A set of durable, versatile cleaning tools will make the work go easier.
Whether used for wet or dry cleaning, mops are the foot soldiers in the battle for clean floors. Every organized home needs at least two: a wet mop, to pick up wet spills and wash hard-surface floors; and a dry mop, to collect dry dust, dirt, and pet hair.
When choosing a mop for wet cleaning, bear in mind its purpose; not only should it dissolve dirt, but it must also lift it from the floor and remove it. For this reason, avoid string mops. They are heavy to lift, awkward to use and nearly impossible to rinse clean.
Instead, look for large-headed wet mops with a swivel base and removable terry covers. These innovative tools do dual duty; a dry cover makes quick work of spilled liquids, while a cover wrung out in cleaning solution dissolves and lifts dirt easily. As the cover becomes soiled, simply replace it with a freshly wrung one.
To finish, a dry cover polishes away the last of the water and since the terry covers can be machine-washed and dried, then reused, you’ll avoid the expense and environmental problems of disposable mop liners.
Sponge mops, too, offer efficient cleaning for spills and floors. Larger cleaning heads make the job fly faster. Because these mops get a workout, make sure hinge mechanisms are made of metal; plastic won’t stand up to the job.
Dry mops are available in many forms. Small disposable mops have the advantage of sliding easily into tight corners and are a favorite with young helpers, but they can be flimsy and replacement pads are expensive.
Reusable microfiber mops offer a less costly alternative. Some microfiber mops use hook-and-loop tape to attach washable dry-mop pads to the mop face. Others replace disposable pads with reusable microfiber sheets. Use them on dry soil and to sweep up crumbs in the kitchen.
When buying a dry mop, examine the handle and hinge assembly. Mopping stresses these areas, so look for metal connectors and swivels.
These come in three basic types: push, synthetic and corn. Push brooms are made from synthetic bristles arrayed in a wide flat base. They’re used to sweep large areas like the center of indoor rooms, garages, and patios. Rougher bristles allow the push broom to tackle irregular surfaces. Choose a push broom with tacked-in bristles, avoiding brooms that are merely glued together. Look for a metal coupling between the handle and the head; the stresses of sweeping will wear out plastic fittings quickly.
Angled synthetic brooms are lightweight and work well to clean near baseboards, behind furniture and in corners. Use them indoors, as their lighter weight makes them impractical for heavier outdoor jobs. Store synthetic brooms head-up to avoid bending the bristles.
Corn brooms are made from natural bristles, and they’re the all-purpose solution for sweeping chores. Pair them with a dustpan for quick kitchen cleanups; the rough bristles do a superior job on flooring material with a coarse or pitted surface that holds dirt, such as brick or concrete.
When buying a corn broom, look for a smooth, strong handle and multiple rows of stitching to hold the bristles in place. Store the corn broom head-up to prevent the bristles from bending. As the broom ages, trim the bristles an inch or so to restore it to youthful vigor.
The corn broom has flexible bristles that reach easily into corners. A push broom clears large spaces quickly. A whisk broom makes short work of spills and crumbs.
Equipped with proper filtration, a vacuum cleaner swoops up dust finally and forever and removes it from the home. Vacuum cleaners come in two basic styles: canister and upright. Generally, upright vacuums do a better job on carpeting, are less expensive, and easier to store, while the canister vac does a superior job on hard flooring, stairs, and hard-to-reach places, such as automobile seats. For dusting, use the vacuum’s extension hose and specialty heads, such as an upholstery brush, dust brush or crevice tool.
A handheld mini-vac comes in handy for stairs, tight corners and small spills. Choose a mini-vac model with disposable bags for best air quality. Rechargeable mini-vacs are cordless and convenient.
Where there’s life, there’s dust! Household dust is an airborne mix of soil particles, lint, insect parts, animal dander, pollen, molds and fungi. Dust comes in through the open window or door, or hitches a ride inside on shoes and clothing. It is stirred into the air by walking or careless dusting. Airborne dust irritates breathing passages and triggers allergic reactions in sensitive people. As it falls, it settles on fixtures, surfaces and floors, and clogs furnace filters and refrigerator coils, causing these appliances to work harder and consume more energy. Because dust is abrasive, walking on dusty floors can damage carpet, vinyl, or hardwood floors.
Regular dust removal is essential for a clean and well-kept home. Try the following tools and techniques to control dust.
What’s the pedigree of a great dust cloth? It’s white, and it’s made of 100 percent cotton. Cotton is absorbent, trapping dust instead of scattering it, and it won’t scratch fine furniture. White dust cloths show the dirt as you work and are washable, reusable and may be bleached. For an eco-friendly, frugal touch, recycle and repurpose old-fashioned unfolded diapers, squares of terry toweling or stained damask napkins as durable dust cloths.
A lambswool duster with a long handle extends your reach and is useful for dusting delicate, detailed items. Long wool fibers attract and hold fine dust until you release it outside by twirling the wand firmly between your palms.
Electrostatic Dry Cleaning Cloths
Made of special microfibers that attract and trap dust, these cloths are superb for cleaning electronic equipment or removing fine, blown-in soil. Choose washable, reusable cloths over disposables.
Tools to Avoid
Paper towels contain wood pulp products that can scratch delicate surfaces. Feather dusters move dust into the air instead of collecting it, they can’t be washed, and a broken quill can scratch delicate surfaces.
Collect, don’t scatter. The number one goal for dusting: to collect and remove dust, not scatter it. Forget images of flapping dust cloths. Instead, dust with the calm and controlled motions of a Tai Chi practitioner. Coax dust motes into your tools; don’t disperse them into the air so that they resettle on the surfaces you are trying to clean.
Dust top to bottom. When dusting, it’s inevitable that some dust will fly, no matter how careful the cleaner. Give yourself a second chance to collect escaped dust particles by starting at the top and working down: ceiling fan or light fixtures, wall-hung artwork, window moldings, furniture and baseboards.
Dust damp. Use just-damp dust cloths as you work. The moisture will attract and hold dust. But beware of too much moisture. It can harm wood furniture and delicate surfaces. As an alternative, spritz your cloth with an aerosol dusting spray. Never spray surfaces directly; spray the cloth instead to avoid buildup and overuse of these products.
When it comes to cleaning, some household areas are all wet: rooms such as the bathroom or kitchen, which contain a water source and are home to food preparation, bathing or grooming activities. Water splashes, soap film, airborne grease and smoke from cooking, and overspray from personal-care products combine with household dust to up the cleaning ante in a wet room.
To clean a wet room, you’ll use a greater number of cleaning products and cleaning tools than when cleaning a dry room. In the cleaning tote, rely on degreasers/all-purpose cleaners to cut through oily dirt and dissolve dried-on stains. Pair a degreasing spray with a good supply of fresh cleaning cloths; using a fresh cloth makes sure you remove the loosened soil, not just spread it about in a more even layer. To save money and go green, stock cleaning totes with homemade window cleaner, white vinegar and baking soda for sparkling kitchens and bathrooms.
Keep specialty tools like scrapers and abrasive scrubbing pads at the ready; they’ll help you deal with sticky smears and blobs on counters and fixtures. Always spray the area generously with degreaser spray before scraping; the cleaner helps loosen dirt and protects the surface from scratching. A cleaning toothbrush reaches into cracks and crevices; use it in corners, the grout between tiles, and around the rim of sinks and fixtures. The toothbrush’s long handle will keep your knuckles out of the fray; stiff bristles work best to scrape out hardened food or entrenched mold.
The presence of water often requires specialty cleaners. Depending on the content of the water supply, you may need to use limescale remover to treat hard-water deposits, or rust remover for reddish stains in areas with iron in the water supply. Handle these power cleaners with great respect, following the directions on the label.
A casual approach to cleaning can be risky to your clothing! Tackling cleaning chores dressed in a nightgown or in office clothes isn’t just haphazard; it’s dangerous.
Take cleaning seriously and dress for the job. Avoid loose clothing that will catch on handles or interfere with tools. Comfortable clothing that provides a free range of motion keeps the cleaner on the job longer, and more happily. Washable clothing is a must; a white cotton T-shirt or top will be easiest to keep stain-free.
Wear sturdy, supportive shoes; these protect feet from injury. Avoid wearing footwear that is easy to slide out of, such as flip-flops, especially if using a step stool. Springy sneakers or lace-up walking shoes keep you on your feet, and protect toes from splashed cleaning solutions or a dropped tool. Add a cleaning apron with pockets for further protection, and to keep tools and cleaners close at hand. If your apron has side loops, hang spray bottles of cleaning solution from them ready for use. Line apron pockets with plastic bags to corral bits of trash. Stockpile a stack of cleaning cloths in one pocket, a cleaning sponge in another. You’re dressed to clean.
Excerpted from Houseworks, by Cynthia Townley Ewer
Text Copyright © 2006, 2010, Cynthia Townley Ewer, extracts from Houseworks, reproduced with permission from Dorling Kindersley Limited