An old, clean sock works great as a furniture duster. Just slip one on your hand and spray some wood cleaner on it. Whenever I do this, it takes me back to doing my childhood chores, when I would slide a sock over our dark furniture. I loved dusting my mom’s dresser: It was a chance to open her jewelry box and try on a few things.
North Branford, Connecticut
My husband’s stepmother taught me to add a few drops of an essential oil to my cleaning bucket. I usually clean with baking soda and vinegar—two products that don’t smell great. But when I mix in a little lavender or eucalyptus, we all breathe easier.
Julie M. Skinner Sutton
Forth Worth, Texas
When my three children were young, my mother showed me a foolproof way to remove fruit-juice stains from their T-shirts. As soon as you notice that the juice has dribbled onto the fabric, rub clear liquid glycerin into the stain and let it sit for an hour. Then rub in white vinegar and launder the shirt as usual. When the garment comes out of the washer, the stain is almost always gone.
Judith H. Darsky
Larchmont, New York
Vacuum first, then dust. The reason: The vacuum stirs up dust, so even if you just dusted, you’ll have to do it again. This time-saving tip comes in handy when I’m frantically getting my home ready for company.
My parents love red wine and fine table linens. They also have friends who can be a bit overzealous with their hand gestures. I bet you see where this is going. To remove red wine from a white tablecloth, my mom pours boiling water onto the stain. It takes the color out instantly, saving her from bleaching (and damaging) expensive fabric.
When one of my kids threw up in bed, my mom walked me through a step-by-step process to make the mattress good as new. Start by pressing on the area with a dry towel. To remove odors, wet a towel with baking soda and water, dab it on the mattress, then pat dry with another towel. Sprinkle cornstarch over any areas that are still damp, and several hours later vacuum it up. No one will be able to tell that you had a mattress mishap.
I’ll never forget the day I dripped burrito grease all over my favorite pair of designer jeans. My mom saw me trying—and failing—to get the stain out with an arsenal of cleaning products and then offered this illuminating advice: “Dish soap will get grease off your clothes just like it does with your dishes.” She was right. Once I rubbed some dish soap onto the stain, it vanished.
San Francisco, California
It’s amazing how much cleaning you can do in five minutes. That’s something I learned at age 11 or 12, when my mom instituted the “Five-Minute Game,” a challenge to clean as much as possible in that short time frame. When I play the game by myself nowadays, I actually manage to do the dishes and run the vacuum in the kitchen and the living room. The timer keeps me motivated and makes it more fun to do chores.
My mom used to make the bed while she was still in it. She would sit up with the covers on her lap, then pull up the sheets and straighten them out in front of her. Even though my kids think I’m crazy, I make the beds this way, too. It saves time because you don’t have to walk around the bed to straighten each side.
I’m a kindergarten teacher, and sometimes my students “accidentally” draw on the classroom walls. To remove their masterpieces, I follow this advice from my mom: Wet a rag, smear toothpaste on it, and use it to scrub the wall clean. My mom learned the tip from her mom, who learned it from her own mother. It really works.
When my house develops a musty scent, I fill bowls with white vinegar and place them in all the affected rooms. My mom taught me that doing this gets rid of foul smells, and she was right. You can use the same method to deodorize the refrigerator.
Blue Point, New York
When I started potty training my first child, my mom showed me the value of a bristled scrub brush. It can take out carpet stains and is great for large items, like playpens and high chairs. Just bring them outside, hose them down, spray on some cleaner, scrub with the brush, rinse, and let them dry in the sun.
“Pink sink, blue bowl.” That’s what my mom sings to remember which sponge to use when she’s cleaning various areas of the bathroom. It prevents the toilet sponge from getting near your toothbrush.
Northport, New York
Over the holidays, I burned some chili, and it stuck to the bottom of my pot. My mother instructed me to make a paste out of baking soda and water and let it sit on the sticky spot. An hour later, I was able to wipe the mess away with ease. What a useful tip!
If you don’t have a dustpan, sweep your mess onto a paper towel. This works especially well when you dampen one edge of the towel with water before you place it on the floor. The moist edge picks up that little bit of dirt that never seems to go into a dustpan.
How many times have you washed a shirt only to discover a stain on it after the fact? That phenomenon is the reason my mom required everyone in the house to tie a knot in their stained garments before they put them in the hamper. That way, when you sort the laundry, you instantly know when something needs extra attention. I implemented this rule with my husband and kids, and it saves me headaches, time, and money.
Never spray cleaning fluid onto a picture frame. If you do, you could ruin the photograph. Instead, dab some liquid onto a towel and rub the towel over the glass.
Los Angeles, California
This trick has been with me for 50 years: To remove dirt and product residue from brushes and combs, soak them in a mixture of baking soda and Listerine for at least 15 minutes, then rinse them under running water.
If you do a little cleaning in the bathroom every day, you’ll never have to do much more. Hang up the towels, empty the garbage, spray the mirror, swish the toilet, and wipe down the toilet and sink. Your bathroom will almost always be company-ready.
Brentwood, New Hampshire
Find a good cleaning lady, treat her well, pay her well, and thank her every time she comes.
Nancy E. Johnson
Our Words: Smart Strategies from the Moms of Real Simple Staffers
“Clean as you go” was (and is) my mother’s policy in the kitchen. While she cooked, she often had paper towels under her feet to shine up the floor as she sautéed.
Editor at Large
For carpet stains, particularly pet messes, clean up as much as you can with a warm, damp cloth. After spot-testing, spray on a mixture of vinegar and water, then layer on several paper towels, a plastic shopping bag, and a heavy pile of books. Leave for 24 hours. (Also, before you add the books, you can hammer several times over the towels and plastic.) I roll my eyes every time my mom does this—especially during the hammering part—but it works. My sister-in-law now swears by it as well.
My mom told me to think back to the days of washerwomen when I have a stain on my clothing. Translation: Take a bar of traditional laundry soap (her favorite is Fels-Naptha) and scrub, scrub, scrub the stain away. It works amazingly well.
Kathleen Murray Harris
Managing Editor, RealSimple.com