Hack Your Cleaning Routine with These Genius Tips from Professionals

Experts share their tried-and-true methods for keeping a neat home.

You spend more time vacuuming than you realize, people. Americans spend an average of 40 minutes a day cleaning the house, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which doesn't sound too bad until you do the math and realize that works out to 243 hours a year. That's six, 40-hour weeks of picking up dirty socks, mopping floors and vacuuming dog hair. And guess what? Women spend an average of 59 minutes a day cleaning, three times as much as men. So, gals, you’re spending nine weeks a year cleaning house.

If you're going to spend that much of your life cleaning, you need to know how to make the most of your time so you can get it done and go do something fun. We talked to some experts to get tips on getting your digs squeaky clean, super-fast.

Determine your MIAs.

We all have places in our house we absolutely cannot stand to be messy. Make a list of those spots and focus your energy there, says Melissa Maker, a cleaning expert who owns a cleaning service in Toronto and shares her tips on a YouTube channel with 1.1 million subscribers and in her book "Clean My Space." Maker calls those pet peeve places MIAs, short for Most Important Areas. Clean your MIAs every week, she says, and let the other stuff go a week, two weeks, heck, three weeks before cleaning them.

"The MIA is the place that will make you stressed if it's a mess," Maker says via email. An MIA can be an entire room, or it can be something specific like the walls in your entryway. "MIAs are about setting priorities," Maker says. She also says if your list has more than 10 MIAs on it, edit it.

Living Room With Twin Armchairs

Living Room With Midcentury Armchairs

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Photo by: Haris Kenjar

Haris Kenjar

Use the "wave" approach.

No, not the thing your husband does at ball games when he should be home cleaning the house. It's the 3-Wave System, a sort of housework choreography Maker came up with to making cleaning speedier. You clean in three stages, or waves, in a room. Here's how it works:

Wave 1, Tidying and Organizing: Put an empty bin in the middle of the messy room. Start at the door and move clockwise around the space picking up all the stuff that's out of place – the candy wrappers on the table, the books on the floor, the socks under the sofa – and put them back where they belong if it’s in that room, in the bin if the items belong in another place in the house, or in the trash bag you also have with you.

Wave 2, Cleaning: Now that the clutter's out of the way, you're ready to actually clean. Go back to the door, and dust everything above eye level — the tops of bookcases, light fixtures, cobwebs in the room corners — moving clockwise around the room. Then back to the door, and make another trip clockwise through the room with a damp microfiber cloth to dust and polish all stuff in the middle of your sight — furniture, walls, countertops.

Wave 3, Floors and Finishing Touches: Vacuum upholstery and floors. Take the misplaced items you picked up in Wave 1 back to their rightful places. Take out the trash. You’re done.

It's important to move clockwise through each wave, Maker says. The consistency keeps you from missing a spot, and the repetition keeps you on-task. "You really get into a zone," Maker writes. "You become laser-focused on the task at hand."

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Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Schedule cleaning time.

Figure out how long it takes you to clean a specific room or do a maintenance task, and put it on your calendar in a specific time slot. Schedule tasks as daily, weekly, or monthly appointments, Maker says. If you make dusting the ceiling of the family room a monthly date, you’re less likely to pretend you don't see the spider webs in the room corners. It will be right there on your calendar with the dental appointments and conference calls.

You're thinking, "How do I know how much time to schedule?" Get this: Maker actually sets a timer before she starts a task to see how long it takes her to, say, scrub a bathroom. "I love timing myself because it keeps me accountable and puts the fire under my feet. I don't want to be spending all day cleaning, so if I know how long I've got, I tend to layer on the hustle." This is also how she trains her employees. If setting a new personal best time for kitchen cleaning isn’t your goal, skip the timer and just guesstimate.

Mix deep cleaning with fast cleaning.

You don’t have to scrub every room to perfection every time. It’s OK to do an express clean 75 percent of the time. An express clean is where you clean key points that give you maximum impact in minimum time. It’s a speedy surface clean, and it’s fine most of the time, especially if you do a deep clean every month or so. A deep clean is when you clean every inch of the room, from baseboards to drapes to ceilings. It takes a lot longer.

Pre-treat dirty areas.

Multitask, baby. Before you pick up a microfiber cloth and do the first scrub, walk through the room and notice where the really gross areas are. That wine stain on the carpet. The kid-height dirt smears on the wall. The hard water ring in the toilet. Spray them with cleaner and let them sit while you clean everything else, says Elizabeth Sprinkle Worrell who has owned Bienville Cleaning Service in Mobile, Ala., for more than a decade. "It saves time because the cleaner will do a lot of the work for you," Sprinkle says. "You won’t have to scrub and scrub to get it clean."

Boy's Bathroom with Tree Wallpaper

Tree Wallpaper in Boy's Bathroom

Tree wallpaper contrasted with the white floor and vanity in the homeowners' son's bathroom to create a bright, fun space.

Photo by: Leslee Mitchell

Leslee Mitchell

Break housework into small, task-sized bites.

"My cleaning mantra is, 'every day do a little something'," says Becky Rapinchuk, author of "Simply Clean." She’s opposed to spending two consecutive hours cleaning your house, ever. Cleaning in 10- to 15-minute intervals, a couple of times a day, works just fine, says Rapinchuk, possibly the most Type B cleaning expert, ever. Rapinchuk says your goal shouldn’t be getting your house HGTV-perfect. It should be keeping your house off of a "Hoarders" reboot.

She recommends breaking cleaning tasks into five daily ones and seven weekly ones and putting them on a checklist. Do the five short tasks each day, and one weekly task each day. She also suggests setting a timer while you clean, not to make you move at pulse-raising speed, but to keep you from cleaning for more than 15 minutes. Work a couple of those brief sessions into each day until you complete the daily tasks and the weekly task, then mark them off the list.

"Having a cleaning routine works if you make it flexible and workable with your schedule," Rapinchuk says. But if you miss a day of the routine, she says, don't freak out. Just get back on it the next day. "Embrace a little mess now and then."

Always keep your hands full.

When you're cleaning, never leave a room without taking an item or three with you that needs to be moved to another place in the direction you're heading. For example, when you leave your home office, grab the coffee mugs on your desk and drop them off in the kitchen on your way to the bathroom. Then pick up the dirty hand towel and drop it in the laundry bin on the return trip to the office. This is a trick waiters know, and it's a game changer, Maker says.


Three things our experts agreed on: One, give up the fantasy of your entire house being clean. Unless you spend hours a day pushing a broom, your house will not look like the ones on HGTV. Two, decide which places in your house you can’t stand to be messy and focus your energy there. And three, set up a cleaning routine to help you do the dirty work, even when you don’t want to.

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