Swap out your soap
Smart cleaning starts before you pick up a scrub brush. Keep your shower walls and floor looking shinier longer by stocking the bath with glycerin- or vegetable oil-based soaps. These soaps rinse cleaner than traditional tallow-based soaps, which can leave white, gummy soap scum crusted on your shower walls, says April Lane, owner of April Lane’s Home Cleaning in Seattle and a board member of the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International (ARCSI). Tried and true classics include Pears, Neutrogena, or Dr. Bronner's.
Shut off your phone
Distraction happens—even to professionals. It takes Vicki Brown, President of Harmony Clean in Doylestown, Penn., four hours to clean her house—though it should take less than two. “I get sidetracked in my own home,” she says. Streamline your routine by removing as many distractions as possible: Set your phone to vibrate, shut down the computer, keep the TV off, and save detailed projects, like organizing the linen closet or packing away winter hats and scarves, for another time.
Do the easy stuff first
Start simple: Spiff up a few low-traffic rooms quickly and easily, so that you’re motivated to tackle bigger cleaning tasks in high-traffic areas like the kitchen and bathrooms. “You’ll be inspired to finish the rest of your home,” says Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach. Depending on your household, the dining room, living room, or a home office are good places to start.
Run the dishwasher
Toothbrush holder looking a little grimy? How about that dish drain? Both Lane and Reichert swear by the dishwasher for effortlessly cleaning soap dishes, toothbrush holders, dish drains, range hood filters and more. If it’s hard plastic, glass, ceramic or metal—and it’ll fit—it’s fair game. “I’ve never ruined anything by sticking it in the top shelf of dishwasher,” says Lane.
Develop a squeegee habit
Show of hands: Who enjoys cleaning the tub and shower? Thought so. The easiest way to reduce the frequency of this much-loathed chore is to buy a squeegee and encourage everyone in the house to use it after a shower or bath, says Lane. Wipe the walls (top to bottom), the sides of the tub—even the floor itself (send the water straight toward the drain). Soap and shampoo residue will be washed away with the water, rather than evaporating and leaving a film on your porcelain or stone. Stick with this habit and you can get away with cleaning the tub and shower just once a month. You’re welcome.
Steam your microwave
Maybe you took a cleaning break to heat up some tea. Maybe you always check the microwave on your kitchen-cleaning circuit. Either way, you’ve opened the door and now it’s impossible to un-see the baked-on food splatters on the walls, ceiling, and floor of this appliance. Don’t stress; follow Lane’s trick: Fill a mug or measuring cup with water and microwave for 2-3 minutes, so it gets nice and steamy. The steam will soften the residue, making the wipe-down easier. (Now go enjoy your Earl Grey.)
Shake crumbs on the floor
…and dust, and pet hair. Follow the top-to-bottom rule of cleaning every room, and knock dust and debris from curtains, bookshelves, lampshades and mantles onto the floor as you work your way down, says Reichert, then vacuum it up after. You’ll clean faster if you don’t have to worry where the dust goes, and as long as you have a good vacuum—preferably one with a HEPA filter—Reichert promises you’ll suck it all up in the end.
Give your vacuum a tune-up
Canister, upright, bagless, bagged—use whatever suits your preference and floor surface, but keep your vacuum well maintained for maximum suction power and efficiency. Every month, Brown suggests, change disposable bags, wipe the inside and bottom of the machine, and clean out the rotating brush (you know, the part that attracts and tangles hair). Then get it serviced by a professional yearly. “Once a year I drop off my vacuum at the local repair store before we go on vacation,” Brown says. “Then I pick it up when we get back.”
Skip seldom-used rooms—this time around
For most households, says Brown, an every-other-week cleaning schedule is enough. “After all, you’re still going to wipe down counters after dinner every night, right?” she asks. But some chores need only be done monthly. Her team at Harmony Clean divides less-frequent tasks between the first and second clean of the month. They clean first-floor baseboards and ceilings in one visit, and tackle the second floor in the next. Likewise with seldom-used guest bedrooms or formal living rooms.