I love cleaning. I know it’s a confession at odds with my feminist self, but there it is. I’m not quite OCD, think more along the lines of Monica out of Friends. I like to keep it natural where I can but sometimes the job can only be done by chemical warfare – don’t judge me too harshly if I occasionally reach for bleach.
Having spent many a bank-holiday weekend spring cleaning I thought I would share 53 years worth of tips. Choosing an alphabet format to order them has made it a bigger task than I had anticipated:
A is for Antibacterial
There is nothing like having a dog to take the edge off worrying too much about ‘germs’. The good news is that exposure to a few germs boosts our immune system and an over-sanitised home can actually increase our vulnerability and lead to allergies.
Having said that when one of us has a cold or flu I reach for the anti-bac wipes and clean banisters, light switches and everywhere else that infection might linger. There is only one thing worse than being ill and that is getting sick together! The anti-bac wipes help to stop the spread of germs (along with an antibacterial hand-wash) – so that one of us can play nurse.
I also use them is for wiping down surfaces for food preparation – especially when he’s making bread. A wipe is convenient and hygienic but if you want to use a spray use it with a paper towel to avoid cross-contamination from your cleaning cloth.
B is for Bicarbonate of soda
Our grandmothers knew all about the cleaning properties of bicarb (Baking Soda in the US) long before the multi-nationals wooed us with Cif and Mr Muscle. Sprinkle bicarb on a wet cloth and use it like a cleaning agent in bathrooms and kitchens to cut through grime and grease. Use it with boiling water to unblock drains, use it in the laundry for whiter whites (also called washing soda) and combine with vinegar for toilet cleaning. The internet is awash with bicarb and baking soda cleaning tips so I won’t list them all here – just try a few and you’ll be hooked.
C is for Cloths
Anyone who is serious about cleaning knows you need lots of cloths for the tasks ahead. I stock-pile old t-shirts, tea cloths and towels so that I always have a clean duster to hand. After I’ve cleaned round the bathroom with a damp microfibre cloth I polish dry with fresh ‘rags’ to prevent watermarks. I do the same with wet floors and after steam cleaning. When you’ve finished the whole lot can go in the washing machine.
D is for De-clutter
When you’ve moved home as many times as I have you learn not to keep dragging all the same old stuff from property to property. You know what I mean – you take an old appliance out of the back of a cupboard, dust it off, pack it, unpack it, put it in a new cupboard and there it will stay until the next move.
I’m merciless. If it’s no longer in use it goes to charity and this applies to clothes, books and even unwanted gifts. The Space Clearing guru Karen Kingston describes the negative energy that is experienced when we keep something we dislike out of fear of offending someone we love. It’s a sinking feeling. Surround yourself instead with the things that give you pleasure and don’t hide the rest – get rid of it and feel instantly lighter.
E is for Elbow Grease
Time is precious so we are all on the lookout for short cuts and quick fixes. Sometimes results take effort. The good news is that cleaning is a very good form of exercise that you don’t have to pay gym fees for.
F is for Feather Duster
You need two, a long handled one to reach cornices and light fittings; a shorter one to flick around the house between knick-knacks and along the tops of picture frames. Ostrich feather is best. Dust just before you vacuum so that you can suck up the debris before it has time to resettle.
G is for Gloves
It’s hardly a tip but you need a pair of rubber gloves if you want to protect your hands during cleaning. I also have a bag of thin disposable ones which are brilliant for hand-staining tasks like polishing shoes or peeling boiled beetroot.
H is for Habit
Get into the habit of being tidy all of the time. Put things away after you’ve used them, wash-up as you go when cooking, put things into the recycling when they’re empty (not back on the shelf), hang clothes back on their hanger, hang up your coat. Simple stuff. Looks and feels great.
I is for Ironing
Spritz stubborn creases with home made lavender water to make ironing easier and make bedlinen smell delicious. Place four tablespoons of lavender buds (stripped off the stalks) into a heat proof jug and poor over 500ml of boiling water. Cover with a cloth and let is steep for a few hours or overnight. Stain through a tea strainer and use in a spritz bottle – it’s a much lighter scent than water made using lavender essential oil.
If you have a condensing tumble dryer don’t dispose of the water that’s collected in the condenser – this is distilled water and is perfect for use in irons and steam cleaners instead of hard tap water.
J is for Jelly
Petroleum jelly is good for cleaning and softening leather – shoes, jackets, furniture – just dab a bit on a rag cloth and polish.
K is for Kettle
Descale your kettle regularly to keep water tasting it’s best. Fill the kettle with equal parts of white vinegar and water and allow it to soak for an hour. Boil the mixture and watch it fizz, if there’s still limescale residue boil again. Rinse thoroughly, fill with clean water, bring to the boil and rinse again before using the kettle. To maintain a scale free the kettle place half a lemon into it every week and bring to the boil, rinse and use as normal.
L is for Lemon
Lemon is nature’s bleach. Use lemon juice to remove tea stains in sinks and mugs, turmeric stains on work surfaces and rust spots on cutlery. Combine with coarse salt to make a scrub to remove stubborn food on pans and dishes.
I bought a lovely 1940s vintage jacket only to discover it had a little food stain on the front. Lemon juice did the trick. But beware, if you leave lemon drying in direct sunlight it will bleach even lighter.
M is for Mould
Black mould is usually caused through condensation so cleaning is only one part of the solution. Condensation is tackled by improving air circulation and this means opening windows, installing humidistat fans etc. Don’t leave wet washing hanging around – the water has to go somewhere and that will cause mould. Bleach and sunlight kills mould so you can try a vinegar and bicarb solution but you might have to go for thick bleach and a scrubbing brush.
N is for Nature
I love everything about Ecover’s range of natural cleaning products and though they cost a bit more you know they are better for the planet. My favourite is the limescale remover which is fantastic and keeps taps, sinks and showers sparkling in hard-water London. I also use their washing-up liquid in the garden to spray aphids and scale insects – it washes them away without harming the plants, especially the ones you want to eat.
O is for Oil
Any kind of cooking oil can be used to restore a shine to stainless steel appliances, cooker hoods etc. First clean with a liberal amount of vinegar –use a paper towel of soft cloth to wipe along the direction of the grain in the steel surface. Next use a little bit of oil on a soft cloth and polish this into the steel – again in the direction of the grain to bring up a smooth, streak-free shine.
Oil can also be used on slate hearths, floors and cast iron fireplaces. Wipe over with a soft oiled cloth and buff to a polish to bring back the deep blackness and smooth out scratches and imperfections.
P is for Pumice
If you have a ring of calcification round a toilet bowl no amount of product is going to shift it. Simply soften a pumice stone in water and then gently rub the stone against the calcified line to rub it away. Do this slowly and gently, making sure that the pumice remains wet to prevent scratching the porcelain. Once removed you can keep on top of the limescale to prevent further build-up.
Q is for Q-tips
Cotton buds are not just for your make-up bag – use them with water to clean away those little triangles of dust and grime that you find sitting in corners.
R is for Radiators
I love the aesthetic of the new wave of traditional hardware shops such as Labour and Wait in London or A G Hendy in Hastings that stock an array of beautiful brushes and housewares. One of the clever things you’ll find here is a long handled wooden and horsehair radiator brush which makes short work of dusting behind those hot dirty devils.
S is for Steam
If there was only one item on this list that I could choose to keep it would have to be my steam cleaner. I use a Vaporetto cylinder version which is a few years old now but I just love how effective it is at cleaning my floors without the need for any cleaning product whatsoever. I use it everywhere – windows, tiles, floors and I even steamed my mattress when we found ourselves victims of a bed bug.
T is for Toothbrush
Save old toothbrushes and keep them in your cleaning cupboard. Use these small brush heads to clean into crevices in everything from jewellery to the detergent compartment of your washing machine.
U is for Up-and-Under
I’m short in stature so I was blissfully unaware of a layer of dust that had gathered on top of my fridge – until my taller brother pointed it out. Every now and then you need to get out the step ladders and clean on top of tall items. You also need to get right under beds, under sofas and behind the TV.
V is for Vinegar
White vinegar is another old-fashioned cleaning hero that has become an internet sensation. Fill a spray bottle (I dilute it 50:50 with water) and use it as a general household cleaner. Better Homes and Gardens have a room-by-room list of items that can be cleaned with vinegar.
Warning: Vinegar is an acid so it is NOT to be used on granite, marble and stone surfaces as it will etch the surface. As with any cleaning solution do a test or research before applying it to anything delicate.
W is for Wire Wool
Superfine steel wool can be used to polish away water stains and grime on wood. Use the finest ‘0000’ grade wire wool with a little oil or furniture wax to polish the surface. I also use it to scrub away the burnt bits on my cast iron grill pan, BBQ and chrome oven shelves.
X is for X-ray
A deep clean isn’t just about what you see on the outside it involves cleaning inside cupboards too! You’ll be surprised how grubby shelves and drawers get. If it’s too big a task to tackle the whole kitchen just do one at a time whenever you have a spare hour.
Y is for Yellow Pillows
Pillows will yellow over time; the stains are from perspiration and are not removed with basic washing. Bleach can actually make the discolouration worse. You can buy whitening agents to go in the washing machine but I just wash them twice a year using a booster wash method. I wash on the hottest cotton cycle. I use a good biological washing powder (not liquid or tablets) and add a cup of washing soda and a cup of white vinegar to the machine. Finally I partly tumble dry the pillows but remove them still damp and leave them to dry outdoors in direct sunlight for as long as possible, turning so that both sides catch the sun. They come up white, smell wonderfully fresh and feel plumper – job done!
Z is for Zones
Break down your cleaning regime into zones and tackle one area at a time. This way you can keep on top of cleaning tasks by doing little and often. Unless of course you enjoy the prospect of a full cleaning day – like I do.
Got a cleaning tip to share? Please pop it in the comments box below.