Monday, December 17, 2007

Before you clean, you need supplies...

Once the disorder and chaos in your house is under control, it’s time to clean those areas that have been beneath the clutter. But first…where are your cleaning supplies?

If you are like most people, your cleaning supplies are scattered all over the house. There are some under the kitchen sink, some in the bathroom cabinet, still more in the laundry area or garage or basement. In order to clean efficiently (and that means quickly, getting it over with in as short a time as possible) you need a single, portable repository for your household cleaning supplies…and nothing works better than a good quality rectangular plastic laundry basket.

If you are tempted to think “oh, I know where everything is, I can skip this step,” think again. You need a cleaning basket. That means a basket with everything you are going to need must accompany you to the room…no excuses for leaving the room and getting distracted! Remember how your home got into this condition in the first place: lack of focus on the goal. By putting all of your cleaning supplies in one place, a place you can easily transport from room to room, you greatly increase your chances of success because you will not need to leave the room in which you are working to fetch additional supplies. Leaving the room breaks your focus and if you are distracted by something more interesting or compelling while you are out to get the bleach, you…and your clean up project…can get permanently stalled.

It’s not necessary to use a laundry basket, per se. You can substitute one of those wheeled storage containers or a large rectangular basket with handles or whatever suits your fancy, but nothing works as well for as little money as a laundry basket, and the rectangular shape accommodates more items than round or oval.

Setting up your cleaning basket

The first thing you must do is determine the kind of supplies will you need. For safety purposes, make sure that all containers in your basket are unbreakable (in case you drop them on the floor). Also, label all bottles into which you have decanted liquids: not only will you know what is in them, so will other people. And finally, never use beverage containers for cleaning supplies: you do not want to take the chance that a child will mistake your cleaning solutions for something drinkable!

What your cleaning basket needs:
1. A window cleaner that can be used for windows, mirrors, chrome, and other shiny surfaces. You can opt for one of those blue ammonia-based cleaners or you can mix up a solution of vinegar and water and put it in a spray bottle.

2. Scouring powder: You can purchase one of those chlorinated, bubble-action, super-duper scrubble bubble thingies…or you can put a cheap box of baking soda in the basket

3. Disinfectant: there are a million of them on the market but nothing is cheaper (or more effective) than plain old bleach. Buy a 1 quart bottle of bleach that you can keep in your cleaning basket and refill from the gallon bottle in your laundry area.

4. Degreaser: Add a bottle of your favourite degreaser for cleaning soap scum and those grease marks your kids leave in the strangest places. White vinegar, straight from the bottle, is an amazing degreaser and baking soda sprinkled on a damp sponge does well, too.

5. A bottle of your favourite dishwashing liquid is helpful. It’s amazing what plain old soap will clean.

6. Teak oil: Wood furniture loves teak oil: the oil penetrates and nourishes the wood, keeping it from drying out and giving it a warm, inviting look. Avoid wax build up on furniture by staying away from the aerosol products that spray waxes that seal the wood. What the manufacturers don’t tell you is that the wax should be periodically removed from the wood (in the old days we used to scrub it off with steel wool!), the wood cleaned, and then the wax re-applied. You can get around the whole thing by cleaning and polishing your wood furniture with teak oil on a soft cloth. (Works on wood floors, too.)

7. Water: yep, plain old water. You need something to dampen those sponges with!

8. A couple of rectangular reusable plastic containers (Glad or Ziploc or whatever you have in your plastics cupboard)

9. Rubber gloves. Invest in good-quality, flannel-lined gloves so that your hands don’t sweat inside them and your risk of puncture is reduced.

10. Sponges: two or three cellulose sponges, preferable the kind with the green scrubby thing on one side. If the sponges are not new, dampen them and put them in the microwave oven for one minute to sterilize them…or better yet, sterilize them at the end of your cleaning spree before they are stored.

11. Brushes: Several kinds of brushes are helpful for cleaning, but at minimum, a small stiff brush that can be used for scrubbing away grime, and a large stiff brush (one with a grip like a steam iron handle is particularly useful) for floors and large surfaces.

12. Rags: You will need something to clean with: the most economical option is rags…pieces of old cotton T-shirts, towels, and sheets work wonderfully! Once they have come to the end of their useful lives, cut them into 10” squares and use them for cleaning. They can be repeatedly laundered, and will save you a ton of money on disposables.

13. Paper: For certain tasks you really need paper instead of rags, but newspapers actually work better than paper towels and are much less costly. Save the paper towels for making poultices, where the newsprint might transfer onto the surface being soaked.

14. Toothpicks, cotton swabs: Sometimes the most difficult cleaning is not getting the grime off the door knob, it’s getting the little bits that are stuck in little crevices. These can often be removed using cotton swabs (to apply the cleaning solution) and toothpicks to gently scrub away the offending bits. Keep them in a zippered plastic bag in the basket.

15. Bags: Vacuum bags, trash bags…you need bags. Plastic supermarket bags make excellent liners for small trash cans around the house and are convenient additions to the cleaning basket. If your vacuum cleaner uses bags, this is the place to keep at least one.

What else you will need:
Well, this stuff won’t fit into your basket, but no cleaning effort is complete without

16. A vacuum cleaner with accessories. Not only can you suck up debris off the floor, the wand can be used to suck down cobwebs, and the various attachments are useful for draperies, blinds, and furniture. Sweep floors with a broom before vacuuming to remove large items the vacuum might choke on. You can also sweep carpets for the same purpose and spare your vacuum (and your wallet) the trauma of burning out the motor due to a clog.

17. Make sure your broom is in good nick. If it is worn to a point, replace it.

18. Brush and dust pan: these are not absolute necessities, but they do make it easier to pick up your sweepings and discard them.

19. Mops: You should actually have two mops: one for your floors and another for walls and ceilings. Yes…the easiest way to clean a ceiling or wall is with a sponge mop!

20. Mop pail: some thing in which to mix up a mopping solution

Now, you may have noticed a few things are conspicuously missing:

Feather or lambs wool duster. Feather dusters just scatter the dust around so it can settle back down onto your furniture later. Lambs wool dusters collect the dust better than feather dusters, but you have to leave the room and take them outside to whack them and remove the dust…leaving the room you are cleaning before you are finished with the task at hand (dusting, in this case) is a no-no.

Mop and shine products: these things are not good on all types of floors and they leave a sticky residue behind. Sticky residues attract dirt, which means you have to clean more often.

Carpet cleaner/spot removers: most of these products also leave a sticky residue behind. You end up with dirtier carpets than you began with.

Sprinkle-on carpet deodorizers: a complete waste of money: baking soda does just as well and at a fraction of the cost.

Toilet bowl or bathroom cleaner: Save yourself a ton of money: pour a cup of bleach in the toilet, let it soak, then don your rubber gloves, sprinkle some baking soda on a sponge, and give it a wash. Cheap, sanitary, and fast. (Keep this sponge separate from the other cleaning sponges…use it only for cleaning the toilet.)

Now that you have a cleaning basket, you will need a place to keep it. Best bet is to find a cupboard into which it can be slid, but whatever you choose, do not put in a difficult-to-reach space, and don’t leave it in a place where you or other will be tempted to toss things on top of it (like on top of the dryer).

With your cleaning supplies assembled, you are now ready to tackle those rooms you rescued from disorder and disarray…just how to do it without being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task is our next instalment.

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