Making a clean sweep for spring

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Now that it's spring, it must be time to clean. Again. Oh, joy. The experts, however, can help make the job more of a walk in the park than an uphill climb.

Courage. "It's never as big as you think," says Don Aslett, head of a multimillion-dollar cleaning business and author of two dozen how-to-clean books.

We've gleaned advice from him and other experts, and we can tell you where dirt hides, how best to get rid of it and how not to let things get out of hand.

And there are bits of comforting news. One of the best: Forget corners. (Clean corners are overrated; worry about high-traffic areas first.)

Approach cleaning like the pros and plan what you're going to tackle.

* Have the right tools ready. Rags, broom, sponges, mops and buckets, plus: fine-grade nylon scrub pads for floors (they can scratch, so don't be too heavy-handed); nylon utility brushes for tiles and brick (professional supplies often are better and cheaper than those found in retail stores, and professional tools and cleaners are more specific to the task, such as bacteria-enzyme digesters for pet mistakes), and, of course, a good vacuum cleaner with a new bag.

* Opt for replacements where necessary, a fresh coat of paint, for example, on woodwork that is beyond cleaning.

* Throw out the junk. Neighbor A may zip through her house while Neighbor B in the same size house gets bogged down in the litter and clutter. Before cleaning day toss the excess -- even from closets. Of course, this may be a day's job in itself, but the floors will be easier to clean if you can find them.

Once you've gotten rid of clutter, proceed room by room. Move things out of the targeted area so you don't have to work around furniture and other objects.

* Walls can be sponged with slightly soapy water (unless they are fabric-covered or paneled) to rid surface of smudges, dust and grime. Walls that have vinyl-finish wood paneling or varnished or polyurethaned woods can be cleaned with a mild detergent and water. Use an oil soap (like Murphy's) on unfinished wood, then wipe dry and apply an oil or wax finish.

* Windows could use a going over throughout your living space. Use commercial glass cleaners or soapy water. Rinsing with vinegar and water will give a streak-free view. Dry with paper towel or newspaper.

* Floors should be vacuumed or dust-mopped before washing, otherwise you're just moving dirt and grit around with the wet mop. A mild dish detergent or a so-called "neutral cleaner," available at janitorial supply stores, will do for vinyl. Wash floors well before waxing. (Be careful: Heavy-duty cleaners such as Top Job may dull or even strip the floor unevenly.) If you plan to wax, use only non-yellowing waxes; let each coat dry thoroughly. Clean ceramic-tile floors the same way. Grout lines may need a scrubbing with a nylon brush and grout cleaner. Don't wax ceramic tiles.

* Good air quality is important for a really clean house. Among the most preventable forms of indoor contaminants are mold, mildew, bacteria and tobacco smoke. Other pollutants are more difficult to eradicate, such as odors from chemical ingredients in furniture and building products. Still, pollution can be reduced by substituting as many products as practical with natural, non-chemical alternatives.

* Heating and ventilation systems are like the body's lungs, the healthier the better. Furnace filters should be replaced every month during the heating season to keep the furnace operating efficiently and prevent dust from being blown throughout the house.

Vacuum accessible components of heating systems, such as hot-air ducts and registers and baseboard heating elements, to remove dust and improve energy efficiency. It's not possible to clean entire duct systems without specialized equipment, but there are commercial companies that clean duct systems; ask your oil or gas service for names.

Clean humidifiers on furnaces to eliminate and prevent mold and bacteria. Empty and clean trays in room dehumidifiers weekly with a mildsoap solution to prevent mold and bacteria. (And don't forget the air conditioner for summer; it will need a clean filter.)

Clean the fireplace and chimney (or hire a professional chimney sweep) to keep smoky odors out and to promote safe, efficient operation for winter.

Open all the windows and doors to air the house out FTC occasionally, and dust off screens with a soft wire brush as well.

Where dirt really hides

* Kitchen:

1. Clean out household chemicals such as oven cleaners, drain openers, pesticides, waxes and polishes from under the sink. Although considered safe for use in well-ventilated areas, chronic exposure to fumes in a closed room could cause problems.

Keep those chemicals safely locked up in a garage or shed.

2. Rid cupboards and food-storage cabinets of crumbs, spills and other food residues (this also will keep out bugs without resorting to pesticides).

3. Clean or replace range hood filters so grease won't accumulate on stove, ceiling, walls, counters.

4. Keep the microwave oven clean, especially the seals around the door, to keep it running efficiently and prevent radiation leaks. A rinsing with warm water, followed by a wipe down with a spray cleaner such as Fantastic will do the job.

5. Unplug and pull out stoves and refrigerators and vacuum and mop behind them. Vacuum the condenser coils on the refrigerator if exposed; dusty coils reduce operating efficiency. And, of course, see what's growing inside the fridge, toss out all mysteries and clean shelves and surfaces with a mild soapy or baking-soda solution and towel dry.

6. Soak burned-on, encrusted stove parts in hot, heavy-duty detergent or degreaser mixed with water until the gunk softens, then clean away with nylon scrub pad and sponge. Ceramic parts can be put in the oven and cleaned along with the oven. Food on heating elements can be burned dry, then scraped off.

7. Clean or replace filters on water-treatment units; they're prime breeding grounds for bacteria if not kept clean.

8. Clean and disinfect garbage pails, garbage disposals and the trash compactor. (Don't throw organic waste into it.)

* Bathroom:

1. Clean or install exhaust fan in bathrooms lacking windows to prevent mold and mildew.

2. Clean, then disinfect toilet bowls, sinks, tubs and showers. For toilet bowls, use a phosphoric acid-based cleaner inside, a disinfectant cleaner outside. Fiberglass and plastic tubs and shower stalls require a mild cleaner made specifically for them. Worn bowls, tubs and sinks can absorb stains that cannot be cleaned. In that case, it's time to reglaze or replace.

3. Ceramic-tile walls may require a dual cleaning: the first to eliminate soap scum, the second to dissolve hard-water minerals. Commercial tub and tile cleaners will do the first job; the second job requires a cleaner with an acid base (check labels), which also can be used for removing mineral deposits on faucets. A janitorial-supply store has specific products for these jobs. Grout can be cleaned with a commercial grout cleaner and nylon-bristle brush.

* Bedrooms:

1. Wash or dry-clean drapes and vacuum and shampoo carpets to get rid of dust, pet dander and dust mites (actually, dust-mite feces), all of which can be respiratory irritants.

2. Launder all linens, weekly.

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