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.