The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to clean five tricky household items that you might be avoiding

Placeholder while article actions load

Sometimes we avoid cleaning certain items because we’re not sure how to do it.

After all, home staples such as baskets aren’t sold with a care label.

It isn’t just about googling the problem and going with the first click, says Stephanie Sisco, home director for Real Simple. “Although we learn to clean many things from our families growing up,” Sisco says, there are gaps. “Today, people go on the Internet or read a trusted book on cleaning,” she says. “But sometimes it’s hard to find the most practical way to clean something. Most of us just want to get it done quickly.”

Appliances that work hard to keep a house running need cleaning, too

Everyone has a list of hard-to-clean items they dread dealing with. Here are five common ones, as well as some solutions from experts.


When you ask willow-basket maker and Norwich, N.Y., artist Bonnie Gale how to clean a basket, you get a surprising answer. “Baskets don’t really need cleaning. As part of their aging process, they take on a marvelous patina,” says Gale, who teaches basket making and has made custom baskets for historical sites such as Mount Vernon. But she agrees that sometimes dust and dirt or mold might need to be removed from baskets, especially if they are used to store vegetables. Wiping with a dry cloth or brushing with a soft brush could remove some of the dust and dirt, she says. If you need to scrub off something more serious, a soft brush dipped into a bowl of soapy water could be used lightly on the basket.

Two things she says you don’t want to do with your baskets: submerge them in water (they could swell) or use bleach on them (it could change their ­color).


Blinds are often taken for granted, and you can easily forget they need to be cleaned, says Katie Henkes, director of product management at Next Day Blinds. The company website has a cleaning chart to encourage customers to take regular care of their blinds, which will help them last longer and look better.

For cleaning wood or faux-wood blinds, roller shades, or metal mini-blinds, Henkes recommends running a vacuum brush attachment over them. A dry microfiber cloth will also work, but not for roller shades. If you have a stain on your roller shades, spot clean using a mild detergent that is not oil-based, mixed in a bit of water. If you have honeycomb shades, it’s very important to vacuum them at least twice a year, because overly soiled shades can be tricky to get clean again. If yours are beyond home rescue, consider a professional ultrasonic cleaning.

She also has a couple of hacks. Don’t spray glass cleaners on your blinds: The harsh chemicals in some can leave permanent stains. Wipe faux-wood blinds down with dryer sheets to reduce static cling and dust buildup.


Many of us don’t clean our comforters because they don’t fit in our washing machines, Sisco says. But because you use a comforter every day, it’s important to wash it frequently, as bedding collects skin cells and allergens. But a comforter should not be stuffed into a home washer with no room for the water and cleaning solution to work. “The best thing to do is to take it to a laundromat and use a high-capacity washer,” Sisco says. “Use a mild detergent such as Woolite and use cool water. In the dryer, dry on the delicate setting using dryer balls or tennis balls so that the air can move around and fluff out the stuffing and filling.”

Check the care label before washing, especially if you have a down comforter. If your comforter needs freshening between washes, spritz it with vodka. “It’s actually a proven germ and odor remover,” she says.

Is it time for you to replace these 5 household items?


Spring is a great time to clean your fans, which have probably been hanging unused since the fall gathering grime and dust. Sisco’s solution requires a step ladder and a clean old pillowcase, plus your usual cleaning solution. First, tape down your light switch so nobody turns the ceiling fan on while you are working on it. Stand on the ladder and place the pillowcase around each fan blade, one by one, and then pull it off, wiping the dust off the blade. “Don’t use any cleaning solution on your fan until you first pull off as much of the dust and debris as you can with a pillowcase,” Sisco says. “Then come back with your favorite cleaning solution or a microfiber cloth dipped in warm soapy water.”

Leather upholstery

Christophe Pour ny, a New York antique restorer and author of “The Furniture Bible,” often rehabilitates leather furniture for clients.

He says the best way to clean leather is with soapy water and a very damp cloth. His suggestion for the soap: something gentle, such as Castile soap, Marseille soap or Woolite. Avoid dishwashing soap: It’s too harsh and lathers a lot, making it difficult to wipe off, Pourny says. “An old white cotton T-shirt is the best cloth to use for this,” Pourny says. “Then you can see what kind of grime you’re wiping off.” He recommends wringing out the rag in the solution and then going over the whole piece of furniture.

For stubborn stains such as ink, try rubbing alcohol or lemon juice on a cotton swab. Pourny, who sells his own line of furniture care products, says the most common scratches found on leather seating are rivet marks from jeans. A leather cream can take care of those or other small nicks and help them blend in with the rest of the leather. Wait 24 hours after cleaning until the leather is totally dry to apply any cream. If there is a scratch somewhere other than on the seat, rubbing a bit of shoe polish on it can usually camouflage it.