High-Speed Cleaning

Got a life? Then you probably don't want to spend any more time on housework than you have to. Here's how to clean your house better and faster.

Tips for Speed Cleaning

High-Speed Cleaning

Monday, laundry.
Tuesday, baking.
Wednesday, windows and floors.

Although that may have been your mother's or your grandmother's weekly schedule, let's face it ? we don't have the time or perhaps even the inclination to spend day in and day out making everything spick-and-span as Mom or Nana did.

"The era when women took care of the house full time and men earned the living is long gone," says Jeff Campbell, founder of the San Francisco housecleaning service called the Clean Team and author of several books on cleaning, including Speed Cleaning.

Jeff, a former Pacific Bell marketing manager, is the guru of fast, efficient cleaning. Get in, get out ? and then go to the movies. Or, for Jeff's teams of housecleaners, it's get in, get out and move on to the next customer. It was, in fact, the need to create a training manual for his employees that led him to develop his breathless speed-cleaning method. Since the company's founding in 1979, Jeff and his housecleaners have met monthly to compare notes, test and revise cleaning sequences, and hone them to a virtual art form.

So How Does It Work?

Basically it's a step-saving system that allows you to move around the house once (except for the floors, which are washed or vacuumed last). With tools in hand ? or around your waist in a multi-pocket apron ? work from top to bottom, tracking, which Jeff considers the most common cleaning mistake people make.

"If you follow the method," he says, "it's incredible how much more quickly cleaning goes. It takes less energy. You cut out unnecessary trips."

But you must have the right tools to get the most out of every movement: 100 percent cotton cloths, a professional toothbrush for getting into tight spots, scrapers, an ostrich-feather duster and ? my personal favorite ? a pumice stone for rubbing out toilet-bowl stains. Jeff sells the products through his catalog, but you can find similar items at local retailers.

Then the system itself. And you have to follow the rules without exception:

  • Make every move count.
  • Use the right tools.
  • Work from top to bottom.
  • If it isn't dirty, don't clean it.
  • Don't rinse or wipe a surface before it's clean.
  • Don't keep working after it's clean.
  • If what you're doing isn't working, shift to a heavier-duty cleaner or tool.
  • Keep your tools in impeccable shape.
  • Repetition makes for smoother moves.
  • Pay attention.
  • Keep track of your time.
  • Use both hands.
  • If more than one person is available, work as a team.

Jeff says his method works whether you live alone or have five kids, two dogs and a parakeet. But it has to be done regularly so the schmutz doesn't accumulate.

"How often? It doesn't have to do with size," he says, "but with how the house is lived in. In most houses it needs to be done every week or two." This is maintenance cleaning, not heavy-duty spring cleaning, he points out. But you can build in seasonal jobs if you want.

Involve the Whole Family

Although 65 percent of Jeff's customers are women, he believes it's best to involve the whole family. "Some husbands have a fairly good excuse ? that they don't know how to clean ? but teaching is a big part of the equation," he says. "Speed cleaning is kind of linear, which appeals to men. Being good at something and being fast is satisfying."

As for the kids, "Children you have a little bit of clout with. And by teaching your children, you can spark an interest," he says. "Make it a game; do it together, and add rewards."

He suggests giving children assignments based on their skills, even if you know you'll have to do the task over yourself. As the kids get older, gradually make the assignments more challenging.

Jeff is no Heloise, so he doesn't offer helpful cleaning tips. "You can't learn much from a hint or tip," he insists. "You need to know the system."

Not only does it free up time, it also inspires cohabitants to keep up the daily chores. "If you get the regular cleaning under control, it encourages you to do the daily stuff to keep the place civilized," he says.

Who cleans the Speed Cleaner's abode? "I clean my own house," says Jeff. "I enjoy cleaning. When I worked for the phone company, my job was to install phone systems for big companies. I'd write up papers that went to different departments, and six months later something would happen. But when you clean your house, there's immediate satisfaction, and you get all the credit."

Caron Golden is a San Diego-based writer and editor.

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