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The worst cleaning jobs made easy

By Sarah Stebbins, Real Simple
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Tue May 29, 2012
A buildup of dust can harbor allergens and contribute to sinus infections.
A buildup of dust can harbor allergens and contribute to sinus infections.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Decrumb toasters to avoid possibly setting off the smoke alarm
  • Hose down your kitchen trash can every month to eliminate bacteria from growing
  • Lots of dust on the coils can cause a refrigerator to run inefficiently

(CNN) -- The quickest, smartest strategies for battling eight universally despised tasks.

Dirty job No. 1: Changing or emptying the vacuum bag or bin

Time it takes: 5 to 10 minutes.

Why it matters: When the bag is more than half full, the vacuum loses suction. The fuller it gets, the harder the machine works. Eventually it could work so hard, the motor will burn out.

Step 1: Run the vacuum for 30 seconds to push any residual dirt in the machine into the bag. Unplug.

Step 2: 

• If you have a disposable bag: Before pulling out the bag, stick a piece of duct tape over the hole where the bag connects to the vacuum, says Louanna Henning, director of housekeeping at the luxury hotel Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, in Dallas. This will prevent a dust cloud from erupting in your face.

• If you have a reusable cloth bag or a plastic bin (as on a bagless vacuum): Work outdoors. Put the bag or bin inside a garbage bag and shake out the dust, says Debra Johnson, training manager for the Memphis- based Merry Maids cleaning service. Rinse the bag or bin in hot water before reattaching (or toss the bag in the washing machine, then let it air-dry).

Try to do this: Every month or two if you have kids and/or pets; twice a year otherwise.

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Dirty job No. 2: Clearing dead bugs from an overhead fixture

Time it takes: 15 minutes.

Why it matters: The corpses pile up, especially in summer. They're not dangerous to your health, but who wants to look at them?

Step 1: Turn off the light and tape down the switch for safety. Wear an apron with pockets to stash supplies. With a screwdriver and a cotton cloth in your pocket, climb an extra-tall stepladder (try the six-foot Werner 356; $71, amazon.com), which will get you eye to eye with the fixture. Unscrew the dome. Dust the bulb with the cloth.

Step 2: Climb back down and head to the kitchen. Dump any dead bugs into the trash. Line the sink with a large dish towel (to prevent breakage) and place the dome on top, open-side up. Fill with warm water and a squirt of dish soap and let soak.

Step 3: Wipe with a sponge, rinse, and dry. (You can also pop most domes into the dishwasher, says Henning, who does this with all but painted and very delicate covers.)

Step 4: When it's dry, reattach the dome. (Consider switching to frosted-glass domes, which camouflage the body count better than clear ones.)

Try to do this: Whenever you're sick of looking at the bugs.

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Dirty job No. 3: Decrumbing the toaster

Time it takes: 5 to 10 minutes.

Why it matters: Besides being a mess, the crumbs can smoke, stinking up your kitchen and possibly setting off your smoke alarm.

For a toaster

Step 1: Unplug and remove the crumb tray. Dump out the crumbs, then wash the tray with dish soap and wipe dry with a cotton cloth. Hold the toaster upside down over the trash can and gently tap out any remaining crumbs.

For a toaster oven

Step 1: Place a small oven-safe container filled with water inside the oven and heat at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes to soften everything up, says Findley. Unplug the oven and remove the crumb tray and the rack; dump out the crumbs.

Use a plastic spatula to scrape off stuck-on morsels. Wash the tray and the rack with dish soap and wipe dry with a cotton cloth. Wipe the inside and the burners with a damp cloth and a drop of dish soap, then let dry

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Dirty job No. 4: Cleaning ceiling-fan blades

Time it takes: 15 minutes. Why it matters: When dust sits around, dust mites move in. They contribute to allergies and sinus infections. A dusty fan can send mites scattering to bedding and furniture, so it's actually a health risk.

Step 1: Tape down the fan's switch for safety.

Step 2: Spread drop cloths or old sheets on the floor and over any furniture under the fan. Try to cover a radius about twice as wide as the blades.

Step 3: Fill a spray bottle with water and 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar and use it to spritz the inside of a cloth shoe bag or pillowcase. Put on a baseball cap.

Step 4: Standing on an extra-tall stepladder that puts you about a head above the blades, slip the bag or the pillowcase over each blade, pulling it back to trap dust (you can use the same one for all the blades -- just keep maneuvering it to find a clean spot).

Use a cotton cloth for residual grime and to dust the base and the light fixture.  If, however, you have a very high ceiling that's out of range -- say, 12 feet -- use a ceiling-fan duster, like the Unger microfiber duster ($12, acehardware.com).

It is shaped to fit around the blades and screws onto an extension pole ($22 to $48, acehardware.com).

Try to do this: At the beginning and the end of fan season, or every other month if you use the fan year-round.

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Dirty job No. 5: Scouring the kitchen trash can

Time it takes: 15 minutes.

Why it matters: When traces of food and liquid that escape the trash bag are left to fester, mold, mildew, and bacteria can grow, causing a nasty stench. Mold and mildew can also get into the air and exacerbate allergies.

Step 1: Take the can outside and hose it down. Pat dry. (No outdoor space? Work in your bathtub.)

Step 2: Spray the can inside and out with a cleaner designed for pet messes; these products contain enzymes that kill bacteria and neutralize odors, says Mary Findley, a veteran house cleaner and the founder of Mary Moppins, a manufacturer of green cleaning products in Eugene, Oregon.

Step 3: Wearing rubber gloves, scrub the can with a toilet brush or a nylon-bristle broom. Rinse with the hose and towel-dry. Or, even better, let the can dry in the sun. The heat helps eradicate mold.

Try to do this: Every other month or whenever the can smells funky.

Dirty job No. 6: Cleaning heat and air-conditioning vents and radiators

Time it takes: 15 minutes per unit.

Why it matters: A buildup of dust anywhere harbors allergens. And when you're dealing with vents and radiators, this dust is propelled into the room. Also, excessive dust makes your cooling and heating system work harder and therefore costs you money.

For vents

Step 1: Turn off the heat or the air-conditioning. Run the crevice tool of a vacuum over floor and baseboard vents. For ceiling vents, spread a sheet below and wear a baseball cap to shield your hair and eyes; if the crevice tool doesn't reach, use a tool like the Unger duster ($7, amazon.com), with an extension pole ($22 to $48, acehardware.com).

Step 2: Remove the vent covers (all you need is a screwdriver); you'll have to use a stepladder for ceiling vents. Wash covers with dish soap, using a small sponge paintbrush to get into slats (plastic and unpainted aluminum or steel can go in the dishwasher).

If you want to soak the covers to get them extra clean, use only hot water -- prolonged exposure to soap may take the paint off.

Clean inside ducts, as far as you can reach, with the crevice tool or a cobweb duster (Quickie Manufacturing, $9, acehardwareoutlet.com), which has stiff bristles and a rounded head that fits inside ducts. When they're dry, replace the covers.

For radiators

Step 1: Dust between the radiator fins with a bottle brush (Sigg cleaning brush, $13, target.com). Don't use water, which can cause rust.

Dirty job No. 7: Cleaning behind and under the refrigerator

Time it takes: 20 to 30 minutes.

Why it matters: Lots of dust on the coils can cause a refrigerator to run inefficiently. And dust under the refrigerator can mix with moisture from the air to gum up the finish on your floor.

Step 1: Pull out the refrigerator by grasping both sides and gently wiggling it toward you; some are on wheels, so this may be easier than you think. When you can, reach behind and pull the plug (your food will survive for the short time it takes to clean).

If you have an ice maker, shut off the water supply first, just in case the hose comes loose.

Step 2: To dislodge dust around the condenser coils (the wriggly apparatus in back), use a long, thin tool known as a refrigerator-coil brush (Rubbermaid, $9, acehardware.com), then gently vacuum with a brush attachment.

Some refrigerators have their condenser coils behind a removable grille in the front. If yours does, snap off or unscrew the grille and clean the coils, as above.

Step 3: Wipe down the wall, the back of the refrigerator, and the sides with a damp cotton cloth and a little dish soap. Then vacuum and clean the floor.

A solution of 1⁄3 cup white vinegar and ½ gallon warm water is a safe bet for most surfaces, except tile and stone. For those, use plain hot water or a tile or stone cleaner like StoneTech Professional Stone & Tile Cleaner ($10 a quart, stonetechdirect.com).

Step 4: After the floor is completely dry, plug in the refrigerator and slide it into place. If you've turned off the water, switch it back on.

Try to do this: Twice a year.

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Dirty job No. 8: Scrubbing shower doors and tiles

Time it takes: 10 to 15 minutes.

Why it matters: If they're ignored for too long, mold and mildew can seep into the grout, and there may be no way to remove them. A buildup of soap scum can discolor ceramic and stone tile.

Step 1: Spray the walls with an all-purpose cleaner, then go at them with a stiff-bristle scrub brush (Bar Brush, $9, oxo.com). For heavy soap scum, mold, and mildew, use a stronger cleaner, like Marblelife Maxout Tile and Grout (from $10, marblelife.com).

When it comes to grout lines, Leigh Gansberg, director of housekeeping at the Carlyle hotel, in New York City, swears by the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge ($3, walgreens.com). Just dampen it and rub it over the grout -- the cleaner is inside the sponge. If you prefer an eco-friendly version, try the Stain Eraser ($17, goclean.com).

Step 2: (for those with shower doors): Use glass cleaner or, if you're dealing with serious soap scum or hard-water spots, undiluted white vinegar that has been heated to boiling (just be careful). A scrub brush can scratch glass, so use a microfiber cloth or, for gentle abrasion, a nonscratch scrubbing sponge.

 A trick for shower-door tracks: Pour a little vinegar into the track, let sit for a few minutes, then rub with the scrub brush and towel-dry. No need to rinse. After a shower or two, the vinegar smell will be gone.

Try to do this: Every other week for light cleaning (using the all-purpose cleaner); once a month for the shower-door tracks.

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