Sunday, September 21, 2008

The How-to of "Wet Work": Floors

All that stuff under foot: cleaning your floors

Well, you’re just about down to the finish…with walls, woodwork, and windows all washed and clean, all that is left is what’s under your feet: floors and carpets. We’ll cover floors in this instalment.

Basic floor mopping technique:
1. Sweep and vacuum first:
Before mopping, floors must be thoroughly swept and vacuumed to remove all loose dust, dirt and debris. Remember: dirt + water = mud. Don’t make your work messier by failing to remove all loose dirt before adding water.

2. Gather your tools:
- two buckets
- a mop you can squeeze out nearly dry
- a sponge with a nylon scrubby back Keep a sponge just for floors so you don’t contaminate your food preparation surfaces by using the kitchen sponge on the floor.
- soft cloths for drying,
- a clean, empty spray bottle
- a clean dust mop (optional)

3. Assess your floor:
Before you begin, you must assess the type of floor you will be washing, as both the cleaning solution and the technique vary from one floor type to another. See the appropriate section below.

4. Prepare the proper cleaning solution:
Basic Cleaning solution 1 (acidic)
- 1 gallon (4 litres) warm water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 5-10 drops liquid soap

Basic Cleaning solution 2 (alkaline)
- 1 gallon (4 litres) warm water
- ½ cup baking soda
- 5-10 drops liquid soap

Basic Shine solution (for vinyl and asphalt tile floors
- ½ gallon (2 litres) warm water
- 1 cup liquid fabric softener

Caution: Never mix bleach and ammonia; this combination creates a deadly toxic gas.

Caution: If you have pets, do not use ammonia for cleaning, especially floors, carpets, and anything near the floor. Fido and Puss, whose sense of smell is up to 200 times stronger than ours, will mistake even the faintest ammonia odour for the smell of decomposing urine and be attracted to the area for use as a toilet.

A caution about commercial floor cleaners:
Not all commercial floor cleaners are good for all floors. If you choose to use a commercial floor cleaner, read the instructions carefully and follow them.

In particular, be wary of the “no rinse, built-in shine” kinds of floor cleaners. They may actually cause you more work because sometimes that built-in shine is tacky and attracts and holds dirt. A clean floor is more important than a shiny floor, especially if you have young children who crawl around on it and put their toys in their mouths.

5. Prepare a second bucket of fresh warm water.
This will be used for rinsing the floor

6. Work in small areas
Regardless of what your floor is made of, flooding the whole floor with water is not good for it. Wood floors can warp, water can get in the joints of vinyl or laminate floors, grout in tile or stone floors can discolour if allowed to stand with dirty water on them. Work in an areas no more than two yards square (about two metres). Clean that area, rinse it and dry it before you move on to the next section.

7. Wring out that mop!
A sloppy mop just makes a mess. Particularly dirty areas may need some hand washing with your sponge and some of the cleaning solution. To mop, dip your mop into the cleaning solution, wring dry, and go over the area to be cleaned, as many times as necessary to get it clean. The dirtier it is, the more passes it will take to clean it.

8. Rinse with clear water
Sorry, but getting the floor wet and then moving the dirt around with a mop is not good enough. You have to rinse to get the dirt gone. Rinse the mop in the bucket of clear water and go over the area a second time with a clean mop. If the rinse water gets grubby before you are done, empty it and get fresh.

9. Dry it off
I know it sounds silly, but you really should leave at little water on the floor as possible. Not only does it protect the floor, it protects family members from slipping on the wet. Use soft cloths or a dry, clean dust mop to dry the floor. The dust mop head can be tossed in the dryer for a few minutes to dry it out if necessary.

10. Clean your tools and store them together
Your mop buckets really shouldn’t be used for other things like garden work or carrying water to fill your fish tank. You don’t want to cross-contaminate. Rinse out your mop heads thoroughly and hang the mop to dry. Sterilize the sponge (one minute in the microwave on High) and set it to dry. Empty the spray bottle, wash it out, put it in the bucket. Store the mop items together. It is helpful to write the Basic Cleaning solutions on the side of the mop bucket in indelible marker…then you never forget it.

Assessing your floor:
It is very important to determine what kind of floor you have before you make up your cleaning solution. Even if you are planning to use a commercial floor cleaner, you MUST choose the right one or risk damaging the floor. Here are some common kinds of floors and information about cleaning them:

Ceramic and other hard tile:
Hard tiles typically come in two types: glazed (shiny) and unglazed (matte). They are cleaned differently.

When it comes to cleaning, glazed tiles are pretty indestructible. A thorough mopping and rinsing, using Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic) and the Basic Mopping Technique will generally do the trick.

If you have unglazed tiles (the currently popular terra cotta tiles are unglazed), be aware that they are porous and subject to staining. Anything you drop on them will penetrate and can become permanent. Not only that, germs and dirt can live in the “pores” and become virtually impossible to dislodge. The best thing to do with unglazed tiles is to seal them (make sure they are scrupulously clean first) and then wax them to keep the sealer from wearing off from foot traffic. You will need to renew this wax periodically to keep the sealer…and the tiles…protected. But that is for another day…today you just want to wash it in the least costly, most efficient manner.

To clean unglazed tile, use the Basic Mopping Technique to mop with Basic Cleaning Solution 2 (alkaline) and make sure the baking soda is thoroughly dissolved.

Note: unglazed tile does not shine. It is not supposed to. So don’t work yourself into a lather trying to find a way to make your terra cotta tile floor shiny…it is supposed to be dull and rustic-looking. Put your effort into sealing it and keeping it meticulously clean.

Vinyl and soft tile floors
If you have vinyl flooring in your house, count your lucky stars…this is the easiest floor of all to clean and maintain. If you have vinyl tiles rather than sheet vinyl, you must exercise a bit more caution with regard to water, but for the most part, you’ve got the easiest floor of all to take care of.

If you are tempted to use a commercial mop and shine product, think it over. Not only are these products costly, the shine agent can build up on your floors and eventually create the appearance of ground-in dirt. Furthermore, the products can leave a sticky residue behind that attracts and traps even more dirt. The second application of the product does not remove the first one…it goes on top of it. Eventually you can end up with a mess!

If you need to remove grimy, built-up residue from waxes or mop and shine products, here’s how: using plain sudsing ammonia, pour it full strength in a small section of floor and agitate lightly with your mop to help break up the old product. Use a plastic scouring pad on particularly stubborn areas. When your mop starts getting dirty, rinse it under running water in the sink. When the section you are working on is clean, move on to another section. When the entire floor is clean it is a good idea to seal the floor and then lay down a coat of wax. Afterwards, use only Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic) to clean your floor and do not clean with anything containing ammonia: not only will it dissolve the wax you’ve just put on, it will act as a “pee here!” signal for your pets.

If, on the other hand, you just want to get the floor clean and move on, here are some tips in addition to the Basic Mopping Technique to make this as painless as possible:

Use Basic Cleaning solution 1 (acidic). Pour about 2 cups of the solution into the clean sprayer bottle. Walk around looking for particularly dirty spots: grubby areas at doorways, in front of the sink or stove, dried spills near the table, “misses” by your family males near the toilet, places your feet stick to the floor, etc. Squirt these dirty spots with the spray bottle.

If there are heel marks on the floor, a synthetic scouring pad…the green scrubby thing on the back of your sponge…and a squirt from the spray bottle can be helpful.

Mop using the Basic Mopping Technique, being careful not to let water stand for long in the seams of sheet vinyl or the joints of a vinyl tile floor, as it can loosen the adhesive.

If the floor looks dull when you are done, mop again lightly with a solution of 1 cup white vinegar to a gallon (4 litres) of warm water or with the Basic Shine Solution.

Marble, stone or slate:
Marble (including travertine and limestone):
Marble floors are porous and prone to damage and staining. Dirt, grit, sand and other abrasives do the most damage to marble and other stone floors…they act like sandpaper, grinding down the surface. Sealing the floor will help protect it, but experts are divided on whether or not marble should be sealed.

Marble floors should be kept immaculately clean at all times to reduce the incidence of abrasives (on the soles of our shoes) from dulling the floor. Vacuum rather than sweep to keep from scraping dirt and grit across the surface with your broom. Do not use a vacuum with a beater bar, use the soft brush attachment instead.

Marble will etch from even the mildest of acids…even orange juice or tomato juice!…and salts will pit the floor, so it is critically important to clean up spills on marble just as soon as they happen. Mop marble floors using the Basic Mopping Technique, with Basic Cleaning Solution 2 (alkaline). Make certain the baking soda is fully dissolved. You can wax marble (and stone) floors, but the wax may discolour the floor (yellow it) and you will have to periodically strip the wax and reapply it, a really arduous task.

Stone: Stone floors would seem to be the most durable you can find, but a lot of stone is porous and easily damaged. Each type of stone has its own degree of porosity making some stone floors more susceptible to stains than others. Consider sealing your stone floors to protect them from wear and tear. Wash your stone floors using the same solution and technique you would use for marble.

Slate: Slate floors are durable and fairly easy to maintain. Slate naturally resists water, so it doesn’t need sealing. Wash your slate floors like marble or stone.

Grout: Slate, stone, and ceramic tile floors are usually laid down with grout between the individual tiles. If the grout is dirty, even when the tiles are clean, the floor will look grubby. Grout is porous, so liquid cleaners seep through them without much effect. Bleach can be an effective cleaner, but it can leach colour out of coloured grouts. Most home improvement stores carry grout cleaning sticks you can use to clean grout. Once it is clean and dry, apply a sealer so you don’t have to go through this again.

If you are trying to get mildew out of white grout, make a paste of baking soda and bleach, spread it on the grout, cover with a wet paper towel (if it is wet enough the towel will stick to the wall). When the grout is clean, seal it.

Cement or brick
Cement or brick floors should be sealed. They are very porous and are easily stained, particularly by oil-based stains. Once stained, they are virtually impossible to clean. Brick and cement floors should be mopped using the Basic Mopping Technique using Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic) at least once per week.

Special note: cement garage floors are often stained with oil and grease. While nothing (not even steam cleaning) can return the floors to their original state, you can soak a lot of the oil and grease out of the floor with this simple technique: spread clay cat litter (not the stuff with smelly crystals and stuff…the cheap generic kind!) over the stains and let set overnight. Sweep up with a stiff broom (or vacuum with a shop vac…NOT the one you use on your carpets!) and discard. Do NOT use this in the litter box! Repeat as necessary…this stuff really draws the oil and grunge out of the cement, but even this little miracle has its limitations!

Laminate flooring is nothing more than strips of chipboard with a plastic sheet laminated to the top of it. That plastic sheet has what amounts to a photocopy of wood on it. The laminated strips are laid down and snapped together…those joints are extremely vulnerable to water. Never, ever allow water to stand on your laminate floor, not even when you are mopping.

Advertising notwithstanding, laminate floors are not indestructible. Avoid dropping heavy or sharp items on a laminate floor…if the plastic “skin” that is the top layer of the laminate is breached and moisture gets in, you’re looking a replacing a panel because the water will make the substrate swell up and cause a bump in the floor. Each subsequent mopping will make it worse. How do I know this? Guess whose husband dropped a computer monitor on her beautiful laminate flooring and poked a little hole in it?

The plastic coating on the top of the laminate can be damaged by abrasives and such harsh cleaning tools as steel wool. Use the scrubby sponge and keep the area as dry as possible while cleaning. Mop laminate floors using the Basic Mopping Technique and Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic). You can squirt the dirty spots with solution as long as the spots are not on joints or a place where the top plastic layer has been breached.

Tips on spot cleaning laminate and polyurethane-sealed wood floors
To remove oil, paint, permanent marker, tar, rubber heel marks:
use a neutral pH cleaner on a clean cloth. If that doesn’t work, use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover containing acetone.

To remove blood, fruit juice, wine, beer, soda pop, pasta sauce: wipe up with warm water. If that doesn’t work, use a neutral pH cleaner on a clean cloth.

To remove candle wax or chewing gum: first harden it with ice and then scrape very gently with a plastic scraper. Wipe the rest with warm water on a clean cloth.

Wood Floors
The finish on your wood floors will determine how you clean them.

Before you set yourself up for difficulty, try to determine if your wood had been varnished, polyurethaned, or oiled. Varnish and polyurethane look alike, but the polyurethane finish is virtually indestructible and can be mopped like a tile floor. A varnished floor takes a bit more care, and an oiled floor shouldn’t be mopped at all.

An oiled wood floor will have a dull glow to it, but varnish or polyurethane will have a shine. To test for varnish, go to an inconspicuous spot and put a few drops of acetone (nail polish remover) on the varnished wood and rub gently in a circular motion. After a minute or two, check it. If the finish has gone sticky or gel-like, it’s varnish. Polyurethane will not change.

To clean your polyurethaned wood floor: Use the Basic Mopping technique with Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic). No further treatment is needed.

To clean your oiled wood floor: Use teak oil or mineral oil (NOT mineral spirits). Moisten a cloth with the oil and, on your hands and knees, rub the oil in the direction of the grain of thw wood. Change to a clean space on the cloth as needed. Polish with a fresh cloth to remove excess oil and to impart a shine. Particularly dirty areas just require more oil and elbow grease. Regular vacuuming and periodic dust mopping will help keep these floors soil free. Spills should be wiped up immediately.

To clean your varnished wood floor:
most experts agree that using any kind of water-based cleaner on your varnished wood floor is an invitation to trouble, especially if the condition of the finish is dodgy. Water can make the wood strips swell, warp, split, even mildew. Your best bet is to purchase a cleaning product made specifically for wood floors and use it according to directions.

If you search the web you may find some sites that recommend cleaning varnished hardwood floors with a vegetable oil soap, but at least one hardwood floor manufacturer strongly recommends against it: . Considering the cost of sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor, it is better to be safe than sorry, and pop for the little extra cost of a specialized, dedicated cleaner for wood floors.

Next: cleaning your carpets and rugs

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The How-to of "Wet Work": Windows and Mirrors

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then windows are the eyes of the home. Nothing detracts from an otherwise lovely room like dirty windows.

Window washing is best accomplished by two people simultaneously washing the same window: one inside and one outside. But this is not always possible, so we will concentrate on single-person washing.

Gather your tools:
1) a bunch of old newspapers
2) a spray bottle
3) white vinegar (¼ cup)
4) water (2 cups)
5) dishwashing liquid (5-10 drops)
6) waterproof bucket or bin
7) indelible market

Tear or cut the newspapers into ¼ sheet pieces.

Combine water, vinegar, and dishwashing liquid and pour into the spray bottle.

Using the indelible marker, write “window cleaner” on the bottle. This is not only an aide de memoir, it is a good safety measure to prevent people from using the mixture as a plant misting solution or something of the sort. It is also helpful to write the “recipe” on the back of the bottle so you will have it handy for reference when you need a refill.

Washing up
Start with lower windows or, if it is sheet glass, at the bottom of the window. Spray liquid mixture onto window, making sure the sills and mutton bars are already clean (if they are not, clean them first). Slightly crumple the newspaper and, using a circular motion, make sure the entire window, including the corners, gets wet. Discard the wet paper into the bucket or bin.

With a dry, slightly crumpled piece of newspaper, polish the window with a circular motion until it shines. You may need a second piece of newspaper. If, after your best efforts, the windows look streaky, you need to add a bit more liquid soap to your mix. Streaks are often caused by wax and other chemicals left from cleaning the windows with commercial preparations and you need a bit more soap to clean them off. Once you get them clean, all of that gunk will be gone for good, provided you continue using this mixture for window cleaning.

Spray the next window and repeat.

The cleaning solution for mirrors is the same as for windows, but the technique is slightly different.

When cleaning mirrors, take care not to allow cleaning solution to get onto the frames or into the joint where the mirror meets the frame. Cleaning solutions can damage frames with moisture that you can’t remove or damage some finishes. Spray a cloth with cleaning solution, wipe the mirror, and polish with newspaper.

Defogging bathroom mirrors
Fogged up bathroom mirrors are a nuisance. Commercial products exist to prevent mirrors from fogging but they can be both costly and difficult to find. Try this very simple alternative:

Dishwashing liquid (full strength)
Two soft cloths (pieces of old towelling are perfect)

Apply a small amount of dishwashing liquid to a small cloth. With a circular motion, rub this onto the mirror. Coat the entire mirror, leaving swirls of the soap visible.

With the second cloth, rub in a circular motion to buff the soap off, and polish.

When you next step out of the shower, use a clean cloth to wipe the condensation off the mirror. Underneath the mirror will be sparkling and fog-free!

Next: Floors and carpets: getting them clean, keeping them clean.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The How-to of "Wet Work": Washing walls and woodwork

Washing walls: are we having fun yet?

Before you actually start the work of washing walls, you need to assess just how much work they actually need…and how much effect your work can actually have.

Do your walls need spot cleaning…a dab here and there for dirty spots? Or are they seriously soiled, covered with grime, soot, or nicotine? Even if you are planning to paint the walls, a good cleaning is in order. And that nice new sponge mop you used for the ceiling is the perfect tool for washing down dirty painted walls. But when washing walls, begin at the bottom of the wall and work your way up…those drips of water running from the top will leave streaks in a dirty wall surface that will be devilishly difficult to remove later! The same cleaning solution used on the ceilings is perfect for painted walls, although you should test first in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it will not harm or remove the paint.

Be careful about scrubbing too hard on painted wall surfaces as you may lose the paint. If you have wallpaper and it’s not vinyl, you could be in for some trouble: wall paper can be very difficult to clean, particularly if the offending agent is oil-based, like cooking splatter.

Spot cleaning:
Crayon: WD-40 can be helpful in removing crayon from painted wall surfaces: spray over the spots and wipe off with paper towels. Then wash the wall with your cleaning solution.

Pencil: An art gum eraser can be very helpful in removing pencil marks from walls. Rub gently, as if you were erasing a sheet of paper, and wash afterward with cleaning solution.

Ink: Anything that can remove ink from a painted surface may remove the paint as well. Test the following in an inconspicuous spot before applying to the inked areas. Wash wall afterwards.

Hair spray: with an amply supply of paper towels at hand, spray hairspray over the ink spot and then blot clean. Use a fresh paper towel for each blot or you could end up spreading the stain.

Toothpaste. Gently rub a little on the spot, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then wipe clean.

Alcohol: for surfaces that will not be damaged by alcohol, dab some rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol, which is a solution of 30% pure alcohol and 70% water) directly on the stain. Try to keep a moist pad of alcohol against the stain for ten minutes or so, then blot away the stain with clean paper towels.

Nail polish remover: it can strip paint, so this must be tested before use in a visible area. This works especially well for floors and tiles, but caution must be taken for painted walls. Blot onto the stain with a paper towel.

While you are on vertical surfaces, this is the time to do windows, pictures and picture frames, woodwork, and anything else that may drip dirty water down to the floor…remember to start at the bottom and work your way up.

Washing the whole (painted) wall
The same solution, mop, and technique that were used to wash the ceiling can be used to wash painted walls with the following caveats:

1) Gloss and semi-gloss walls will survive washing better than flat latex paints. If your paint is flat (not even a little shiny), don’t scrub too hard or you may take off paint and all.

2) Wash walls from the bottom, up. Start at the baseboard (skirting board) and work your way up. Don’t allow water to run down the wall as you clean. A sponge mop that is only damp is the best tool to use.

Other walls:
Nowadays walls can be made of…or covered with…just about anything. It’s not possible to cover every eventuality, so we’ll just touch lightly on the most common wall coverings:

Wood panelling
If you have fake wood panelling, you can wash it exactly the same way you wash a painted wall. Cleaning panelling of real wood, however, depends on how the wood is finished. See the section on woodwork, below, for how to clean wood.

Tile is pretty forgiving and most things will come off tile pretty easily. Problems with grout sometimes arise, though, and sometimes rust will stain tile.

A poultice made of bleach and baking soda on a damp paper towel will help remove rust stains from tiles and grout. The poultice can be stuck to the tile…even tiled walls…by wetting the paper towel and smoothing the outer few inches against the wall.

A paste of bleach and baking soda can also be “trowelled” into grout using the back side of a teaspoon. Allow to dry, rinse off, and repeat as necessary.

Wall coverings
Vinyl wall paper can be washed with a damp cloth and mild soap. Hard scrubbing should be avoided to prevent rubbing off the pattern. Dry with a soft cloth.

Other wall coverings such as sisal, paper wallpaper, fabric should be vacuumed with a soft brush. Any further cleaning should be done by a professional.

Washing the woodwork
When the walls are clean, it is time to wash the woodwork: doors, door frames, window frames and sills, built-ins, and panelled walls.

Painted woodwork
Woodwork is usually painted with high gloss or semi-gloss enamel paint. This makes it relatively easy to clean.

Never spray your cleaning solution directly on a surface, and this includes woodwork. Spray the solution onto your cleaning cloth and wipe it over the surfaces to be cleaned. Do not forget to wipe the tops of door sills and door frames. The same solutions to wall stains can be used on painted woodwork.

When cleaning vertical surfaces, be sure to start at the bottom and work your way up so you don’t create drip marks.

Varnished woodwork
Most “natural wood” woodwork is varnished. If neglected, varnish can easily damage, which creates an even bigger problem: sanding and refinishing. You must take care of varnished wood or pay the piper.

Before you set yourself up for difficulty, try to determine if your wood had been varnished or polyurethaned. They look alike, but the polyurethane finish is virtually indestructible and needs only to be wiped down with a damp cloth.

To test, go to an inconspicuous spot (get on a ladder and test the top of a door sill) and put a few drops of acetone (nail polish remover) on the varnished wood and rub gently in a circular motion. Do not allow it to run! After a minute or two, check it. If the finish has gone sticky or gel-like, it’s varnish. Polyurethane will not change.

In your arsenal of household products you should have a bottle of teak oil. You can get light teak oil and dark. If you have wood furnishings and woodwork, you should have teak oil on hand at all times. Light teak oil works on light woods, dark teak oil on dark woods. Teak oil works remarkably well to remove dirt from varnished or oiled wood surfaces, and it camouflages scratches. Mineral oil (not mineral spirits!) is a good second choice.

If rubbing with teak oil did not remove the soil, then you must wash the surface. You can wash varnished wood by dampening a clean cloth with a solution of mild soap and warm water and rubbing a small section of the wood to remove dirt. Dry immediately with a soft cloth. Working in small areas at a time prevents the finish from absorbing moisture. Remember, when working on vertical surfaces, like door, door jambs or window frames, to start at the bottom and work your way up.

Apply a coat of furniture polish or wax when finished.

Oiled woodwork
Before anything else, try to use teak or mineral oil to remove dirt. This can take a bit of effort, but it is the best way. Always rub with the grain of the wood.

If the soil is too deeply ingrained, then follow the instructions for varnished wood, above. Make certain that you adequately oil the wood when finished cleaning it. Rub the oil in with the grain of the wood until it looks like it is “too much.” Wait about 15 minutes for the oil to soak in, them come back and polish with a soft dry cloth.

Unfinished wood
Unfinished wood is porous and unprotected against moisture, which will eventually cause damage. Unfinished wood (unless it is redwood, cypress, or cedar) needs some kind of protective coating.

Because it is uncoated, it is very difficult to clean soiled unfinished wood. Dirt and debris can cause permanent staining. If you have unfinished wood in your home, protect it by giving it a coating of mineral oil, furniture polish, or furniture wax.

You can clean unfinished wood like varnished wood but, except in the case of very light soil, do not expect miracles.

When you acquire a new piece of unfinished furniture, treat it immediately: oil it, varnish it, wax it, paint it…anything to protect the wood. Don’t forget the bottom of the piece, where it touches the floor or you don’t see. The paint/oil/varnish is not there for looks: its primary purpose is to protect the wood from the elements, such as dampness…or too much dryness…in the air. The same is true for wood elements in your home: unfinished wood doors, door frames, built ins, may all look fresh and natural, but once they are soiled (finger prints, spills, scuffs) the soil in permanent. Seal and protect your wood so that it will give you decades of beautiful service.

Making your own wood polish
You can make your own wood polish with items found in most households. Remember, our ancestors didn’t have commercial spray-on furniture products to clean those beautiful antiques we cherish today. They made it themselves from common household goods.

You can use 2 parts vegetable or olive oil with 1 part lemon juice to make a furniture polish. Put it in a bottle with a tight fitting cap and shake vigorously. Make sure to shake again each time the oil and juice separate so that you have an emulsified liquid on your cleaning cloth. Apply with a soft cloth and then rub in a circular motion to polish. Make sure you label the bottle (use a permanent marker) with its contents on one side and the “formula” on the other so you can easily mix up a refill.

If you like lemon oil polish, take a pint ( ½ litre) of mineral oil (not mineral spirits) and dissolve a teaspoon of lemon oil in it. Bottle and label as above.

Here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension for cleaning various types of wood:

For Unfinished Wood: Mineral Oil. Mineral oil is flammable. Apply sparingly with a soft cloth.

For Mahogany: Vinegar. Mix equal pans white vinegar and warm water. Wipe onto wood and then polish with a chamois cloth.

For Grease Spots: Salt. Immediately pour salt on the grease spot to absorb grease and prevent staining.

For Scratches: Lemon Juice and Vegetable Oil. Mix equal pans of lemon juice and salad oil. Rub into scratches with a soft cloth until scratches disappear.

For Water Spots: Toothpaste. To remove water marks, rub gently with toothpaste on a damp cloth.

For Washing Wood: Mild Soap. Dampen cloth with a solution of water and mild soap, such as Ivory or Murphy's Oil Soap. Wring the cloth almost dry and wipe the furniture section by section, drying with a clean dry cloth as you go so that no section stays wet.

Next: Windows and mirrors

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The How To of "Wet Work": Ya gotta start at the top

Ceiling and mouldings:
If your ceiling and crown moulding require washing, that’s going to be your first “wet work” task. Washing a ceiling seems like a daunting task, something any sane person would definitely put off to another day. Visions of teetering on a ladder with a scrub brush and precariously balanced bucket of soapy water slowly float through our minds and procrastination…putting the job off until the last…comes quickly to mind.

1) a new sponge-type mop, one with a squeezer

2) two buckets of warm water, one with a cleaning solution, one plain.

Cleaning solution:
1 gallon (4 litres) warm water and 2 tablespoons household ammonia.

Washing a painted ceiling:
1) Dip mop into bucket containing cleaning solution, squeeze dry.

2) Starting in one corner, wipe the ceiling (no scrubbing back and forth…just one steady wipe) for a foot or two (half metre or less).

3) Bring down the mop for inspection. Rinse the mop thoroughly in the clear water, squeezing it out

4) Dip the mop in the cleaning solution again

5) Thoroughly squeeze out any excess, then repeat*

*If the mop was extremely dirty when inspected, use shorter strokes and rinse more often. Change the rinse water if necessary. If it was only mildly soiled, then continue with strokes of up to a yard (approximately a metre).

Cleaning decorative mouldings and ceiling rosettes:
Unfortunately, for these lovely bits of household d├ęcor, if vacuuming with the soft bristled brush didn’t do the trick, the ladder is your only real option.

Use these techniques ONLY with painted mouldings or PVC plastic. If you are using the Styrofoam stuff, then you may vacuum and blot gently with a cloth dampened with water and nothing else! Rough handling can cause the decorative bits to break off!

You will need your ladder, a cloth or small sea sponge for applying the cleaning solution, a fresh cloth to wipe the solution away when you are done, a small pail of fresh water to rinse the fresh cloth, and a spray bottle with the cleaning solution on it. In your apron pockets you should have a small brush (a 1” to 2” wide paint brush is perfect) and something with a bit of a point on it so you can get into crannies where dirt may be lodged.

It is wise to wear some kind of eye protection as this technique can cause drips and ammonia or vinegar in the eyes can be extremely painful. Tying a scarf around your hair (I prefer to use a cheap shower cap!) to keep the cleaning solution out of your hair is helpful. And to protect your floors/carpets, a cheap plastic drop cloth under your work area is not a bad idea.

Start by assembling your tools and placing them where you can work with them easily. Using a painter’s ladder…the kind that has a little platform near the top…is best. Put such things as your cleaning cloths (a small natural sponge is the absolute best for cleaning this kind of thing), brushes, etc. in your apron pocket, and you can hang the spray bottle from your waistband by its trigger.

1) Position the ladder beneath the area you are going to clean.

2) Do not stand any higher on the ladder than the manufacturer recommends.

3) Spray cleaning solution onto the sponge: do not saturate because if it is drippy, the drips will run down your hand and arm and into your underarms. very unpleasant.

4) Wad the sponge into the shape you need to reach into the crannies of the design and rub gently.

5) Use the rinse cloth to wipe away the cleaning solution

6) Something pointy like the barrel of a ball-point pen can be wrapped in a bit of cloth and used to poke into corners for cleaning.

7) Consider antiquing the mouldings and rosettes so next time the dirt won’t show!

Chandeliers and light fixtures:
If your chandeliers or light fixtures have removable bits like crystals and shades, this is the time to take them down for cleaning. Because there is such a variety of design of such items and an infinite number of materials, only a few suggestions can be imparted here:

1) If the shade is made of paper, cloth, cardboard, or anything other than glass, metal, or hard plastic, do not clean it with water or anything wet. It should be vacuumed thoroughly and, at most, wiped quickly with a cloth barely dampened in water and thoroughly wrung out. Masking tape, because it is barely adhesive, can be used…sticky side out…to remove dust and “fluff” without risking smearing.

2) If the light fixture has crystals that can be easily removed, take them down and place in a bath of vinegar and water (or sudsing ammonia and water) to soak. As soon as the ceiling is clean, wash each crystal in the bath in which it has been soaking, rinse in clear water and polish with a soft cloth. Return the crystals to their right places.

3) If your light fixture has a removable glass shade, do the same as with the crystals. If it is not removable, wipe the fixtures on all sides with a clean cloth dampened in the vinegar or ammonia solution, wipe next with a cloth dampened in plain water, then wipe dry and polish with a fresh cloth.

Cleaning the fixture:

Electricity + water = disastrous results!

If you need to clean light fixtures like chandeliers and ceiling and wall-mounted light fixtures, caution is in order. Since you likely have no idea the state of your wiring, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If you can shut off the electricity to the room you are working in, then do so. If not, ensure that the switch to the fixture is turned off and that you are grounded (earthed)!

A wooden ladder is best as they are non-conductive. If you are using a metal ladder, make sure it has rubber feet on the bottom and that there are no holes in the feet where the bare metal shows through.

OR…put a rubber mat on the floor under the ladder. A real rubber mat, not some fuzzy rug with a rubberized backing.

OR…wear a pair of wellies (gumboots, rubber boots)

OR…wear rubber gloves (not latex kitchen gloves…real rubber gloves)

OR…do all of the above

1) Do not spray cleaning solution or any liquid onto light fixtures that are affixed to a wall or ceiling

2) Instead, dampen your cleaning cloth and use it to wipe dirt away

3) Do not allow the liquid to get into the fixture and do not attempt to clean the cavity into which the light globes are screwed/fitted

4) Dry fixtures with a soft cloth before turning on the switch

5) If the fixtures are so dirty they require more vigorous cleaning, have someone with a knowledge of electricity remove them from the wall/ceiling and reinstall them after you clean them.

Wait to replace the shades, crystals, etc., onto wall-mounted light fixtures until you are finished washing the walls.

Next: washing walls and woodwork

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The How-To of “Wet Work”: Overview

Once you’ve finished the dry work of sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting (hopefully in that order), it is time to finish the room by doing the “wet work.” This is a big topic, so it will be broken into several parts.

Wet work second
We do the wet work second because we don’t want to expend all that time and energy washing the dirty bits, only to stir up dust (sweeping is dusty work, even with a dampened broom) and have it land all over our nicely washed surfaces.

There are two basic kinds of places that need wet work in a room:
1) stuff you clearly see, like rings on a table or a dirty spot on the floor; and

2) places you don’t see because they have become part of the landscape and you just don’t notice them, like the smudges around the light switch or door handle.

Before you begin, you must assess the room for the kind of wet work it needs because this helps you plan your work. Check the following areas for soil that needs washing off:

1. Windows and mirrors, glass doors on cabinets (inside and out), glass or shiny ceramic vases and other tschochkes.

2. Doors: look on both sides of the door near the doorknob and above the knob for hand marks. Look also at the base of the door for foot scuffs.

3. Furniture: hard surfaces gather stickiness from the atmosphere and spills, and carved areas on furniture may need more than dusting; soft surfaces may be spotted or just grimy.

4. Architectural features: ledges, shelving, mantles and hearths, ceiling mouldings, chandeliers and light fixtures, niches and nooks, exposed beams and trusses…all of these things gather both dust and dirt.

5. Floors and carpets: these may require anything from just a light wash to heavy soil treatments.

6. Walls and/or ceilings: if there is a smoker in the house, these will definitely need washing. Also look at walls near light switches, window frames, and trash bins.

7. Curtains, draperies, “tossables” like cushions, throws, scatter rugs, doilies, table cloths and runners.

8. Woodwork: this phrase includes aluminium and clad aluminium door and window surrounds, window sills and casings and mutton bars, and all decorative touches like plinths, rosettes, reeding, fireplace surrounds, louvered doors and shutters

9. Built-ins such as heaters, furnace controls and thermostats, air conditioning units, heating/cooling registers, cool air vents.

Getting down to it
You need an order in which to do the necessary work. Remember, the goal here is to get the maximum amount of clean out of the minimum amount of effort and expense, and doing things in a logical order will help achieve that. You may begin anywhere you feel inspired to begin, but I always start at the top…literally.

As you assess your room, it can be helpful to make a set of lists. You need two basic lists to fill in: vertical surfaces, like windows and walls, drapes and doors, and horizontal surfaces like floors, ceilings, table tops, etc. Each of these lists can be further broken down into hard and soft surfaces. As you assess the room, try to figure out where in your list a particular item fits. An armoire, for example is hard and vertical whereas a sofa is soft and horizontal. It may not make sense now, but it a minute it will be clear as (clean) glass.

Basic rule of wet cleaning: wet stuff drips and the drips run down.
In practical terms, this means that you use gravity as the guide for prioritizing the order of your work. When working with horizontal items, like ceilings and light fixtures, you don’t want to drip dirty water down onto clean surfaces, so you clean those items first. In particular, you clean ceilings before the items beneath the ceilings so if dirty water drips down, it won’t be onto something you have already washed and polished.

Vertical items are a little trickier.
When washing a wall, for example, it would seem logical to start at the top and work down but that may actually give you more work in the long run. No matter how careful you are, some of your cleaning solution is going to run down the wall and if the wall it runs onto is still dirty, it will cut clean streaks into the wall that will still be visible even after you wash that section of the wall later. This is especially true if the wall is a light colour and is nicotine stained or has not been cleaned in a long time.

So, even though we start at the top for most things, for vertical surfaces it is wise to start at the bottom and work up.

Next: washing ceilings and other stuff ’way up there.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The How-To of “Dry Work”

When you are putting an untidy house to rights, once the rooms are cleared of clutter and debris, you broken the job down into manageable chunks and you have a plan, actually cleaning the rooms is the next step. But what if you literally do not know how to do certain cleaning tasks? What if you have never been shown how to dust or sweep or properly clean a mirror or window? Believe it or not, this is the case for a surprising number of people. Many of us were simply sent to our rooms with the instruction to clean it, but with no instruction as to how.

Dry work first
We do the “dry” work first because we don’t want to stir up dust and clouds of airborne debris that will just dirty up our already-clean areas. We’ll remove all that stuff first.

Dry work is dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming. You can pretty much do it in any order, although sweeping really should take place before vacuuming in order to remove large items from the floor that might choke the vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum cleaners exhaust air as they work and unless your vacuum is one of those expensive new gadgets with HEPA filters and such, you can be guaranteed that a certain amount of fine dust will be emitted with the vacuum exhaust. Knowing this, the most efficient order of doing the dry work in a room is sweep, vacuum, dust.

Let us assume that you have decided to clean your bedroom and you will take the various tasks in their most efficient order. You will therefore start with sweeping.

(Tip: sweep with a broom that has the ends dampened with water This will prevent dust from becoming airborne and settling later onto clean surfaces.)

Your basic task is to sweep all debris to the centre of the room where it can be collected with the dustpan and then discarded.

Starting at one end of the room, put the broom against the skirting boards and use short, sharp strokes to remove accumulated dust, dirt, fluff, and debris. Sweep along the wall and sweep the collected stuff towards the centre of the room. Sweep the entire perimeter, then the open floor, always directing the debris towards a single, central location.

In order to get the room clean, furniture must be swept under and behind. This may not be possible in all cases (you may not be able to move an armoire full of stereo equipment, for example), but to the degree possible, pull items away from the wall (onto the floor already swept) to sweep behind. Leave the furniture out, as you will next vacuum.

In the case of carpeted rooms, sweeping may still be a wise first step. Vacuum cleaners don’t like large items, strings, rubber bands, wads of paper or pet hair, or fiddly things like paper clips, hair pins, or coins. Sweeping up and discarding such items from a rug before running the vacuum can save you considerable aggravation and expense.

If the room has a floor and rugs, remove the smaller rugs from the room…just deposit them outside the room for now (when you are finished cleaning the room you will either take them outside to shake or you will take them to the laundry). Rugs too large to easily remove should be left in place, but their edges flipped back so you can sweep as much from beneath them as possible.

When all debris has been swept to a single location, collect it in the dustpan and discard into one of the plastic trash bags that are in your cleaning basket. Step back for a moment and admire your freshly swept floor and congratulate yourself on having accomplished your goal. Now you are ready to set your next goal:

(Tip: dampen a cotton ball with a fragrant oil or your favourite perfume and place in the vacuum’s tank or dust bag. As the machine works, the exhaust will be scented by the cotton ball and leave a pleasant fragrance in the room.)

If the room has both flooring and large carpets, begin by vacuuming the flooring. This way you will not track residual dirt and dust onto the carpet when you step on and off of it during vacuuming.

Locate the crevice tool (a short tube with a slanted tip). Most upright machines will allow you to disconnect the hose that goes to the bag or tank and connect a wand with an attachment to it. Begin by using the crevice tool to suction dirt from corners of the room and from the tops of the skirting boards and where the skirting boards meet the floor/carpet. When this is finished, switch to the floor attachment and vacuum the floor.

Choose the proper height/attachment for vacuuming a floor. Upright machines usually have a three-level (or more) adjustment that will raise and lower the head for floors (lowest), low pile carpet (medium), and high for a deep pile carpet. If the vacuum is a canister type, there should be a carpet attachment and a floor attachment for the end of the wand (tube). The carpet attachment usually has a roller with brushes attached to it. The floor attachment is usually as wide as the carpet attachment but the suction opening does not have a roller (although it may have a brush).

Vacuum the floor in a regular pattern, in one direction, being careful to empty the bag or cup when full. If there are carpets, flip them back and vacuum beneath them to the degree possible. If there is furniture that can be moved so that it can be vacuumed behind or under, do so.

After the floor is finished, switch to the proper height/attachment for the carpet. Vacuum the carpet in one direction, slowly pushing and pulling the vacuum head over the carpet. Depending on how dirty the carpet is, you can go over a spot once or twice (very light soil) or half a dozen or more times (visible dirt on the carpet). Once the entire carpet has been vacuumed in one direction, vacuum a second time, this time perpendicular to the first pass. In other words, if you vacuumed the room along its length the first time, this time vacuum across its width. The vacuum should be leaving visible marks on the carpet where it has been cleaned, so it is easy for you to

Large area rugs should be vacuumed in the same manner, but with care taken not to suck the fringes into the vacuum. If fringe is sucked in, immediately shut the vacuum off and release the trapped fringe by hand.

After the floors and carpets are vacuumed, step back and look at the curtains, upholstered furniture, and the ceiling. Using the crevice tool, you can remove cobwebs from ceiling corners, and using the soft brush tool, you can vacuum the ceiling where there are bits of hanging fluff. Most vacuums have a small attachment that looks like a miniature floor attachment. This is for upholstery and curtains…and it does a marvellous job of removing embedded dust from them. To vacuum the curtains, put the upholstery tool on the end of the wand and place the tool at the top of the drapes/curtains. Pull the wand slowly towards the floor, repeating the process until the entire curtain has been vacuumed. When vacuuming upholstered furniture, remove cushions and vacuum underneath them as well as the underside of the cushions and the sides and bottom edges.

When the vacuuming is finished, put the vacuum cleaner out of the room, push all furnishing back into place, then stand back and admire your handiwork and the lovely fragrance from the scented vacuum cleaner exhaust.

Dusting is the final bit of dry work. The objective of dusting is to remove the dust from objects so it can be discarded or washed away. And while may seem like a no-brainer, there really are right and wrong ways to dust.

Wrong way: feather and/or lambswool dusters. These items not only can scatter dust back into the air, sending it out onto your freshly vacuumed and swept surfaces, they can cause tschochkes to be knocked over and damaged.

The right way to dust is with a dampened cloth…oiled, if you are dusting wood furniture). Dust will cling to a soft, damp or oiled cloth, rather than be scattered back into the room to land elsewhere. Here’s how to do it:

If there are both wood and non-wood surfaces to dust, dampen a cloth (smooth…not a fuzzy or fluffy or nappy surface) and wring thoroughly. Fold the cloth as many times as necessary to make a size comfortable to hold in your hand. Also fold a dry cloth in the same manner and take a bottle of teak oil.

Remove items from the surface to be dusted. If the surface is wood, pour a small amount of oil onto the cloth (never directly onto the wood!) and wipe the wood in the direction of the grain, lifting the cloth at the end of each stroke to collect the dust onto the cloth.. After the surface dust has been removed, fold the cloth to a clean section and polish the surface with circular strokes, making sure to remove any excess oil. Wipe any other parts of the wooden piece (legs, rungs, skirting, etc.) that are made of wood, polishing away any excess oil.

Now, using the damp cloth, wipe all the articles that were removed from the wooden surface to remove all dust. Replace in their proper place and move on to the next item.

1. Wood that has fancy work (carving, grooves, turned legs or arms) will need a bit of special attention: use a thin edge of the cloth to get into the little grooves and carved bits to remove dust and dirt, then polish with a dry cloth.

2. Wood work needs dusting and cleaning: tops of door sills, window frames, mutton bars on windows, window sills, etc. If the wood is unpainted or unvarnished, it could use oiling, too.

3. Tops of books get dusty

4. Fabric flower arrangements, lamp shades, and the lamps themselves can get dusty, too.

5. Don’t forget the feet of chairs, sofas, display cabinets, and coffee tables.

The absolutely final touch in the dry work is changing linens. If it is a bedroom, fresh bedding is a must. In other rooms it might be doilies, scatter rugs, a table cloth, or towels. Whatever kind of soft goods belong in the room, your last “dry” task is to replace them with clean ones.

When the dry work is finished in a room, the work is nearly finished. Stand back and admire the gleaming wood and spotless accessories and know that, once the wet work is done, you’re done too!

Wet work, of course, is what we’ll deal with next.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Making the Job Manageable

So, you’ve given your house the Laundry Basket Treatment and cleared it of clutter and debris. And you’ve assembled a cleaning basket with all the items necessary to clean. The vacuum cleaner has a clean bag in it, the broom, dustpan, mop and pail are all at the ready…and you just don’t know where to begin. The task just seems monumentally overwhelming and you are tempted to flop onto the sofa with a slab of chocolate and just ignore the whole thing.

There are two reasons for feeling this way: first, few of us were ever actually taught how to clean…we were just told to do it and left to our own devices. Second, contemplating cleaning a whole house…or in some cases, a whole room…can be a frightening experience if you don’t have the confidence that you know how to clean the space efficiently. In other words, if you don’t have a plan, the job looks a lot bigger than it really is!

But there are ways to break even the most overwhelming task into small, manageable chunks that are within your comfort level.

Making a plan, setting your goals
If making a plan seems overwhelming, too, take heart in knowing that the plan doesn’t need to be very specific, detailed, or even comprehensive. There is a simple basic plan that you can use as the starting point of your own: set yourself a series of goals and accomplish them one at a time.

For some people, even this may feel overwhelming. If the idea of making a plan has you thinking “I don’t know how to do that!” then simply make one goal, accomplish it, and then make another one. And the goal you make can be as simple and as small as “dust the blinds in the front window of this room.”

The secret, you see, is to set achievable goals. And the definition of “achievable” is as individual as the person setting the goal. You know the goal you have set is achievable when your gut says “I can do that!” Monitor your feelings: if your mind tells you the goal is achievable but you still feel overwhelmed, then the goal is really too ambitious. Don’t let ideas of “should” or “must” distract you…be true to your feelings and keep reducing the goal to smaller and simpler until you have that “I can do that!” feeling and start there.

Practical matters
Now that you know how to set goals that you can handle, you can move on to the practical matters. The first thing you must do is decide which room you will begin with. You will be most successful if you choose the room that requires the least amount of work. That’s because such a room will allow you to finish more quickly, giving you a feeling of accomplishment much quicker than if you choose a room that needs a large amount of attention. And that feeling of accomplishment is important because it has the psychological effect of making you feel like a winner…you got it done!...which encourages you to continue with your tasks.

Bathrooms and kitchens require a special set of cleaning techniques (which we will eventually cover), so it is best to select something less challenging to begin with. A bedroom, or even an entry hall or closet will be a great starting point, although a study, living room or dining room will serve as well. Choose your room, gather up your cleaning materials, and go to the door of the room.

Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in
You have already cleared the clutter and debris, you’ve assembled your cleaning supplies, and you’ve chosen a room, and you’ve set a goal…so now it is time to actually get going.

The first rules of cleaning:
1. Wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting wet, dirty, or stained. Pant legs should be at the ankle or higher so they don’t drag over wet floors, shoes should be waterproof (like rubber flip-flops, Crocs, or those neoprene gardening shoes). No dangly jewellery, and unless it is waterproof, no watch. It’s a good idea to leave your rings in a safe place, as well.

2. Do dry work before wet. This means you dust and sweep before you mop and polish.

3. Look around the room and choose a task. This will be your first goal, to accomplish that task. Remember to monitor your gut feeling. If you reduce the goal to a small, achievable task and still feel overwhelmed because you feel like the rest of the work is hanging over your head, get a pencil and paper and write down each thing you see that needs to be done. Once they are written down, you have a concrete plan and you are now in control of the work, it is no longer a huge, amorphous undertaking looming over your head. You can now choose something on the list as your first goal, knowing you can choose as many or as few as you want to do in the course of the day. You are in control now.

4. You can only accomplish one goal at a time, so focus on the one you have chosen to the exclusion of others. So, if you have chosen dusting the blinds as your first goal, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the dirty windows you find beneath them…you can make those windows a subsequent goal after the blinds are done (write it on the list if you want).

First decision
Let’s assume your first goal is to dust the blinds in your bedroom. You take a cloth dampened with water (so it will collect the dust rather than scatter it into the air so it can land elsewhere) and with the blinds closed you wipe the slats from side to side. Now, you reverse the direction of the blinds so you can see the other side and, with a clean spot on the damp cloth, repeat the process. Then, just to make sure you’ve got it all, you wipe the horizontal header at the top, you wipe the cords that raise and lower the blinds, and you wipe the wand that you use to twist the blinds open or closed. Done!

You are now at a decision point: you can change to another task in the same room or, if you are feeling confident about dusting blinds, you can go to other rooms and repeat your success. There is no right or wrong choice here, you don’t have to completely clean one room before you move on to another (with the exception of kitchen and bath, which will be discussed later). Some people crave the big satisfaction jolt of standing in the doorway of a spotless room while others revel in the constant stream of little successes. Choose whatever feels right for you, but stick with the task you have chosen so you are on track to accomplishing your goal.

The How-To
So, you’ve made your decisions and your choices, you have a plan and the job doesn’t seem so daunting anymore, but there is just one more little problem…you don’t know how to actually clean. Or maybe you do, but the way you know how to do it is just so time-consuming and arduous.

In the next instalment we will look at some techniques (and plans) for cleaning a room…or a whole house…with the least amount of time and effort expended.