Monday, January 16, 2012

What's the Plan?

A New Year has come and spring will soon be upon us -- can Spring Cleaning be far behind? Some of us approach Spring Cleaning with thrill and excited delight while others of us are filled with a cold black dread. Spring Cleaning does sound rather ominous, enormous, overwhelming and frightful... but if you think about it (it's just a thought -- it can't hurt you) Spring Cleaning is not really about "cleaning" -- it is more about Cleaning OUT. It's about picking things up, putting things in their proper places. It is about figuring out what's broke and what to do about it... Spring Cleaning is about getting ready to start over. I like the sound of that. To Cleared Paths and Fresh Beginnings:

But where does one begin? I like to begin with a list which I keep in a notebook. I go from room to room and list what's gotta go, what's gotta get fixed, what's gotta get replaced and what can't I do myself.

Let's say I start in the living room -- I stand at the doorway with my trusty notebook and I make the following notes -- Remove Christmas tree, find a better home for sneakers and hats, sort through armoire, repair window shade, replace pillows, have broken window repaired.

That's it -- in ten minutes I have begun spring cleaning -- practically painless.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Brushes, Scrubbers, Rags vs. Paper Towels

Now that we've fussed over the products, the what cleans what portion of cleaning, there is the question of how to smear the cleaners around. I will try to be brief... I will!!! 

Brushes I use on multi-level surfaces -- like tile and grout, screens, faucets -- any surface where you need to get into funny little places. 

Scrubbers -- like Scotch-Brite scrub pads -- I cut them in half so they fit my hand better. These are used to get rough with stuck on grime, food, gummy filth. They can be used on wood  (carefully), paint, plastic, laminate, stone, tile, porcelain, iron, ceramic -- most hard surfaces but NOT STAINLESS! (On stainless use nothing more abrasive than a paper towel.)

Magic Erasers -- admittedly I was at first skeptical of these unsubstantial looking sponges. The great claims that they magically remove stains, scuff marks, crayon, soap scum, tar, and all manner of icky filth and grime struck me as hyperbole of the worst order. Frankly, I think they are too expensive to use like a scrubbing sponge, to wet and powder with Comet and scrub a tub -- way too pricey. What they do a superior job on, however, is grime -- like grease built up on a stove or tea kettles or pots. Used dry, rub over the greasy grime, the kind of grime that defies even ammonia, and magically the grime disappears. 

Rags -- There are rags and there are rags. There are folks who dump old T-shirts, jeans, socks, whatever in the cleaning rag bag and never figure out why their cleaning rags don't clean... Proper cleaning rags need to be, first of all, clean. Dirty old shirts are not what I want to clean a table on which I plan to eat. Secondly, cleaning rags have to be absorbent -- We are not interested in smearing around our cleaning products -- we want to rub the cleaning products in and lift the dirt out. So if you are going to use rags, use actual terry cloth rags made specifically for cleaning. Toss the old clothes in the rubbish bin. 

Rags are all right to a point... but how many rags will you need to clean a room or an entire house. We can't wipe up window cleaner now and then wipe up furniture polish with the same soaked dirty rag -- the result will be a smeary mess. 

If you are intent on using rags then plan your strategy accordingly. Dry dust first, smack at dusty lamp shades and pesky cobwebs with clean dry rags. Next, polish all furniture with the same rag. Wash all windows with a fresh rag. Finally, if doing floors on your hands and knees, use the window rag or a new rag -- not the furniture polish rag. 

For me it is Paper Towels all the way -- they are fresh each and every time you reel off a new one -- you can use as many or as few as necessary. Shiny things get shiny, grimy things get rubbed and scrubbed. 

There are those who instantly remark that rags are the more Earth conscious choice... except we have to wash them -- soap, water, electricity. And dry them -- tumble tumble in the gas or electric drier (yes, we can hang them on the line, no we are not likely to.)

For my time and money -- Paper Towels. Hands down. You can, if you want, mix it up -- rags for floors, paper towels for everything else... 

I know for sure I can clean a house entirely with paper towels -- not entirely with a pile of rags... which ever you use have them on hand and ready to go -- Ready, Set, Clean! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Praise of Bleach!!!

Yea Bleach!!! Bleach often saves the day, makes a tough stain disappear and makes a long job into a quick fix. Yea Bleach.

Lets talk about the properties of bleach (briefly). Bleach is a chemical -- it is featured on the Periodic Table of Elements -- let's NOT go there... 'k. Good.

For our purposes, here is what we need to know about bleach -- it serves three functions:
1. Bleach whitens.
2. Bleach disinfects (kills germs).
3. Oxidizes metals

In the above photo you will see my three favorite forms of bleach -- household laundry bleach, bleach infused in a cleanser, like Comet, and a super concentrated bleach in the bathroom cleaner, Tilex.. 

When we are cleaning with bleach we need to be particularly careful to not mix bleach with other chemicals -- doing so can be dangerous and deadly. (I am far from an alarmist -- I think the world is far better off with a lot less Nerf... but I will say this, use bleach with caution.) 

Assuming we are going to play nice and not mix bleach with other chemicals, like ammonia or CLR... let's talk about the fabulous things bleach can do for you: 

Before we go on, lets be clear -- bleach does NOT CLEAN ANYTHING. It does not cut grime, it does not wash away dirt. It bleaches. It sanitizes. It deodorizes. But it does NOT clean anything. If your stove is dirty, bleach will not help you. If the floor is filthy, pass bleach on by. What it does do it does great, but bleach does NOT clean. 

Bleach sanitizes, deodorizes, whitens, brightens fabrics, metals and  water surfaces, such as sheets, towels, socks, toilets, sinks, tubs, bottles, toys, bird baths, ice chests, refrigerator seals... The list goes on. If you need to kill mold, mildew or algae, bleach is your weapon. If you need to remove dyes and stains from linens and clothing, assuming they are white, bleach is the best thing going. 

Bleach is NOT great for all white clothing -- it will yellow polyester and cause white Rayon to go gray. Use only on natural fibers -- cotton, wool, linen, ramie -- and only sparingly. 

To use in the home -- pour a 1/2 cup on bleach in the toilet, top with a sprinkle of Comet and leave sit for 10 minutes of so.

For an odor coming from a kitchen sink, bath tub or shower drain,  pour a 1/2 cup down the drain AFTER thoroughly cleaning with such products as Comet or ammonia or CLR and giving a thorough rinse . You may need to resort to bigger guns -- like a drain cleaner or a plumber, but a 1/2 cup of bleach is a good place to start. 

In and around bath and kitchen sink drains, remove the stopper, if you dare. Remove the stopper in the bathroom (sometimes easier said than done).  If you can remove it you might see that it is black from top to bottom. This is common mold -- and it's icky. I like to set such a mold covered item in a ceramic bowl, cover with water and add a 1/2 cup of bleach -- leave it sit for several minutes to several hours. You may need to scrub with a cleanser and a tooth brush. (I do this while the water is running it's not quite so ooky!)

Now take a look at the rubber gasket in the garbage disposal. If it's never been cleaned, beware -- not for the squeamish. Most kitchen sink odors are the result of mold infused drains and gaskets. I clean these gaskets using a bleach cleanser (Comet/Ajax, on a textured scrubber -- Scotch Brite) with the water slightly running. Scrub, rinse, scrub, rinse. 

Additionally, in the kitchen, bleach is the best for making coffee and tea stains disappear from pale laminate counters. 

Another spot for bleach is the ridged refrigerator seal. Take a look, if it is supposed to be white you might notice that it's very black. Using a paper towel or cotton ball, dip into a bowl of bleach and wipe the seal making sure all the mold is removed as you go. 

A better cleaner for that seal is actually vinegar. It not only removes mold faster, but keeps mold from coming back far longer. Vinegar appears to act as a mild bleaching agent -- it is actually an acid, but there we are, back on the Period Table of Elements and we did not want to go there.

While we have a bowl of bleach, soak the kitchen and bath faucets, where the water comes out and wipe with a paper towel or cloth. Don't be surprised to find large pieces of mold floating in the bowl... in warm months especially, faucets are an optimum breeding ground for mold. 

If you have ever seen plastic squeeze bathtub toys look black from the inside out, this is mold growing inside. To wage war on the mold and to sanitize plastic toys, fill a sink with hot hot hot water -- add a cup of bleach and dunk in the toys. For the squeaky-type bathtub toys, squeeze the air out, hold under bleach water, release the squeeze (to make water suck into the toy, shake and squeeze to remove the bleach water. 

Should your stainless steel flatware start looking dull, dump it in a large bowl or sink filled with hot water and a 1/2 cup of bleach. It takes only a few moments. Submerge the stainless silverware, dump, rinse and dry. 

Bleach does wonders with stainless steel -- even refrigerators. If your stainless fridge is looking dull and mottled, spray with a bleach solution of 1/2 cup of bleach to a quart of hot water. Wipe dry with a paper towel. It will look brighter, but it won't shine nice. Bleach dries too quickly and leaves a bit of residue. Once the fridge is dry, clean as usual with an ammonia solution or an oil-based fridge cleaner. Your fridge will glisten! 

For plastic storage containers that have acquired a stain or an odor, try bleach. 1/2 cup bleach to ever quart of water -- and here's a tip -- squirt a bit of acidic (lemon) dish detergent. You will see the detergent foam up almost immediately -- it will also get hot and clean the plastic better. (red food stains, such as tomato may be permanent).      

To sanitize water, to be safe for drinking, assuming you get stuck miles and miles from the nearest sanitary tap or bottle of water, you need very little bleach to make your water clean and safe. 1 part bleach to 100 parts water. 

Bleach is essential for cleaning a house -- for killing mold, whitening stains, sanitizing surfaces. Use it -- a little goes a long long way!    

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Works For Wood???

Wood can be tricky. For our purposes we are talking about everyday, pedestrian, non-museum quality furniture. If you have spectacular wooden antique furniture in need of cleaning, consult a professional antiques restorer.

For the rest of us, walk this way -- Wood finishes are not all the same. Some wood is finished with a clear polyurethane (permanent), some with shellac (semi-permanent) and some with (short-term finish) none of which are treated equally. (There are other finishes -- polycrylic, varnish, tung oil -- but the three mentioned are the basics and we'll stick with those. There are ways to tell the differences... but take care so as to not damage the furniture piece. 

Polyurethane, whether gloss or satin, has a plastic sheen on top of the wood which is mostly impervious to drink spills and food stains -- however, do not sit hot dishes directly onto the wood -- a white hazy stain will likely appear and not recede. Clean with whatever's handy -- polish, ammonia mix, water. Spray and wipe to a clean shine. Polyurethane looks lovely, holds up to heavy traffic use, but once damaged it is not forgiving.

What I like about good quality commercial polishes, like Pledge, is that they work -- they do a nice job cleaning and shining. Occasionally a client will disapprove of a commercial polish because she feels it may cause wax build up. These cleaners don't contain wax -- rather than wax build-up, what they are seeing is the product evaporating -- which means it needs to be polished again. Pledge makes several products, one might be better fit for one particular wood finish over another. Try them to see which one works best for you. 

Shellac is a sealer that leaves wood sealed from within, as opposed to on top of the wood. Clean a shellacked piece of furniture with furniture oil, bee's wax or commercial polish like Pledge. If using a wax or an oil, work across the grain, so the polish oozes into the pores of the wood. Remove as much of the excess as possible and wipe, wipe, wipe, shine, shine shine. 

A wax finish looks like no finish -- it looks like naked wood. If the surface is very dirty clean it with mineral spirits -- pour mineral spirits onto a cloth and wipe. Re-wax with bee's wax or paste wax, work it into the pores of the wood and buff to a high shine. 

When the wood furniture is clean the whole room feels clean. Ahhhh. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Losing Natalie

Immediately after my last post Natalie, the dark larger dog in this photo was diagnosed with a very large abdominal tumor... and my world blew up. I am not sure why I thought she would always be here... except it seemed she always had been . Since that day 12 years ago when she leaped into my van and we drove away like bandits in the night (I quite literally stole her from bad people) Natalie had been my right hand, my protector, my common sense... I breathed better because she was here. And when she was sick I was helpless to return the favor, to save her, to protect her... to make it all better for her.

There was no way to know how much time we had... the tumor caused her labored breathing, it interfered with her intestines. I may have moved heaven and Earth to have the tumor removed if the vet felt it were operable... but we didn't get very good news. "Take her home, love her, make her comfortable..." At 12, in addition to the tumor, she had an enlarged heart, gall stones and something about the thyroid...

And so I did... till the morning very recently when she woke up unable to walk... her back legs were weak, her balance was off... and you just know...

They let me stay with her the whole time... in the back of my mind I knew that up till the very last minute I could change my mind, scoop her up, run away... but I didn't... we laid on the floor till the very end...till her labored breathing stopped... and she was gone.

At home she was lain in her grave, wrapped in a blanket. I brought out Talia, the younger dog, who sniffed her face all over, Natalie's nose, her eyes, her ears. Talia looked at me, sniffed her again and backed away. The recognition of death enveloped her, took her to places she'd never been to before...

In our home, the dynamics have shifted. Talia doesn't know when to pee, I'm not certain we are safe from the things that go bump in the night... so we got a new dog from a rescue group. A sweet bundle of silly nonsense who was scheduled to be done away with too soon. It is not the same as with Natalie... but Talia has perked up and the shroud of death has lifted. We are distracted and she is fitting in. Natalie might have even liked her -- the way she mostly liked everyone... Especially Natalie would have liked that I am back to putting one foot in front of the other and am once again getting things done.

So I am back, ready to work, ready to share, to help clean up our homes so we can all make the most of our lives.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Amazing Little Workhorse -- CLR

I came late to CLR (Calcium-Lime-Rust Remover). It seemed to me expensive and unnecessary. What did I know? 

Some 85% of American homes are affected by hard-water, which shows itself as white crusty spots on sinks, faucets, shower doors, frames, and any place there is running water. Calcium, unchecked, can manifest itself by covering over the holes in faucets and inside dishwashers. It can make an otherwise clean bathroom look dirty. It can cause corrosion on expensive-to-replace bath and kitchen fixtures. It can permanently damage porcelain sinks and toilets.

If you see crusty white spots inside sinks, coating faucets, splattered on the refrigerator grate of the water dispenser, clouding your drinking glasses and glass coffee pot, you too have hard-water. A water softener will help -- but it will not remove hard-water stains already in place. 

There is an acidic property to vinegar that will help -- used weekly vinegar goes a long way to reducing hard-water stains. Also vinegar can be used in places, where CLR cannot, such as through a cycle of the coffee maker. (Heating CLR in a coffeemaker turns the product into an dangerous vapor that should not be breathed by humans or pets.) Heating vinegar, while not especially pleasant, posing far less danger if exposed to breathing the vinegar vapors.

Though using vinegar on heavily stained surfaces, such as shower doors, frames and faucets, will help over time, you will see dramatic immediate results upon using CLR.  

CLR, sold in a pour bottle, is not likely intended to be sprayed this way, which tells us we should use all possible caution. Spray small amounts, always spray away from the face and never in an enclosed area (like a shower with the doors closed -- I do it, but I am telling you not to do it -- spray a rag, towel or cloth to wipe into the shower doors.) The helpful aspect of a spray bottle is being able to direct the product right where you want it -- onto the shower nozzle, between the faucet and the sink, onto the shower door track. 

CLR should be used full strength and not diluted with water -- it loses potency very quickly. 

A similar product is Lime-Away, which can be used interchangeably with CLR -- it has some properties that work better, others not so much. The Lime-Away sold in a spray bottle appears to not be as strong as the original non-spray formula.

Spray on CLR and leave for one minute to five minutes to allow the product do it's job before wiping off. Dazzling isn't it? Who knew that under all that white powdery stain was a brand new clean and shimmering shine? 

Once the calcium has been removed, wash away the CLR residue by  cleaning thoroughly with a spray of vinegar or light ammonia solution.  

If your shower nozzle is heavily crusted with calcium you can suspend a bag of CLR directly onto the nozzle so that the nozzle is submerged -- careful, it's tricky. OR, assuming the nozzle is removable, pour CLR into a plastic container and dunk your shower head right into vat of CLR -- leave it sit the entire afternoon. 

CLR is the best -- it removes calcium and lime deposits on surfaces we thought were ruined for good. 

As it happens, at $7 per 42 ounce bottle of CLR, the cost is a smidge more than .16c per ounce. Using it in a spray bottle allows it to be sprayed directly where needed, which results in less waste. In cleaning the average home, two bathrooms and one kitchen, I use about 6 ounces of CLR or less than a $1 -- not so over the top expensive at all. And worth every penny when one considers how the cost to replace corroded faucets and ruined shower glass, it's practically free.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Everything you need to know about Ammonia -- but wouldn't bother to ask.

Ammonia, ammonia... I live and breath ammonia!! When it comes to cleaning supplies, ammonia is the living end. It cleans everything. It cleans floors, it cleans windows, it cleans paint, it cleans plastic (it isn't supposed to clean granite, but, shhh, sometimes it does) When it comes to cleaning supplies, ammonia very nearly does it all. It cuts grease, grime, hairspray, stuck on food, floor wax. It serves as an excellent pre-treater in heavy traffic areas prior to carpet cleaning. Ammonia is the house cleaning workhorse.

HOWEVER -- the key to working safely with ammonia depends entirely on it being adequately diluted. Chemists know that ammonia is a gas and in usable household form it has been suspended in water... blah, blah, blah, on and on, whatever. All we want to know, no offense to the chemists intended, is how to make ammonia work as a quick, easy and cheap cleaner.

I buy regular household ammonia -- not Professional Janitorial Strength, which will strip the veins off the inside of your eyelids.  This little two quart bottle is about $2 and compares itself to Parsons (which is wonderful stuff). My preference is lemon scented... not that it really smells much like lemons... In a 25 oz. spray bottle pour between 5 to 10 oz. of ammonia. Fill the bottle with water.

There, for about .35c, you have a perfect blend of ammonia in a perfect vessel to flit about the house cleaning way up high and way down low.  Grubby finger prints on the fridge, God knows what on the counter, paw prints on the floor, that icky place between the window and the screen... windows, switch plates... it's all ammonia all the time.

If you are wondering how I go about cleaning floors with this stuff, you might not like what I have to say -- I clean floors on all fours. I know, everybody uses one of those cute little mops... if your cute mop allows you to fill the water reservoir then you can fill it with ammonia and water. What I do is sweep the floor of excess dust and debris. With a roll of paper towels in one hand and a spray bottle of ammonia in the other, I get down on all fours, spray the dirty floor, wipe it up with paper towels. (We'll have a whole paper towels vs terry cloth rags discussion another time.) I don't know what other floor cleaners cost, I do know that with an ammonia water spray and a length of paper towels I can clean a floor for under $1 and leave no residue behind.

As an aside, when I attack a kitchen or bath I clear away all the clutter, then I can spray away from left to right, top to bottom all the way around the room.

Mirrors: The key to a sparkling mirror is in the dry, not the wet. Dampness left on a mirror will result in    water spots. Wipe mirrors and glass dry for the cleanest possible clean.

Grimy surfaces: Let the product do it's job. Allow the ammonia and water solution to sit on a heavily soiled surface for several minutes before wiping it up. This can be tough on vertical surfaces but spray and spray again.

Water spots in a shower: This is not a job for ammonia -- next product discussion will be on Limeaway/ CLR (Calcium-Lime_Rust). Ammonia can clean quite a lot -- but it can't do everything.

Meanwhile De-clutter, Dust, Shine and Done!

If you have any specific cleaning questions please leave them in the comments and I will answer them here.