You can spend a fortune on expensive cleaners you don’t need and that don’t really work well at all. And you might find yourself cleaning more often than you would like, or buying those nifty cleaning products you saw in the commercials. But you don’t have to. Here are some quick and easy tips to keep your home sparkling on the cheap, from easy cleaning methods to simple cleaners.
Start with the basics
Clean often. It seems counter-intuitive, but cleaning more often will save you time and money. Consider this: A quick swipe of a soapy dishcloth will remove a fresh spill from the stove, but you have to break out the heavy-duty cleaners and scrubbing sponges if you wait until that spill is a hard, crusty glob. The same is true of almost any other kind of cleaning: soap scum in the tub, dust on the television, furniture, and blinds, crumbs in the carpet, stains on fabric.
An exception is mud on carpet or upholstery — if you pounce on it right away with a wet cloth, the stain can get rubbed into the fabric. Let it dry, then vacuum up as much dirt and soil as possible before treating the leftover stain.
Clean weekly or more often and you’ll see that a cleaning cloth dampened with water takes care of most messes. Use a shower squeegie daily to dry the walls and tub; expensive sprays aren’t really necessary if you do.
Dispose of the disposables. If you want to save money, don’t get flimsy tools that require frequent, expensive refills. Purchase good-quality cleaning supplies. I like to buy most of my cleaning tools at a hardware or janitorial supply store. At least that’s what I liked to do 10 years ago, which is probably how long it’s been since I’ve needed to buy anything. The point is that they work well, are comfortable to use, and they last a long time. Try not to get swayed by too many added “features.” A flat mop, broom, dust pan, window squeegie, tub squeegie, cleaning bucket, spray bottles, real ostrich feather or lambswool duster and several neatly folded cleaning cloths will do for most homes.
Get a vacuum cleaner you can move without a tow-truck and that you can buy without financing. I’ve used a lot of vacuum cleaners, and those are my two criteria. If you can’t lift them, you’re less likely to use them. And if you have to make payments — well, just don’t. These days, even inexpensive vacuums have HEPA filters and do a pretty good job. Research the reviews, buy what you can afford now, and save up for your dream vacuum.
Edit your cleaning supplies
For most jobs, like wiping counters, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and mopping tile, a no-rinse, all-purpose cleaner is all you need. If you want it to disinfect or sanitize, be sure to follow the directions on the bottle. Most disinfecting cleaners require a “dwell time,” meaning you need to let the cleaner remain, wet, on the surface for a specific amount of time (often 10 minutes).
Don’t waste your money on the blue (or yellow, or green, or clear) glass cleaner. A tablespoon of ammonia or two tablespoons of vinegar mixed into a quart of clean water will do a better job and is much cheaper. For bathroom mirrors, the best cleaner I have ever used is plain hot water. It dissolves hairspray and toothpaste perfectly. Wet a cloth with the hottest water you can handle — without burning yourself, of course — and thoroughly wet the mirror, wiping back and forth a few times. Use your window or tub squeegie to remove the water, and catch any drips with a dry cloth. If you’ve been using commercially prepared glass cleaning sprays, you might have to repeat this process two or three times just to clean off all the residue left behind by the glass cleaner. And if you really want to cut down on that chaos under the sink, read on:
All-purpose cleaner and deodorizer.
Fill a spray bottle with half water and half white distilled vinegar to use anywhere you would normally use an all-purpose cleaner. Diluted vinegar also gets rid of odors in plastic containers and lunch boxes. Use this cleaner for:
Solid surfaces. Spray on surfaces such as countertops, painted walls and inside the refrigerator and wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel to leave them clean and smelling fresh.
Uneven or sensitive surfaces. For surfaces such as computer keyboards, printers and remote controls, spray cleaner on a cloth, unplug electrical equipment and wipe clean. Use a cotton-tipped stick to clean around buttons and other tight spaces. Allow to air dry.
Windows. Spray on and dry with a lint-free cloth or sheets of newsprint for streak-free shine.
Stainless steel appliances and chrome fixtures. Spray on and wipe with a lint-free cloth or paper towel until dry and shiny.
Dirty, greasy surfaces. Soak a clean cloth or paper towel with undiluted vinegar and wipe surfaces clean, leaving them free of deposits and smelling fresh. Use white distilled vinegar full strength for tough jobs such as stovetops, oven doors, exhaust fan screens, ceiling fans, cloudy shower doors, and door tracks. For stubborn grease and dirt, saturate the area, let stand 10 to 15 minutes, and then rinse with water.
Stains, scum, and baked on foods. Sprinkle baking soda on any surface where you would use a cleanser, and scrub with a wet sponge. For grout, scrub with a small brush dipped in water. For heavy soil or grease, mix baking soda with water to make a paste and let stand 15 minutes before scrubbing. Rinse with water. Use on sinks or tile, as well as pots and pans, stained coffee mugs and tea cups.
Drain cleaner. Baking soda and vinegar used together can keep your drains free of clogs and odors. Pour 1 cup baking soda followed by one cup hot (microwaved) white distilled vinegar down a drain or garbage disposal. Wait five minutes and then run hot water down the drain. Best when used monthly as a preventative measure.
Cutting boards. After cleaning thoroughly with plenty of soap and water, spray with full-strength white distilled vinegar and allow to air dry.
Bathroom surfaces. On sinks, shower walls, curtains and doors, spray after each use with full-strength white distilled vinegar and allow to air dry.
Toilet bowls. Use 1/2 cup Borax OR 1 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda. Let stand 15 minutes, scrub with a brush and flush.
Dirty showers, bathtubs and sinks. Use borax powder like you would a cleanser. Sprinkle over surfaces and scour using a brush or scrub sponge and water. Rinse with plain water.
Clean those special grungy areas with ease.
Stove filters. This cleaning tip is not only impressive, but easy. If you’ve never looked under your stove hood — where the light and the fan are located — be prepared to be surprised. These filters are where all the greasy air and smoke go through and they can really get gross. Fortunately this way of cleaning them is simple.
Get a pot, large enough to fit your vent, and fill it with water. Bring the water to a boil and slowly add 1/2 cup baking soda (note, it will fizz up). Place grate in the boiling water and just watch the grease boil right off. My pot wasn’t big enough, so I had to do half the vent at at time. I just used tongs to flip it. Once done, remove vent and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Let vent try and pop it back into its spot. Easy peasy. I have to admit, I’m embarrassed that these got as dirty as they did, but thrilled they cleaned up so easily.
Bath and Shower Scum. I hate that ring around the tub or the scum on shower walls, but I also hate scrubbing it. Here’s an easy fix. Get one of those dishwashing wands, the kind where you fill the handle with soap and there’s a sponge on the end, like this one: Fill it half way with a grease-fighting dish detergent and half way with vinegar. Shake it gently to combine, or you can mix in a measuring cup and pour into wand. Now, after you bath or shower, while the surfaces are still wet, go around and scrub gently with the soap, then rinse off. The first few times you may need to scrub a little harder if you’ve got some build up already, but after that this is more of a preventative to keep the scum from building up.
Smelly Dish Rags. You know it, that musty smell dish rags and towels get. It doesn’t seem to matter how often you clean them, once they get wet, the stink is there. I tried lots of cleaning techniques, but this, to me, is the easiest and works great. Soak in vinegar for a half hour or so and then wash in hot water — voila!, stink is gone. To make it more convenient, I use a variety of rags so I only need to wash them once a week instead of soaking one here and there. This way, I can soak them all together in a dish washing pan I keep next to my washing machine and wash them all in one load. Also, I’ve found, and this may sound weird, Tide detergent works best for this. I know Tide tends to be more expensive than other detergents, so I buy a small container when its on sale and I have a coupon and I only use it for washing rags. I also buy a big gallon jug of vinegar for $1.99.
Swiffer cheaper — I love swiffer mops–they’re light weight and easy to maneuver. But I don’t love buying those replaceable pads all the time. Here’s a great alternative. Get a pair (or two) of those stretchy, chenille socks (I find them at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Christmas Tree Shop) for about $1 or $2 and pull one over your Swiffer head. Use a vinegar solution to wet mop the floor, then switch to a dry socks and wipe it dry. When you’re done just throw it in the laundry basket. Or, if you’re at all handy with a sewing machine, I think these re-usable Swiffer covers are adorable too.
Grungy Tile Grout. This is another technique that really shocked me. It is somewhat time consuming just because you do a small section at at time, but incredibly easy. The section in the picture took about 5 minutes or so. For this, all you need is vinegar, cream of tartar, a toothbrush, and a sponge. I learned this from The Taylor House blog. If you’d rather skip making the simple recipe, you can also use OxiClean Versatile (you can get a 5 pound tub at Walmart for around $10 and since you only use a small amount, it’ll last a long time), but to be honest, it didn’t work as well as the DIY version and took more scrubbing.
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