Easy Cleaning Tips to Save You Time

Clean smarter, not harder.

Refrigerator covered in magnets, notes, and photographs
Photo: Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

If you want to do the big jobs less often, it's time to go small—and smart. When it comes to cleaning, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of scrubbing. Real Simple grilled industry pros for eight home-maintenance tweaks that will save you time and energy.


Margaret Dasso, a co-owner of The Clean Sweep Housekeeping Agency; Laura Dellutri, the author of Speed Cleaning 101; Charles Gerba, ph.D., a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, in Tucson; and Cheryl Sousan, the founder of the lifestyle blog TidyMom.net.

01 of 08

The Refrigerator

Refrigerator covered in magnets, notes, and photographs
Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

More of this: Stocking shelves with newspaper.

Less of that: Scouring away the smell of last week's forgotten fluke.

A strong refrigerator odor is not only gross but can also be aggressive, seeping into the flavor of milk, eggs, and butter. Newspaper absorbs odors, so scrunch up a few sheets and spritz them with water. Tuck the news balls into corners and drawers overnight to soak up the stench. For odor prevention, use sheets of newspaper to line drawers; replace every couple of weeks.

02 of 08

The Toaster Oven

Toaster ovens and bread
Yuhnee Kim

More of this: Protecting the base with a nonstick liner.

Less of that: Dismantling the unit every time you clean it or going through wads and wads of tinfoil.

A nonstick liner made for a full-size oven can be trimmed to accommodate its little cousin. Remove the drip tray to use as a size guide, cut down a liner with scissors, and place on the bottom of the oven. Grease spills will wipe right off with a damp cloth. Toss the liner in the dishwasher for a deeper cleaning (Chef's Planet nonstick reversible oven liner, $20, bedbathandbeyond.com).

03 of 08

The Tub

Clean bathtub in white and blue bathroom
Sang An

More of this: Dousing the drain with a baking-soda cocktail.

Less of that: Fighting clogs with harsh chemicals or, worse, a pricey plumber.

Experts warn that some chemical drain cleaners can damage pipes. A once-a-month baking-soda flush could keep you clog-free. Pour ½ cup of soda into the drain, followed by ½ cup of white vinegar. Allow the mixture to foam for five minutes. Rinse with a full kettle of boiling water. Use the same method for drains in the kitchen (or lingering drain odors).

04 of 08

The Stove

Vintage white stove
Dan Winters

More of this: Giving baked-on spills a hot-towel treatment.

Less of that: Using potentially abrasive cleansers.

The longer spills sit on a stovetop, the more likely they are to fossilize and become a permanent exhibit. Since stove surfaces are prone to scratching when scrubbed, saturate a few cloths in hot water and lay them flat on the stovetop (remove the burners first). Let sit for 10 minutes, then wipe off the softened grime with the cloths (two hands at once!).

05 of 08

The Shower

White tile bathroom
Matthew Williams

More of this: Towel-drying fixtures after you towel off.

Less of that: Spraying and scrubbing soap scum.

The key to keeping soap scum under control is to wipe off moisture and soap residue before it dries and hardens. Hang a spare towel in the bathroom for drying fixtures and corners where water tends to gather. Soap scum develops when calcium in water mixes with fatty acids (often found in bar soaps), so switching to a liquid body wash may help the cause, too. A surprising way to get rid of soap scum that has already built up? A damp dryer sheet.

06 of 08

The Washing Machine

Laundry room with green washer and dryer
William Abranowicz

More of this: Loading up the interior with a cleaning agent.

Less of that: Replacing a moldy rubber gasket.

Residue from detergent and liquid fabric softener can build up over time and cause a funky smell. Once a month, run a load with just hot water and Real Simple Clean Washing Machine Cleaner. Then use a nonbleach disinfecting wipe for hidden mildew-prone spots, like the rubber gasket. As a practice, air-dry the washer after each use by leaving the door open.

07 of 08

The Air

Woman with dusty vacuum
Scott & Zoe

More of this: Brushing pets down to the undercoat once a week outdoors.

Less of that: Chasing after tumbleweeds with the vacuum.

A longtime Real Simple favorite, the Furminator De-shedding Tool ($25, amazon.com) is amazingly effective at grabbing the undercoat hair that raises the fur and dander levels in your home. Get at hair already on upholstery with a lint roller or a cleaning sponge (Four Paws Magic Coat Hair Remover, $12, amazon.com).

08 of 08

The Floor

Overhead shot of rug and coffee table
Johnny Miller

More of this: A no-shoes-in-the-house rule. And for those who refuse, a radical wipe-your-feet policy (with wipes!).

Less of that: Vacuuming and mopping your life away.

A scary number of germs hitch a ride on the bottoms of shoes and end up in your home. (Sole crushing, we know.) To help fight the bacteria that you track in, enforce a no-shoes policy. A basket near the door "baited" with a couple of pairs helps to convey house rules. Slightly more extreme (but effective): Clean the bottoms of shoes with antibacterial wipes when you enter the house (Clorox disinfecting wipes, $13; target.com). Keep the wipes stashed in an entry console. Worried about pet feet? On paws, use Petkin paw wipes ($7 for 100, chewy.com).

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