Keeping your house clean doesn’t have to take hours. By learning a few tricks and shortcuts, you can have an orderly home in minutes.
Keep cleaning supplies in a plastic caddy with handles so that you can easily move items around the house as you work. If you live in a multistory home, keep a caddy and cleaning supplies on each floor.
Supplies that you should never be without (all available at supermarkets, discount stores and online)...
Microfiber cloths. Microfiber pulls dirt into the fabric better than standard cotton fiber cloths or paper towels, requiring fewer swipes -- often just one -- to clean a surface. Between launderings, microfiber is easy to clean -- just rinse under warm water and squeeze.
Electrostatic cloths. Treated with chemicals to make them negatively charged, electrostatic clothes pick up dust particularly well. You can buy washable or disposable cloths.
Scrubber sponges. Buy sponges that have a white, abrasive surface on one side. The white scrubber pad is abrasive enough to scour tough grime but less likely than other types of sponges to scratch surfaces.
Plastic toilet brush. Unlike wire brushes, plastic won’t scratch porcelain. Look for the type that comes with its own stand to catch drips.
Duster with extension wand. Lamb’s wool dusters and disposable dusting heads work well. (With feather dusters, sometimes the feathers break and the sharp ends can scratch furniture.)
Flat mop. The flat style reaches under furniture easily. The removable pad can be washed in the washing machine. Or you can use a Swiffer mop with disposable moist pads.
Cleaning solutions and sprays. You’ll need a disinfecting cleaner. Look for both words -- "disinfecting" and "cleaner" -- on the label. A cleaner without disinfectant may not kill germs, while a disinfectant without cleaner won’t loosen as much dirt from surfaces. You also will need glass cleaner and toilet bowl cleaner.
Clear counters by putting toothbrushes, deodorant and other toiletries into drawers and cabinets.
Squirt toilet bowl cleaner around the inner rim of the toilet.
Spray disinfecting cleaner on the toilet seat and exterior, as well as on the sink, faucet, counter and tub.
Using a toilet brush, scrub the toilet bowl for 10 seconds. Flush.
Spray glass cleaner on the mirror, and wipe with a microfiber cloth.
Use a damp sponge to wipe (in order) sink and faucets, counter, tub, toilet seat, toilet exterior. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe chrome so that it doesn’t spot.
Tear off a six-inch length of toilet paper, and use it to sweep up loose hair and other debris from floor and corners.
If you have an extra five minutes, add these steps: Toss the bath mat, tub mat and towels into the washing machine. Hang fresh towels. Mop the floor. Empty the trash can. Spray cleaner onto a microfiber cloth, and wipe off the doorknobs and any smudges on the door, light switches and cabinets.
De-clutter all surfaces by putting magazines in racks, DVDs in the TV cabinet and books on shelves.
Move all lightweight furniture -- such as chairs, end tables and magazine racks -- into the center of the room (to make vacuuming and dusting easier).
Dust from the top down. Walk around the room in a circle, using your duster’s extension wand and a stepstool if needed to reach high moldings, shelves and lighting fixtures.
Walk around in a circle again, using an electrostatic cloth to dust any surfaces between your head and knees. Switch to a clean cloth when necessary.
Run your dusting wand along the baseboards.
Vacuum the perimeter of the room.
Put furniture back in place, and vacuum the center of the room. Vacuum sofa and chairs with the upholstery attachment. If you have an extra few minutes, mop hard-surface floors.
Clear all counters -- put food away in the refrigerator and cupboards, place utensils in drawers and sweep papers into a basket to sort later. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Wipe counters with a sponge sprayed with disinfecting cleaner.
Spray the sink with disinfecting cleaner, and wipe with a damp sponge. Dry handles and faucet with a dish towel or microfiber cloth to prevent spots.
Pick up stray items from the floor, and put them away.
Take throw rugs outside, and shake for 10 seconds. Vacuum the floor. If it looks like it needs it, give the floor a quick mopping. Put throw rugs back.
Spray disinfecting cleaner onto a sponge and wipe the refrigerator, stove, microwave and other appliances.
If you have a window over the sink, spray it with window cleaner and wipe with a microfiber cloth.
Cleaning tricks for small appliances...
Food processor. Rinse the bowl to remove most food, then fill it halfway with water. Add a squirt of dishwashing liquid. Close, and turn the food processor on for 30 seconds. Rinse. Let the blades spin for a few seconds to dry.
Microwave oven. Pour two cups of water into a microwave-safe bowl. Place the bowl in the middle of the microwave, and cook on high for five minutes to create steam. Using oven mitts, remove and empty the bowl -- the water will be scalding hot. Wipe the inside of the oven with a damp sponge.
Garbage disposal. Put a few lemon, lime or orange rinds in the disposal. Run cold water, and turn on the disposal. Grind until rinds are gone. The disposal will smell clean and fresh.
1. Grill grate. Instead of scrubbing the grate after using it, leave the grill on high with the cover on for 15 minutes. Residue will cook away.
2. Shower curtain liner. Liners are so cheap that laundering them to remove mildew is a waste of time. Just replace your liner every six months.
3. Pillow. After washing and drying a pillow, it’ s never quite the same. Instead, throw it out, and buy a new one every six months.
4. Making the bed. Microscopic dust mites -- a leading cause of allergies -- thrive on moisture in your mattress and bedcovers. Leaving the bed unmade allows moisture to escape. If you really can’t stand an unmade bed, then use a duvet instead of a top sheet and bedspread. Just shake out the duvet, and you’re done.
5. Waxing the car. Newer cars have tough finishes that don’t need wax for protection.
Source:Jeff Bredenberg, who writes extensively about consumer issues and home management. Based in Oreland, Pennsylvania, he is author of three cleaning books, including How to Cheat at Cleaning (Taunton). www.JeffBredenberg.com