Company’s coming. It’s time to clean up your act.
Getting ready for the holidays isn’t just about registering your online wish list, making your hair appointments at the blowout bar and plotting the mantel decorations. It’s the time to take stock of critical home issues, such as whether your toilet flappers are flapping properly.
Having family and friends over can be stressful if your house or apartment isn’t clean, organized and welcoming. If your dining chairs have Pop-Tarts ground into them and your guest towels are dotted with mysterious stains, you’ve got some work ahead of you.
Take the time now to do some decluttering, repairing and restocking so you can be confident your place is looking its best. Guests will feel comfortable and cared for, and you won’t have to be embarrassed when a dead squirrel falls out of your chimney when you light the first fire of the season. Here is advice from five experts on how to get your home ready to ace holiday hospitality.
1. Cleaning blitz
It goes without saying you’ll want to clean your bathroom a day or two before guests arrive. But there are things you can be doing now to tidy up before the doorbell starts ringing.
“Early November is a great time to de-clutter,” says Jolie Kerr, author of “My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.” One reason to get rid of things, Kerr says, is that “you will be bringing a whole lot of new stuff into the house over the next two months. Make some room for it.”
Start in the living room and kitchen, prime entertaining spaces. Get rid of newspapers, magazines, catalogues, mail and old candles. Take everything off your coffee table and mantel and put back only a minimal amount.
In the kitchen, Kerr advises, clear the counters and wipe them down. Remove all the food from your refrigerator and scrub the shelves and walls with a half-and-half solution of vinegar and water. Kerr prefers to use a Dobie pad for this job because it can remove sticky soy-sauce drips but won’t scratch surfaces. For the fridge exterior, use a sponge on a black or white model, or microfiber cloth for stainless. Be choosy about what you put back inside. “You’ll be needing extra room for turkeys and hams and other holiday foods,” Kerr says. Toss expired products. “Be honest. If you haven’t used that weird jelly in the past year, get rid of it,” Kerr says. “Make room for the new weird jelly that will no doubt be coming to you as a gift over the holidays.”
2. Dining room chair review
You’ll probably be spending more time than usual around your dining table in the next few months. It’s a good time to give each of your chairs a test drive. If some of them rock back and forth or feel wobbly, they might need regluing, whether they’re 19th-century family treasures or recent buys from Pottery Barn.
George Spicer owns Spicer’s, an upholstery and furniture repair business in Alexandria that’s been around since 1957. He says chairs get loose when diners push back from the table with their feet or their back, putting pressure on the backs of chairs and weakening joints. (The proper way to get up from the table, Spicer says, is to lift the weight of your body up and push the chair back with your hands.) Spicer’s charges $65 to $85 to reglue most chairs.
Take a hard look at the chair seats. If the fabric looks worn or stained, freshen the chair up with new fabric and maybe some additional padding. If you’re a DIY type, go at it. Otherwise, get a pro. Spicer says you’ll need three to four yards to cover six standard dining chair seats. His charge for labor to upholster the seats and pad them as needed is $65 to $75 per seat. Spicer recommends dining chair seats be treated with a stain-resistant fabric treatment, for which he charges $15 per seat.
3. Fireplace checkup
Imagine lighting the first cozy fire of the season Thanksgiving afternoon as the aroma of roasting turkey fills the house and guests start arriving. If this is a scenario in your future, lay in a supply of firewood and have your fireplace inspected. Now.
An inspection ($100 to $300) can clarify whether you need your chimney swept or repaired, says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America, a nonprofit group that also oversees a certification program for chimney sweeps. “The inspection is a snapshot of your chimney that could turn up any number of things: birds, raccoons, squirrels, branches, leaves, spider webs or basketballs,” says Eldridge, who has cleaned White House fireplaces for two presidents. “Or they might find water damage in your masonry.”
Eldridge has advice for proper and safe fireplace use. He suggests checking your fireplace damper, screen and glass doors to see they are working properly. Know where your fire extinguisher is, and make sure it is fully charged and ready to use: He recommends a five-pound model with a flexible hose. And don’t ever burn wrapping paper or pizza boxes in your fireplace, as this can rapidly cause large flames to spill out of the fireplace or go up the chimney. Hopefully, you won’t be ordering a large mushroom-and-pepperoni on Thanksgiving.
4. Plumbing tuneup
You give your car regular maintenance; why not your plumbing? It could save some awkward conversations with your in-laws, such as describing the correct way to jiggle the handle of the only toilet in your house to get it to flush.
Plumbing companies get a lot of emergency calls over the holidays, when homes are packed and kitchens and bathrooms are in use almost 24/7. “A lot of things related to plumbing get neglected throughout the year,” says Michael Hartman, co-owner of Thomas E. Clark Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Silver Spring. “You’re talking slow drains, shower drains plugged with hair, clogged sinks, toilets that run on and dripping faucets.” You can make a list of issues or have a whole-house plumbing inspection. Thomas E. Clark charges $69 for an initial visit on weekdays, $104 on weekends and holidays. Then for a flat fee of $49, receive a full-house plumbing inspection. Recommended repairs are priced individually. Any work performed as a result of recommendations from the inspection is 10 percent off.
Here are few cautionary notes: Clogged kitchen sinks are a huge issue over the holidays. “People are doing a lot of cooking and shoving everything down that garbage disposal,” Hartman says, with the two worst culprits being grease and potato peels. “Putting grease down the drain is basically like clogging your arteries,” he says. In other words, don’t do it. Peels are also dangerous. “People are making a lot of mashed potatoes, and they cram peels down the sink. You can’t put five cups of peels down there.” His advice: Peel potatoes in the sink, but scoop up the debris and dispose elsewhere. Ask any kitchen helpers to do the same.
5. Guest bed check
If you are fortunate enough to have a guest room, you’ll want to make sure there are a few spare hangers in the closet and a few drawers empty. Inspect your bedding and towels with a critical eye, says Justin Sonfield, general merchandise manager at the Company Store.
Start by stripping the guest bed and washing everything including the mattress pad and the pillow covers, those zip-on protective covers you should have on all your bed pillows. Comforters and pillows should also be inspected to see whether they need to be cleaned or replaced. “Just because they look okay and the material still looks good doesn’t mean they are healthy,” Sonfield says. Dust mites and body oils can build up on bedding. Sonfield says pillows should be replaced every two to five years, comforters every 10.
If your guest room mattress is the oldest in the house, Sonfield says, consider getting a bed topper to make it more comfortable, possibly a memory foam or feather bed model. If your one set of guest sheets looks a bit threadbare or faded, invest in a new set of white percale sheets, to provide guests with a cool, crisp hotel feeling. He suggests wrinkle-free 300-thread-count bedding, one of the Company Store’s bestsellers.
And bring out the towels you’ll be leaving out for guests. Do you have a matching bath, hand and washcloth? If you end up springing for new towels, buy extra washcloths, as those tend to get worn out first.