $283,, 888-974-6759.

Cleaning the computer

First, shut the computer down and unplug it. With a standard mouse, unscrew the bottom and remove the ball; blow dust from the casing and wipe the ball and interior with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol. Let dry, replace the ball, and close.

Now turn over the keyboard and gently shake it; clean between the keys with a special computer vacuum or a few blasts of compressed air, then wipe with a microfiber cloth moistened with all-purpose cleanser.

Give the same wipe-down to the computer exterior, and finish by wiping the screen with a cloth moistened with plain water.

Datavac PC Personal Cleaner, $28 at Office Depot,, 888-463-3768. Personal-size Mystic Maid microfiber cleaning cloth, $7,, 877-468-0888. Compressed air, about $6 for a 10-ounce can at hardware and electronics stores.

Cleaning bathroom grout

Ordinary cleansers won't make a dent in mold or mildew. Spray with a specially formulated mildew treatment, then scrub with a grout brush or a toothbrush. Let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse and repeat if needed. When the walls are dry, give the grout a final misting with the mildew formula for prolonged protection.

You can prevent mold buildup in damp bathrooms or those in humid climates by running a squeegee over the tile after a shower. The same trick will eliminate soap buildup on glass shower doors.

Enviro-Magic Mildew Stain Away Spray, $10, 800-832-5645. Grout Brush from OXO, $6,, 800-545-4411. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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