How to Clean 9 of the Toughest Spots Around the House
What’s the one spot in your home that you dread cleaning the most? Maybe it’s the toilet, or the greasy stovetop, or that moldy shower curtain. If the mere thought of these dirty, grimy messes is making you cringe, don’t worry, we’ve called in reinforcements. To figure out the best way to clean these tricky areas, we asked Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert at Merry Maids, and Donna Smallin Kuper, a certified home cleaning technician and author of Cleaning Plain & Simple, for their professional advice. Armed with their best tips and tried-and-true tools, these problem spots will sparkle in no time.
A Messy, Greasy Stovetop
There’s nothing more satisfying than a warm, cheesy homemade meal—that is, until you look at the stovetop and realize the damage you’ve done. Grease and cooked-on mozzarella everywhere. Now what? If the mess just happened and the stovetop has cooled, now’s the time to act, says Debra Johnson of Merry Maids. All you need is warm soapy water and a microfiber cloth. “The microfiber cloth is the best way to absorb the grease. It is important to rinse the cloth after each wipe to allow the food or grease to release from the cloth and tackle more with the next wipe,” she advises.
And what if the stove and the cooked-on grease has already cooled? The task is tougher, but still not impossible. Donna Smallin Kuper recommends dipping your sponge in hot, sudsy water, and then squeezing it over the spot. “I let it sit for a few minutes to soften (usually while I am loading the dishwasher or washing pots and pans) and then I give it a quick scrub with the scrubby side of a sponge and wipe it up with the sponge side,” she says. Johnson also believes in letting the spot soak. She suggests letting a degreaser product sit on the area for three minutes, then wiping it off with a microfiber cloth.
To buy: Brillo Estracell No-Scratch Sponge, $9 for three; amazon.com.
Both Johnson and Smallin Kuper agree: A microfiber cloth is essential for a streak-free window, because it won’t leave behind lint like a paper towel or another type of cloth. They also both believe that the wrong product, and too much of it, is the main reason for streaky windows. “The majority of people make an assumption that if a little product is good then more product is better. Wrong!” says Johnson. Instead, spritz lightly and use a homemade solution. Johnson mixes up one part water and one part white vinegar in a spray bottle, while Smallin Kuper prefers plain old H20 for a chemical-free shine. Finally, fold the microfiber cloth several times so you have multiple clean sides to use as you wash the window.
To buy: Microfiber Glass-Cleaning Cloths, $13 for eight; amazon.com.
A Stinky Dishwasher
If your dishwasher smells when it’s full, food particles are the most likely culprit. To prevent the stench, scrape off food and rinse your plates and glasses before loading them in the dishwasher. “If you don’t run the wash cycle every day, do run the ‘rinse and hold’ cycle to remove food particles,” Smallin Kuper says.
If your dishwasher continues to smell even when it’s empty, it’s time to run a wash cycle. With the dishwasher completely empty, place either a dishwasher-safe cup of white vinegar (Smallin Kuper’s pick) or a small bowl of lemons cut into quarters and covered with water (Johnson’s recommendation) on the top rack, then turn on a cycle. Either method helps to eliminate odor. For an even more thorough washing, wipe down the walls with a baking soda paste before using the lemon-water method.
A Spill-Stained Rug
We’ve all been there: You’re eating the messiest food possible (a meatball sub, a plate of buffalo wings), when you accidentally drop it right on your living room rug. Don’t panic—and definitely don’t try to rub it clean. Instead, blot the spot with a clean white towel, Smallin Kuper suggests. She also only recommends using stain-removal products certified by the Carpet and Rug Cleaning Institute, such as Simple Green or Spot Shot. “The wrong type of spot remover may initially clean the spot, but leave a film that will attract dirt so that the stain will seem to reappear,” she warns.
If you don’t have a store-bought stain remover on hand, you can whip one up, Johnson says. For the safest solution, mix together one teaspoon dishwashing liquid, two tablespoons white vinegar, and one cup water. Blot the solution on the spot, then blot dry or place a fan near the area.
To buy: Spot Shot Instant Carpet Stain Remover, $9; amazon.com.
Cleaning Under the Bed
The hidden area under the bed is often the last spot we think to clean—but it’s also a breeding ground for dust bunnies. If you hate to crawl on your hands and knees to reach each dusty corner, Johnson recommends using a thin dust mop fitted with microfiber cover. Don’t own a dust mop? Just wrap the end of a yardstick or broom handle with a microfiber cloth and secure it with a rubber band. Smallin Kuper also suggests checking if your vacuum cleaner offers a floor attachment designed for either wood or carpet. Investing in this add-on attachment could make your weekly cleanup much easier.
To buy: O-Cedar Dual-Action Microfiber Duster Set, $20; amazon.com.
A Sauce-Splattered Microwave
For those moments when you heat up a bowl of sauce and accidentally forget to top it with a splatter guard, this genius cleaning trick will save the day. Place one cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl (you can also add lemon slices for extra deodorizing power), set the cooking time for two minutes, and hit start. When the time is up, let the bowl sit for another minute or two so that the steam can soften any cooked-on food. Then, open the door, remove the glass plate, and rinse it in the sink with warm soapy water. Wipe down the walls of the microwave with a damp microfiber cloth, and also wipe down the outside of the appliance.
Both of our cleaning pros urge cleaning the microwave as soon as spills or splatters happen—procrastination will only make cleaning this appliance more difficult. Don’t forget: “Frequent cleaning is your best friend to prevent buildup on any surface,” Johnson says.
The Dreaded Toilet
The toilet is my favorite thing to clean, said no one ever. To make this unpleasant chore a little more bearable, we asked our experts for cleaning methods that let us be as hands-off as possible. Johnson recommends pouring a half cup of white vinegar into the bowl and letting it sit for at least one hour. However, this won’t clean the rim, so for that, you will need to pick up a scrub brush.
Once you have your toilet sparkling clean, you can keep it that way for up to three months by installing the Kaboom Toilet Cleaning System, Smallin Kuper says. Three months free from toilet scrubbing? That’s $11 well spent.
To buy: Kaboom Scrub Free! Continuous Toilet Cleaning System, $11; walgreens.com.
Germy Phones and Tablets
Studies have found that some cell phones contain more germs than a toilet seat, so cleaning and disinfecting these tech devices should be one of our top cleaning priorities. Smallin Kuper recommends cleaning the screen of your phone or tablet in a similar way to windows: with a microfiber cloth and a small amount of water applied to the cloth rather than directly on the device (to avoid getting moisture inside the phone, of course). Using a clean microfiber cloth will actually remove bacteria from the surface of the device. Johnson also suggests dampening (don’t soak) the microfiber cloth with rubbing alcohol for an extra boost of bacteria-fighting power.
A Moldy Shower Curtain
When your shower curtain starts to get mildewy, your first instinct may be to toss it and buy a new one, but it’s actually not as hard to clean as you may think. Our experts recommend throwing it in the washing machine. If you have a top-loading machine, place your shower curtain inside, fill it with water, and add a cup of bleach, Johnson says. Let it soak for an hour, then run a regular wash cycle. If the mildew has been growing for a while, you may need to repeat the process a second time. If the mildew persists after two attempts, it’s your cue to throw the curtain away and purchase a new one.
To prevent buildup over time, be proactive and run your shower curtain through a wash cycle every other month. Your shower-cleaning spray can also be used to wipe off collected soap scrum before it becomes unmanageable.