correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Elyse Moody, senior editor at Martha Stewart Living, recommends making a paste with OxiClean and using it to clean tile. She uses the paste to clean tile grout. This version has been corrected.
Cleaning the house is pretty low on most people’s list of ways to spend their free time. If you’ve finally found the motivation to get the job done, you don’t want to be delayed because you either don’t have, or can’t find, the supplies you need.
Here are tips that will make the tedious task of cleaning your home less frustrating and more efficient.
There are so many cleaning products to pick from, and new ones seem to pop up every day. It’s easy to accumulate too many bottles of too many cleaners by grabbing something each time you’re in a store, “just in case.” And before you know it, your cleaning products are themselves clutter in need of tidying.
Many basic cleaning products are incredibly versatile, so you don’t need a carload of specialized supplies. Most households can get by with this simple list:
●An ample supply of your favorite multiuse cleaning liquid for surfaces such as glass, tile, countertops and cabinets: There is little to no regulation for the ingredients in cleaning products, says Becky Rapinchuk, author of “Simply Clean” and owner of the Clean Mama blog. So do some research. The Environmental Working Group has rated thousands of products on its website, ewg.org. In addition to giving products an overall letter grade, the organization also scores them based on level of concern for respiratory effects, cancer-causing agents and potential harm to the environment. Good Housekeeping recently rated the best all-purpose cleaners, naming Simple Green the most versatile option.
●A broom or a brush with a dustpan: Brooms with densely packed synthetic bristles are best for indoor use. They are soft enough to use on hardwood floors and work well for dust and larger pieces of dirt. Angled brooms will help you reach into corners. A dustpan made with a soft plastic or rubber will be the lightest and won’t scratch your wood floors. Almost all dustpans can be stored with the broom or brush handle inside the dustpan handle, but buying them together will ensure that this is the case.
●A mop with reusable cloths: Reusable cloths can be washed and used again, which will save you money. It’s also more environmentally friendly than disposable cloths.
●A scrub brush: A scrub brush is a versatile tool that can be used to clean floors and shower tiles and to remove stains from rugs. Elyse Moody, senior editor at Martha Stewart Living, recommends making a paste with OxiClean and using it with a scrub brush to clean tile grout. This type of brush can be used instead of a sponge and will last a lot longer.
●A vacuum cleaner (or at least a hand vacuum): The type of vacuum you need depends on the size of your home and your floor coverings. If you live in a small apartment with hardwood floors, you can probably live without a full-size vacuum. Before deciding what type and size you’ll need, consider how much you’ll use your vacuum cleaner, whether you’ll be hauling it up and down the stairs, and where you’ll store it.
●A squeegee for glass walls and shower doors: Using a squeegee on your shower’s tile and glass helps prevent mildew and bacteria from building up. It will also keep your glass walls free of water droplet markings.
●Microfiber dusting cloths, rags and sponges: Microfiber cloths come in different weaves. “Dampened thin, flat-weave ones will take streaks and fingerprints off mirrors and glass,” Moody says, “and plush, thick cloths work well for grabbing dust off textured items like books.” Microfiber cloths can be washed and reused, so you don’t need more than 12. And it’s always useful to have rags and sponges around the house for spills. Between 12 and 24 of each is sufficient.
Just as with all household items, your cleaning supplies should be stored in designated spots — not just tucked away here and there. Some people prefer to keep their cleaning supplies in or near the rooms where they use them most. If this strategy works for you, carry on. But I find it’s much easier to keep track of what I have and what I need if everything is in one location.
If you don’t have a closet dedicated to cleaning supplies, good options include a cabinet or shelves in the laundry room or placing them under the kitchen sink. Read product labels for instructions on how best to store each item, but it is generally important to keep cleaning agents out of extreme cold and heat and away from gas appliances. Also make sure that bottles are out of the reach of children and pets.
If you’re hoping to maximize the awkward space under the sink, shelves or pullout drawers can help keep things organized. The most frequently used items can be kept in a cleaning caddy that can be easily carried from room to room. If you’re tight on space, use the inside of a closet door, either with an over-the-door shoe organizer with plastic pouches or with baskets attached to the door. Either option can accommodate bottles, brushes, rags and sponges. Things such as brooms and mops can be stored inside a closet and off the floor using a utility holder. If you use disposable multipurpose cleaning cloths, such as Clorox wipes, you could store an extra container under the bathroom sink for quick cleanups.
It’s a good idea to have some backup supplies on hand, but try not to stockpile too many; otherwise, they become burdensome. Multi-surface cleaners are usually good for about two years, so sort through your cleaning supplies at least once a year and use or consolidate half-empty bottles of identical agents. Do not combine different products; mixing chemicals can cause dangerous reactions.
Cleaning products have become more environmentally friendly in recent years. But constantly buying new plastic spray bottles is wasteful. Consider buying larger containers of cleaning liquids to refill your existing spray bottles. The same strategy works for hand soap and dish soap dispensers that can be refilled, and there are many glass, stainless and plastic dispensers available to match your aesthetic. Not only will you have to buy supplies less frequently and save money, but you'll also be creating less waste. Think about whether you can substitute single-use products for reusable ones and be sure to follow the directions on bottles for how to safely dispose of any unused products that may contain dangerous chemicals.
Another way to ensure that your products are green is to make your own. Multipurpose and glass cleaners are easy to create using a handful of natural ingredients. Moody recommends baking soda for things such as cleaning and disinfecting your kitchen and bathroom sink and scrubbing away buildup inside your oven. She also says that distilled white vinegar mixed with water (1:2 ratio) is great for cleaning a variety of things, including refrigerator doors, cabinet fronts and ceiling fan blades.
If you're not up for mixing cleaners from scratch, Rapinchuk recommends natural cleaning concentrates such as Dr. Bronners, Thieves and Branch Basics mixed with water to clean just about everything in your home.